Sixteen years ago, Peyton Manning was busy preparing for an SEC Championship run, a Heisman Trophy campaign and the 1998 NFL Draft.
He didn't have a Twitter account then, and he still doesn't. But Twitter was far from existence and the Internet, with its unlimited outlets for self-expression, was still raw and undeveloped.
Not that Manning ever would have, but if he wanted to express public displeasure with his situation as a revered college athlete, his only opportunity likely would have been in front of a herd of newspapermen and local television cameras.
It could not have been done with a few keystrokes on a weekend night when the pressure of a major collegiate fan base was weighing on his shoulders.
A direct, instantaneous connection between a player and his entire fan base was not available in 1997.
Sixteen years later, Heisman Trophy winning Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel is able to drop whatever message he chooses to 475,000 Twitter followers in an instant. And if it is interesting, it will be shared by thousands more and picked up by national sports news outlets.
In both quarterbacking style and public perception, Manziel and Manning have few similarities. But an unquestioned equality in each is their "living legend" status among their collegiate fan bases.
And in a way Manning likely never would have or could have, Manziel abused his access to social media this off-season, sending ripples well beyond a football-crazed college town.
"(Expletive) like tonight is why I can't wait to leave college station...whenever it may be," tweeted Manziel on June 15 – a Saturday night.
Manziel embraced a socialite persona after capturing the Heisman. Although his risqué tweets have not been his lone news-making activity during the off-season, they were enough to garner admonishment from Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin at SEC Media Days in July.
"Different people get things at different times," Sumlin said in regards to Manziel, who did not tweet for a month after his expletive show of frustration and a subsequent "discussion" with Sumlin.
"The whole social media aspect is different," the Aggies coach continued. "That's something that young people need to continue to understand, whether they're in college, whether they're at the pro level, or whether they're in high school."
Sumlin is not the only SEC coach dealing with the Twitter trend. The always entertaining Les Miles of LSU leads all college football coaches in number of Twitter followers, and he had plenty of opinion on the subject at SEC Media Days.
"The interesting piece is, I can't tell you the number of wonderful men that I have on my team. I'm telling you, quality guys, good students," Miles explained. "But when they get behind the social media cloak, they get to speak in a totally different way. It's like, 'where did you get that? How did you think this was even appropriate?'"
Washington State coach Mike Leach banned Twitter from his team last year, as did Florida State's Jimbo Fisher.
But Miles believes the solution – or at least remedy – for social media lies in training his players who use it.
"What we really are trying to do is educate and give them their brand and the responsibility that they have to understand that this is a media outlet," Miles said, "that, in fact, when you put a piece of information that you think you're just writing to your buddy, you are not."
The communications staff at Tennessee takes a similar approach and chooses to inform student-athletes on proper social media usage.
"You have to educate. You have to teach them the practices," said Jason Yellin, assistant athletics director for Media Relations at UT. "You have to teach them they're representing themselves, the university, their personal brand and all that goes in to it."
UT's football coaching staff has embraced social media. In nine months on the job, head coach Butch Jones has become the third-most followed coach in college football. And he doesn't just use it as a ploy to entertain fans.
"Part of recruiting and everything is staying up with the times, and it's here to stay," Jones told The Daily Beacon in February. "It's part of our fabric now in society ... If you are not up on it, you're going to get passed by."
While public tweets to recruits are impermissible per NCAA rules, privately sent direct messages on Twitter are not policed, and Yellin said that direct messages are a tool that UT's coaches use to interact with potential student-athletes.
However, in regards to its use in recruiting, Twitter has been a double edged sword for UT in the past.
During Lane Kiffin's tenure at UT in 2009, the oft-controversial coach fired off a tweet naming a player who had just given the Vols a verbal commitment. The post was a secondary NCAA rules violation and UT self-reported the incident to the NCAA. Coaches are not allowed to publicly mention prospects by name until they have signed a National Letter of Intent with the school.
"There's a fine line about what's acceptable and what's not acceptable," Yellin said. "The biggest thing is 'ask before you act' (and) to make sure with compliance (that what) you're sending is on the up and up and complies with the NCAA."
Social media has only grown since 2009, and so has awareness of what's permissible within the parameters of NCAA rules. In addition to the use of direct messaging on Twitter, Jones and his staff have found a way to publicly celebrate the commitment of a recruit through Twitter.
Junior college defensive end DaVonte Lambert tweeted, announcing his verbal commitment to the Vols at 10:06 a.m. on Aug.13.
Though none of the UT staff made Kiffin's error and mentioned Lambert by name, several coaches tweeted slogan-riddled, celebratory statements shortly after -- as they have done following the verbal commitments of numerous prospects in the class of 2014.
"#BrickByBrick Tennessee getting stronger and stronger every day!!," tweeted UT defensive coordinator John Jancek at 10:37, just 31 minutes later. It was his first tweet in nine days.
"Brick by brick. Foundation just got stronger. Fired up. #GBO #FistUp," said UT defensive line coach Steve Stripling two hours after Lambert's commitment.
In total, four of UT's five coaches associated with the defense, including Jones, tweeted something similar within two hours of Lambert's commitment. But, at least for the time, it's all fair game, so long as they don't mention his name.
UT players do not have to worry as much about NCAA rules as they do common sense. Senior safety Byron Moore is active on Twitter – even using it to help recruit. UT's communications staff taught him a different gauge to use before tweeting from @bmoore3vfl.
"They say 'if you don't want your mom or gramma to see it, then don't send it out," Moore told The Daily Beacon. "Because once it's out there, it's out there."
Despite the continued education and social media training, UT athletes from all sports still send unflattering posts. But Yellin and his staff remain on guard for them and take action when they identify one.
"We are constantly tracking throughout the day all the tweets and photos and stuff that the guys put out," Yellin said. "If something happens, we'll let them know ... and then it's gone usually pretty quickly...
"Hopefully it's not something earth-shattering like the Manziel tweet."
Though UT's roster does not feature any players near the notoriety of Manziel, or even a modern-day Manning, Jones preaches "the one second rule" to his players.
"In one second, your life can change," he said at SEC Media Days. "That's the world we live in today with multimedia, Twitter, Facebook, everything.
"It can be a positive if you allow it to be a positive, just like it can be a negative. But we monitor that and take great pride in that. That's part of the thing of being a part of these players' lives, is mentoring them outside the realm of football, but in life in general as well."
-- David Cobb traveled to Hoover, Ala. for SEC Media Days. He can be followed on Twitter at @DavidWCobb
UT Coaching Staff Twitter Listing:
Head Coach Butch Jones: @UTCoachJones
Offensive Coordinator and Quarterbacks Coach Mike Bajakian:@UTCoachJake
Defensive Coordinator John Jancek:@UTCoachJancek
Wide Receivers Coach Zach Azzani:@UTCoachZA
Running Backs Coach Robert Gillespie:@UTCoachG
Defensive Line Coach Steve Stripling:@UTCoachStrip
Linebackers Coach Tommy Thigpen: @UTCoachThig
Offensive Line Coach Don Mahoney: @UTCoachMahoney
Defensive Backs Coach Willie Martinez: @UTCoachMartinez
Special Teams and Tight Ends Coach Mark Elder: @UTCoachElder
Tennessee Volunteer Football: @Vol_Football