For those who may not know, this Saturday is the Tennessee / Alabama game, a.k.a the Third Saturday in October. Their first match-up was in 1901 and I believe it was a tie. And I also believe that was probably about as amicable as the game has ever been. Regardless of how good or how crappy either team happens to be that year we're all but guaranteed a great game - or if nothing else - a good old-fashioned bloodbath. The object of the game at this point isn’t really who wins, it’s just who has the most players left standing by the end.
The year I was born began our longest losing streak to the Crimson Tide and for the whole first decade of my life I didn’t know what it was like to “Beat ‘Bama.” That is, until October 16, 1982. On that day Alabama was ranked #2 and picked to beat us yet again, but a long touchdown pass and a last-second interception changed all that. I don’t have a lot of memories from that day but I’ve read enough and seen enough replays to create them in my mind: Willie Gault running into the end zone in all orange; the orange and white UT in the middle of the field; John Ward’s “And the crowd. Goes. Be-zerk!”; fans rushing the field. But what I do legitimately remember is that it was my very first feeling of being part of something bigger than myself. Vacation Bible School had tried and failed several times to accomplish this, but pulling one over on that nasty old bastard, Bear Bryant, sure did the trick. If I hadn’t known since birth that I was UT fan, I’m pretty sure that at the age of 11 at the dinner table that night I would have declared myself to be one.
And there are other games we can’t forget either. The good: Peyton Manning breaking another Alabama streak in ’95, 41-14. Or beating them again in ’97 when we listened to parts of the game on the radio... standing around a parked car... at a wedding reception... with the mother of the bride... who made her daughter wait until a time out to throw the bouquet... The bad: our fourth quarter loss on a fumble that added insult to an already injured season. The ugly: 5 over-times (but we did win) or three years ago when two rude Alabama players warming up on the field in the middle of the Pride of the Southland nearly caused a riot.
These days we don’t always get to play the game on the TSIO, which is just wrong, in my opinion (Is nothing sacred!?! What’s next, Thanksgiving on a Tuesday!?!). Or, we have the new issue of CBS – for the first time in oh, twenty years or so – deciding not to televise the game. They’ve opted instead to gamble on the chance at a flashy upset of Kentucky over Florida. And I understand that there’s money involved. And yeah, neither of ours teams has been on a grand winning streak the last few years, but if NBC can still televise Notre Dame games with a straight face, this really shouldn't have been that difficult a decision. But whatever. Karma will come back to bite you in the ass, CBS. Just you wait. As for me, this Saturday I'm sure I’ll check in at some point to see if Kentucky has maybe – hopefully – won, but for the most part, my ass will be firmly rooted in tradition and in front of the TV watching the Vols vs. the Tide. So what if it's on UPN/Channel 30. Yeah, that's right! We're the Lincoln Financial Game of the Week. No shame in that! On commercial breaks I may keep an ear out for General Neyland turning over in his grave, but I still say GO VOLS!