And so it begins…
Tennessee fans tried to take the first three games of the 2016 season seriously. They really did. But you can’t blame them for overlooking Appalachian State, Ohio and, yes even Virginia Tech. Those game were simply a prelude to what actually matters.
Tennessee football has become a one game season.
Ever since the SEC split into divisions in 1992, the Tennessee-Florida game has been the fulcrum of the Volunteers’ season. Win it and UT is pretty much a lock to play in the SEC Championship. Lose it and whatever accomplishments they may achieve over the course of the season are inevitably marred by a gator shaped asterisk.
For 11 seasons in a row now, Tennessee has found new and creative ways to lose to Florida. They’ve shot themselves in the foot, been robbed by the officials and, of course, just gotten their brains beat out by superior teams.
The first three years of the Butch Jones era have been particularly painful. Each season, Tennessee has arguably had the better team and failed to win. The past two seasons they’ve had a fourth quarter lead and failed to win. Each loss is a kick in the crotch of a fan base that has now come to expect the worse.
The Vols may have opened up as an eight-point favorite, but knowledgeable Vol fans know better. They’re prepared for the worst. The fact that Florida’s starting quarterback Luke Del Rio is out with a knee injury matters not. Longtime UT fans realize that the Gators are actually at an advantage when forced to turn to their backup QB. In fact, the most knowledgeable Vol fans realize that it’s not Del Rio’s backup Austin Appleby who they need to fear, but his backup true freshman Felipe Franks. Yes, Tennessee fans are fully prepared to be beaten by a 3rd string true freshman taking his first snaps of college football. Not only are they prepared, they fully expect it.
If only Butch Jones and his staff could see it coming as clearly as the fans. Butch and defensive coordinator Bob Shoop will inevitably stumble around the sideline Saturday afternoon with bewildered looks on their faces as their confused players repeatedly fail to tackle a freshman quarterback running a watered down playbook.
Yes…we’ve seen this movie before. And it sucks.
Vol Nation’s collective anxiety about its yearly date with destiny is about to boil over. Knoxville will have a short temper this week. We’ll snap at people on line at the supermarket. We won’t hold doors. Road rage will increase.
It’s all due to Florida induced PTSD that, just when it seems to be subsiding after a year, comes roaring back every fall reducing even the toughest of Vol fans to a heap of rattled nerves curled in the fetal position in front of their couches mumbling about charts, blown calls, visors etc.
Fortunately, I’ve found a remedy to this madness. Like the alcoholic who wakes up one morning and decides they’ve finally hit rock bottom, I’ve decided to take control of my life once again.
And so it is with great satisfaction that I announce the 2nd Annual Hike to Relieve Testicular Swelling.
Rather than subject myself (and those around me) to the onslaught of profanity and personal property destruction that accompanies any watching of the Vols and Gators, I’ve decided to take a long stroll through the woods.
Join me half an hour before kickoff at The Abrams Falls trail head in Cades Cove and avoid three and a half hours of senseless frustration. We’ll get some fresh air and some exercise.
“But Russell,” you ask. “What if this is the year? What if by some miracle we actually win? We’ll miss one of the great moments in Tennessee football history.”
Fear not…I’ll record the game on DVR. If the Vols win, you’re all invited to Stately Smith Manor to watch with me. But if, as is more likely, our beloved Vols falter in spectacularly humiliating fashion, then you will be spared the agony of watching it.
This is your chance to take control of your own destiny. You don’t have to be miserable this weekend. You don’t have to be a nuisance to those around you. You don’t have to take that orange and blue kick directly to your gonads.
I’m here to tell you there is a better way.
Admitting you have a problem and that you’re powerless to control it is the first step.
And once you take that first step, the rest of the hike is a breeze.