Originally published in The Tennessean
on 9/14/03, written by Jeff Legwold. Emphasis on the pertinent parts mine."
Guitars and gridiron: Chesney, Manning have had share of hits
By JEFF LEGWOLD
Somewhere in the Caribbean this morning, another day in a Rand McNally life, Kenny Chesney has no shirt, no shoes and just one problem.
He has to find a television.
"The joys of a satellite dish," Chesney said. "I'll find one somewhere, and I'll get that game on. I have to check in and see how he is doing
"That game" is Titans-Colts. "He" is Colts quarterback Peyton Manning. Chesney, whose No Shirt, No Shoes, No Problems CD has sold roughly 2.5 million copies, wants to see how "one of my good buddies" will fare against the Titans defense.
The 35-year-old Tennessee native, who had country music's top grossing tour last year, and the 27-year-old former University of Tennessee star, a three-time Pro Bowl selection in the NFL, have spent the better part of eight years constructing a friendship, jamming it into two increasingly busy schedules
.''We find the time,''
Chesney said. ''But the schedule is difficult on any relationship
, whether it's family, love life or a friendship. But we talk a lot, we try to keep it all together
. I was just in Indianapolis for a celebrity bowling tournament he has, and when it was all over I just said, 'OK, I'll see you after the season.' We both kind of just laugh about that. …
''But he loves country music, I love football … our friendship has grown a lot.''
Musicians and athletes have long crossed paths. Dove Award winner Michael W. Smith is a regular visitor to Titans headquarters and is a friend of Coach Jeff Fisher. Running back Eddie George is engaged to Tamara Johnson of the R&B group SWV.
But as close as Chesney and Manning are now, their friendship got off to a rocky start on Rocky Top.
''Basically the first words he spoke to me were something like, 'Get out of here, you ain't supposed to be here,' '' Chesney said.
That was 1996, when Chesney was still a singer on the rise. He approached Manning on the sideline during a Tennessee-Alabama game. Manning had tossed a touchdown pass in the rainy-day game, jogged to the sideline and ''here's this guy, about 5-7, 5-8, 150 pounds, in an orange poncho, whacking me on the shoulder pads. I'm like, 'Shouldn't he be in the stands or something?' ''
''I went over and slapped him on the shoulder pad and said, 'Good job buddy,' '' Chesney said. ''He just said, 'Get out of here, who is this kid?' To be honest with you, he didn't know who I was. I was just some guy on the sidelines.''The two eventually hooked up for lunch.
''We've been buddies ever since,'' Chesney said.
Just after his senior year at Tennessee, Manning appeared on stage with Chesney at a concert in Bristol. Later he appeared with Chesney during a show at the Superdome in New Orleans, Manning's hometown.
Manning estimated he's been on stage with Chesney 20 times, unplugged guitar thrown over his shoulder, belting out the chorus to Don't Happen Twice or one of Chesney's other top-10 hits.
''I've mastered the art of being just far enough from the microphone so people can't hear me,'' Manning said. ''I stand in back, pull my hat low, and you know people never really watch the band. A lot of times people don't know until Kenny introduces the band, and then the show's over so they can't really look if I'm really singing or not.''
They originally made a pact that if Chesney put Manning on stage, Manning would put Chesney, a former high school wide receiver, on the Colts practice field.
''I'm usually one of those guys who always pays my debts,'' Manning said. ''But I haven't gotten him into practice yet. Believe me, I've tried, the offer's been there, but his schedule just hasn't allowed for that. Kenny is a frustrated wide receiver. He loves football, but he never caught a touchdown. So hopefully we can get him out there with no pads and get him a touchdown.''Manning tries to meet Chesney and his band on tour at least once during the NFL offseason and spends about three days on the road. He rides in Chesney's tour bus, is onstage during the shows and even works out with Chesney.Manning wouldn't mind touring more, but his wife Ashley ''is only going to let me get away with that for a few days.''
And although Chesney is wildly popular, he's come to realize that Manning has quite a fan base of his own.
''It depends where we're at,'' Chesney said, ''but when we're out on the road like that you see Peyton's a world-wide athlete — you know, Gatorade and Coke — so a few more people are stopping him, then me.''
Chesney sang in Manning's wedding and the reception. Manning has tried to take up the guitar. But Manning's favorite story about the friendship comes from his days in Knoxville.
Just two months after his senior season, as he was preparing to leave for the NFL's scouting combine, Manning and his friends decided to have one last party before they all went their separate ways. They hired what Manning called ''some fraternity band'' to play in his Old Town apartment.
''Kenny was up there visiting his mother and he calls to see what's going on,'' Manning said. ''I say, 'Why don't you stop by, we're having a little blowout before we all take off.' So he comes by and there are about 100 people there.''
Eventually Chesney was cornered by center Trey Teague, who convinced him to play some songs.
''Trey tells the band to sit down and shut up and that Kenny needs their equipment,'' Manning said. ''Kenny played for an hour and half. Well, everyone was on their cell phones saying this is about to happen, and pretty soon there are people packed in there, hanging from the rails.
''Every year I go back to Knoxville the legend gets a little bigger. This year I heard somebody say their brother was there and that there were 2,000 people. I don't know how crowded it was, I'm just glad I was one of them.''"