There are a lot of people who would wonder why we didn’t put Tee Martin higher on this list. After all, he led Tennessee football to a national championship the year after Peyton Manning left. And as quarterback, he beat the Florida Gators en route to that title, making him responsible for two accomplishments Manning never got.
The truth is, though, while that’s enough to put him on this list, it’s not enough to put him really high up. Martin had below average passing stats in all of the Vols’ big-game wins in 1998. He completed only a third of his passes against Syracuse, failed to throw for even 100 yards against Florida, and made a series of mistakes against the Arkansas Razorbacks that year.
Add in his struggles the next year against Florida, and you could see why he’s further down. But this is where we stop being unfair to Martin. He still belongs on the list, not just because he won so many of these games but because, even with mediocre stats, he always seemed to make the key play when it mattered.
Take Syracuse for example. Sure, his stats were bad. But he led the Vols to a touchdown on their first offensive drive to put them in control. Then, he led two separate scoring drives in the fourth quarter, one to give the Vols the lead and one to give them the win, after they had fallen behind both times.
Martin had the key touchdown pass against Florida that was huge. He also broke the game open against the Top 10 Georgia Bulldogs in the second half that year after things were close. In the SEC Championship game against the Mississippi State Bulldogs, he threw two touchdown passes that were 27 seconds apart from each other in the fourth quarter after the Vols had fallen behind 14-10.
And in the Fiesta Bowl, Martin set up Tennessee’s first scoring drive with a bomb to Peerless Price. Their first actual score in the game was on a touchdown pass from him to Shawn Bryson. And he gave the Vols breathing room when they desperately needed it with a 79-yard touchdown pass to Price in the fourth when they were only up by five.
Simply put, Martin always seemed to make the play when Tennessee football most needed it. We haven’t even talked about his five total touchdowns in two games against the Alabama Crimson Tide, which also count for a lot. He wasn’t always consistent, but he could always make the big play in the crucial moment when the Vols needed a win.