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This item appeared in The Times & Free Press on Sunday, January 2, 2000.

[Times & Free Press: All's Right With Tempe And Tee]

All's Right With Tempe And Tee

Executive Sports Editor

TEMPE, Ariz. -- It is the morning after the night before and all is apparently right with the world and Tempe.

Friday night was literally a blast, the heralded Tempe Block Party celebrating the dawning of the millennium with a spectacular fireworks display from the peak of the giant rock that overlooks Sun Devil Stadium.

No other explosives were detonated, at least not in the area of MILLennium or University or Fifth Street or any of the other streets that are a part of the grid system that is downtown Tempe. Ben & Jerry's still lives. So does The Gap.

Still missing are the materials stolen from northern Arizona that are used to make bombs. And, oh, yes, Tennessee fans.

But most importantly to Tennessee, quarterback Tee Martin is not missing. He shows no ill effects from the flu at the first of the week, and he is eager to take his first snap under the lights at Sun Devil.

Tee puts the Gee in this team that has gone 22-2 under his leadership since he took over that role from Peyton Manning, who is working magic of his own this year with the Indianapolis Colts.

Despite what he does here this evening, Martin will leave the Vols with the most wins in any two-year period of UT football history. And his legacy includes what only one other Tennessee quarterback has accomplished, a national championship.

It would be easy for Tee to sit back, take it all in, and not get so pumped about tonight and a Fiesta Bowl in which the most a winner will get is the Avis prize.

"Me get excited about playing?" Martin said rhetorically. "I could get up if we were playing the Sisters of the Corn. I am a competitor. I don't care who we are playing or what we are playing for. I play to win in any game, even cards, and I'll play until I do.

"This is not about Florida State, and that's OK. This is about Nebraska and, frankly, I think Nebraska has a better team than Florida State. We'll be ready to play."

Martin was asked earlier in the week if he regretted not being able to start for three years -- that Manning decided to stay a final season.

He handled those questions with his typical aplomb.

"I was never disappointed. Peyton was my friend. I roomed with him on the road and I took that year to learn," Martin said. "It was very interesting, going through that year with Peyton and the Heisman thing."

It may be something he'll write about some day, but not before he gets the chance to play pro football. He is upbeat about his chances, especially with the success of those with similar abilities, such as Steve McNair, Mark Brunell and Doug Flutie.

"Man, quarterback used to be a boring position. You sit back and you throw. These guys make it exciting," Martin said.

If that doesn't work out, he may indeed write. Martin does poetry. He has also written children's stories and short stories, none of which have yet been published.

'I love to write,' he said. "I was quiet when I was a kid. My mom used to think something was wrong with me. I was always reading. I even loved to read the dictionary."

Well, Tee is certainly quiet no more, but he is still writing.

Last year, after the Florida State game, he composed a poem, the last lines of which went something like this: "We've finally reached the top, and our competition realizes it is not ... champions."

Martin keeps a journal of his activities and has for a long time. In the past there were daily entries.

"I've changed that. Now I only make entries when big things happen to me," he said.

Obviously he hopes to make an entry late tonight or early Monday morning, here in Tempe, for the second year in a row.

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