Former Tennessee football wide receiver Peerless Price was recognized at the 25th SEC Title game. Here’s why he’s the best playmaker in Volunteers history.
Although it hurt Vol Nation not to see Tennessee in the SEC Championship game this past Saturday, the Vols got a nice trip down memory lane when they saw Peyton Manning and Peerless Price standing alongside each other.
They were joined by 22 other players, all of whom were MVPs of the SEC Title game.
But in light of Manning and Price standing next to each other, it’s time to give a little more love to Price. Manning’s accolades speak for himself, and I argue that he’s the greatest quarterback ever.
Price, meanwhile, may have a case to make as the greatest playmaker in college football history.
We talk all the time about guys like Eric Berry, Jason Witten, and Manning, and when we mention the 1998 national title team, the first two names to come up are Tee Martin and Al Wilson. But Price deserves as much recognition as either of those guys, maybe more.
He does not lead Tennessee in any statistical category, but he does lead in changing games.
In 1998, Price had 61 receptions for 920 yards an 10 touchdowns on the year.
Ready for this? Of those 10 touchdowns, eight came against ranked teams. Five of them ended up being the difference in the game. And four resulted in lead changes.
Three of them were lead changes against ranked teams that ended up being the difference in the game.
Simply put, Price was the biggest impact player per touch that Tennessee football ever had.
His recognition at the SEC Championship game came because of how he played in 1998 against the Mississippi State Bulldogs. With the Vols trying to get to the national title, Price had a 55-yard kickoff return and also had six catches for 97 yards.
His big play came just after the Bulldogs had taken the lead on a punt return. Down 14-10, Price caught a bomb from Martin down the sideline and took it into the end zone for a touchdown. That play gave Tennessee a 16-14 lead, and they held on to win 24-14. But Price was the one to put them in control.
That wasn’t the only SEC Championship game where he made an impact though.
The year before, you know, the Peyton Manning year, Price was the top receiver. After Marcus Nash spent the year breaking records as Manning’s top target, Price became the clutch performer in the title game.
He caught the first touchdown pass of the night. Then, with the Vols down by two scores in the third, Price sparked their comeback by catching another touchdown. He finished that game with 161 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
So in two SEC championship games, Price had over 250 yards and three touchdowns.
But the most standout performance he ever had was his final college game, for the 1998 national championship against the Florida State Seminoles. After hearing all the news about Peter Warrick’s greatness all week, Price torched Florida State, which was supposed to have the best defense in football that year.
He came away with four receptions for 199 yards and a touchdown. And in typical Price fashion, the catches came at crucial times.
With the game scoreless late in the first, Price caught a bomb to set up the Vols’ first touchdown. Then, in the fourth quarter, Tennessee was holding onto a five-point lead. And Price put them in control with a 79-yard touchdown reception.
So in three championship games in college, Price was the difference maker. He averaged over 150 yards a game and came away with four total touchdowns.
Can anybody come up bigger in crucial moments?
What Price did in the 1998 national title was just the cherry on top of a full year of being an amazing playmaker.
That went back to the opening game of the year.
Against the Syracuse Orange(men), the Vols were breaking in Tee Martin at quarterback, and he was forced into a shootout with Donovan McNabb. Martin struggled all day with accuracy as he was still developing.
But Price still managed to catch two touchdown passes. This was on the road against the eventual Big East champions. Both touchdown passes resulted in lead changes, and they were the difference in the game as the Vols held on 34-33.
Two weeks later, against the Florida Gators, everybody talks about Al Wilson on defense forcing all the turnovers and Jeff Hall’s clutch performance on offense.
But one of the two big offensive plays of the game came when Martin threw a bomb into the end zone, and Price, defying all odds, managed to come down with the catch in double-coverage.
That touchdown broke a 10-10 tie, and the Vols would not have won without it.
He also had the game-clinching touchdown against the Georgia Bulldogs that year on the road. Note that Florida and Georgia were both Top 10 teams.
But Price didn’t just make plays through the air. He saved another touchdown for the Alabama Crimson Tide. Sure, they weren’t in the Top 25 that year, but they are still a Tennessee rival.
And with the Vols barely holding onto a 14-11 lead in the second half that game, Price returned a kickoff for a touchdown to break it open.
Against South Carolina, Price had two meaningless touchdowns, but he also caught the pass that allowed Martin to break the NCAA record for consecutive completions.
Then came the Arkansas Razorbacks. Arkansas was undefeated just like Tennessee and No. 10 in the country.
Everybody talks about the Clint Stoerner fumble in this game and the Vols’ tough defense in the second half. But what we forget is who sparked Tennessee’s comeback.
Remember, they were down 21-3 in the first half and couldn’t get anything going. But Price caught a touchdown pass in the second quarter to spark Tennessee and put them back in the game, down only 21-10 at halftime.
That was a huge momentum-booster.
Simply put, every time the Vols needed a play, Price made it. Even without the stats, he is the greatest wide receiver in Tennessee football history.
Coming through in big moments matters.
Price was only 5’11”, but he played like a 6’3″ guy as a No. 1 wideout in college.
And while we all remember Peyton Manning at that title game, we should not forget Peerless Price. Without him, Manning doesn’t get that SEC Championship in 1997. And the Vols would not have even come close to the national championship in 1998.