Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A Bittersweet Day

I think it's safe to say I've been waiting for this day for eight years. At the same time, for a different reason, it's a day I had hoped wouldn't happen for several more years. The two aren't really connected as far as most people can see, I guess. But, in my heart they are.

1. "Democracy is not a spectator sport"

I love to vote. I live for tradition and ritual. It's fairly safe to say that I'm a sap. A proud sap, indeed. My love of voting comes from a love of country as well as a love of state, city and community. When voting in my first presidential election, while in college in Ohio, I made the extra effort to vote absentee in Tennessee. I wasn't going to let my first presidential vote count for any other state. I also made one of my roommates, a Republican, sign as my witness that I voted for Bill Clinton and Al Gore. My love of voting, country, state and city also includes love of irritating the beejeezus out of any Republicans still willing to claim me as a friend or relative.

To mark the occasion I re-watched the Northern Exposure episode "Democracy in America." The quote from this title comes from this episode as does this (from my beloved Cicely radio personality, Chris "in the Morning" Stevens, of course):

"Today every runny nose I see says 'America' to me. We were outcasts, scum, the wretched debris of a hostile, aging world. But we came here, we built roads, we built industry, powerful institutions. Of course along the way... we basically stained our star spangled banner with a host of sins that can never be washed clean. But today we're here to celebrate the glorious aspect of our past. A tribute to a nation of free people. The country that Whitman exalted:
'The genius of the United States is not best or most in its executives or legislators, nor in its ambassadors or authors or colleges or churches or parlors or even in its newspapers or inventors, but always most in the common people.'
I must go out now and fill my lungs with the deep clean air of Democracy."

2. "He Will Always Be My Coach"

I haven't been writing about football much this year, but there hasn't been much to write about that was good. And I spend enough time on here griping and complaining already and goodness knows that there are plenty of other people out there on the interwebs running their mouths with their opinions about what's gone wrong and what should be done. My love and devotion to my state and my team isn't any less, I just didn't want to add my negativity to the mix.

Yesterday, however, Tennessee Head Football Coach, Phillip Fulmer, announced that he would not be returning next season. I don't know what to say. On the one hand I'm not surprised. On the other I am heartbroken. Much like my post a few weeks ago comparing the destruction of Yankee Stadium to a greater dysfunction in our culture, I think this speaks to much the same. I don't know for a fact, but I have a pretty good feeling that on election day, Coach Fulmer and I would not be in agreement, but this I do know:

Coach Fulmer is from Winchester, Tennessee. He was a student and football player at the University of Tennessee and played his first game in 1969. As an adult he was an assistant coach for Tennessee and then has spent the last 17 years as the head coach. His record today is 150-51. During the height of his career in the 90s, his record is 75-5. Student athlete after student athlete has praised Coach Fulmer over the years for mentoring them, for helping them through difficult times, and for being the father that some of them never had.

These days his record is not as good and it has been extremely disappointing. Yes, you could maybe argue that he's off his game. He's past his prime. He's too stubborn and unwilling to change with the times. But you can't argue that he's not a good coach. And more importantly, that he's not a good man, because his love of our state and our university and the boys that come to play for him is undeniable. Many of the people that have been calling for Coach Fulmer to resign are the same people that I spoke of in my earlier post. Those who don't value tradition or history. You're not going to find a new coach with the same knowledge and respect for being a Tennessee Volunteer that Coach Fulmer has. And maybe we'll win more games, but we also may lose a top five recruiting class who is already committed to Tennessee in the face of dismal season because of the kind of person they see in Coach Fulmer. I guess we'll have to see.

There are all kinds of things being written about this right now that have touched my sappy heart and that I'm sure I'll be bombarding you with at a later date. But I think Peyton Manning has said all that needs to be said for now.

"This is a sad day for the Tennessee family. Nobody loves the University of Tennessee more than Coach Fulmer... I will always be indebted to him for the impact he has made on my life and my football career. I know I speak for hundreds of players when I say it was an honor to have played for him at UT. I am fortunate to have played four years for one of the greatest coaches in the history of college football. His legacy at Tennessee will be that he built men and won championships. He will always be my coach."

1 comment:

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

I'm sorry about your coach.

But I'm so so SO happy about the 1st point in your post. I love that speech by Chris Stevens (You loved Northern Exposure too? I tell you, we are soul mates!) and I ALWAYS vote--even in rinky-dink April elections. And I am giddy this morning.