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Presence of former Peyton Manning roommate at 1996 incident is disputed

Tennessee Volunteers vs. Florida Gators

USA - SEPTEMBER 20: Peyton Manning of the Tennessee Volunteers looks on against the Florida Gators on September 20, 1997. (Photo by Sporting News via Getty Images)

Sporting News via Getty Images

If the sudden emergence of a new eyewitness to the 1996 University of Tennessee incident between Peyton Manning and Jamie Naughright was intended to provide Peyton with a silver bullet that would eradicate the dark cloud from his ride into the sunset, it missed the target.

Former Peyton Manning teammate and roommate Greg Johnson told Robert Klemko of that Johnson saw what happened between Manning and Naughright 20 years and three days ago, balancing the contest of accounts at two vs. two: Manning and Johnson against Naughright and Malcolm Saxon. But this assumes that Greg Johnson did indeed witness what occurred.

T.J. Quinn of ESPN reports that perhaps Johnson didn’t. According to Quinn, Manning teammate Kevin Horne says Johnson wasn’t there.

I never saw him,” Horne said. “I saw that story and I’m like, ‘Greg Johnson?’ I like Greg, but, sorry, I don’t remember that.”

In 1996, Horne told an investigator that he didn’t see what happened between Manning and Naughright but that Naughright did not seem to be upset after that.

“I’m not saying that what they remember is wrong or anything, I’m just telling you what I remember,” Horne told Quinn.

Saxon, who was never questioned under oath but who signed an affidavit and wrote a letter suggesting that he supports Naughright’s version of the events, declined to speak to Quinn about the situation. (Saxon consistently has refused to talk.) Johnson spoke to Quinn, a day after Klemko’s article was published.

“I was there, and I absolutely saw what happened,” Johnson said. “And if those other guys can remember who was in there and who wasn’t 20 years ago, they’ve got better memories than I do.”

Still, Horne insists that Johnson wasn’t there.

As a result, there will continue to be no clarity about what happened, although anyone who believes either side of the situation has enough evidence to justify their conclusions and to support them during arguments with those who feel otherwise. Not surprisingly, those who already had embraced Manning’s version have amplified their positions based on Johnson’s story. And those who saw the circumstances as suggesting that perhaps this was no mere mooning are expressing skepticism about Johnson’s out-of-the-blue attempt to exonerate his former teammate and roommate.

Adding to the skepticism is the complete failure of Johnson to say anything about this matter when Manning was facing a serious piece of litigation from Naughright that clearly made the 1996 incident an issue. While Johnson was serving overseas in the military at the time, Sean Newell of Vice Sports (in a fair assessment of Johnson’s overall credibility and of the manner in which his story suddenly appeared) points out that Johnson was back in the United States while the litigation was pending. Assuming that Manning’s lawyers knew that Johnson could counter Naughright and Saxon, they could have and should have made arrangements to get Johnson’s testimony preserved. At a minimum, they could have obtained an affidavit from Johnson by working through the military; surely, men and women who have been stationed in other countries are required from time to time to chime in on matters within their knowledge pending in criminal and/or civil court.

From Manning’s perspective, he undoubtedly hopes that he can somehow say or do one thing that would make this all go away. Unless there’s a previously-unknown video of what did and didn’t happen in the Tennessee training room, that’ll never happen.