Why I’m Writing this
Anyone reading this blog for the past couple of months has experienced the pity party that is Vanderbilt Football in 2021. This is nothing new, but it is the reality of the past couple seasons that has featured the slow death of Mason and the transition into yet another rebuilding phase for the ‘Dores.
What has softened the blow, however, is that during that same period Tennessee Football has followed a similar pattern of incompetency. The Georgia State loss. The Jeremy Pruitt McDonald’s scandal that led to his abrupt firing, where fans had just months before revered him as their savior to bring things back to 1998’s level. Such ineptitude from a program like Tennessee never fails to put a smile on my face because compared to Vanderbilt, the resources and expectations that surround the UT football program are astronomical. Despite the enormous disparity in fan base, football culture, recruiting classes, facilities, etc, Tennessee only averaged one more win per season (6) than Vanderbilt did (5) during the span of 2011-2020. Not to mention, Vandy and Tennessee split that stretch of 10 seasons 5-5 head to head. When you have the expectations of a top 10 football team but performance barely better than your “little brother” Vanderbilt, the irony speaks for itself.
So if you’re like me, your blood pressure is starting to tick up just a bit as Tennessee suddenly finds themselves at 4-2 in the first year of Josh Heupel’s tenure, featuring recent decisive victories over Missouri and South Carolina. Beating either of those two teams is nothing to write home about, but it’s just enough to catch my attention and wonder if the always vocal VFL fanbase is right this time: is this a sign of UT being “back?”
We’ll certainly get a good barometer of the state of Tennessee’s rebuild on Saturday night when Lane Kiffin’s high powered Ole Miss offense comes to Neyland, where the Vols are just 2.5 point underdogs. Say the pit in my stomach is correct and Tennessee wins on Saturday. Suddenly, those of us in the TN area are confronted with the horror of an arrogant Tennessee fan base, and I truly don’t think there is anything worse. What do we do? Where do we turn?
Look no further than this upcoming series. I’ve looked back on some of my favorite Tennessee Football losses in recent memory. Losses so gut wrenching on all levels that they’ll immediately trigger some deeply embedded feelings of failure and insecurity within the Tennessee fan and silence them for at least another five minutes. These can be used as immediate ammunition for the Tennessee fan in your life, whether he/she is in your group text, cubicle, or wedding party. We go to 2009 for our first trip down the memory lane of Tennessee infamy.
The first game on this list comes in the Lane Kiffin era, which mentioning in itself will generate some angst within your average Vol fan. 3-3 Tennessee found themselves on the road against a heavily favored and #2 ranked Alabama team with championship aspirations. Tennessee got Alabama in exactly the kind of game that screams upset on the road, as the Tide turned the ball over in crucial moments and was held without a touchdown for the first time in over two years.
For those who don’t remember, the game came down to a final 44-yard field goal attempt by Tennessee kicker Daniel Lincoln as time expired. The kick would seal the victory for upset-minded Tennessee, who was down 10-12 in the game’s final moments. These hopes came crashing down for Tennessee when Alabama tackle Terrence Cody blocked Lincoln’s low kick, thus preserving the victory for the Tide and crushing Tennessee fans who were watching. My 14 year old self was extremely relieved, since the guy I sat next to in Algebra never failed to wear his Tennessee hoodie on the Monday following a Vols win and certainly would have been a nuisance at school.
Alabama would go on to win Nick Saban’s first national championship at the school in a 14-0 campaign. Tennessee finished the year 6-7 with a loss to Virginia Tech in its bowl game, but the season would have carried a crowned jewel of an upset had they executed one simple field goal. Rub salt in the wound by reminding UT fans that they haven’t beaten Alabama since 2006, and that Alabama should have actually been flagged on that last play because Terrence Cody took his helmet off while the ball was still alive.
For next week’s installment, we move to Tennessee’s next season, when Derek Dooley entered the picture and another upset bid on the road somehow ended more even more tragically than this one....