If the Georgia Bulldogs are preparing to take on the Tennessee Volunteers your knees are probably already aching. You could use a drink for that. Allow me to help.
University of Tennessee football has fallen pretty far over the past ten years. There were the waning years of the Fulmer regime and the infighting that accompanied the former Vol lineman's ever more futile efforts. There was the Lane Kiffin era, which was shorter than the warranty on many pre-owned cars and the waiting period to buy a dictionary in Knoxville. It ended in one of the more glorious nights in recent college football memory. Finally there was the Derek Dooley era, with so many indignities that, like Derek himself, I've kind of lost count for the moment.
Now Butch Jones is the latest to take on the reclamation project in the hill country. A better man would be rooting for the Vols to return to respectability, for the good of the SEC East and the rivalry with the Red and Black. For while Tennessee is not a rival on par with Florida or Georgia Tech or Auburn, this is a game which has been important in the larger scheme of things for twenty years now. A better man would want the Georgia Bulldogs and Tennessee Volunteers to meet as powerful rivals for a well-played, clean football game contested before a national television audience.
I am not that man. I am the man who entered college in 1996 and left in 2000. The one who vividly remembers the heady build-up and savage letdown of the 1997 Tennessee game. Beginning to turn the tide against the Vols is the only significant accomplishment for which I recognize Jim Donnan. That 2000 game was one of the sweetest victories of my Bulldog lifetime. There's a reason students rushed the field and tore down the goal posts that night, the only such event in Sanford Stadium history to my knowledge. If you came of age as a Bulldog fan in the 1990's, Tennessee will always hold a special spot in the coldest, darkest shadow of your heart.
Younger fans won't realize this, but the worst current Alabama fans have nothing on late 90's Tennessee fans. At the advent of the college football Internet Tennessee fans were the acknowledged leader in jackassery. They weren't much better in person. Every fanbase, including our own, has a ready army of fans whose mothers and fathers did a poor job of instilling certain basic human courtesies. But anyone who ever went up to that teetering rust heap the Vols play in knows that an inordinate number of them used to wear that disgusting pale orange.
The years may have humbled Tennessee fans, but make no mistake, my response to those who would let the past of this series stay in the past is one I learned from a cheap baseball hat in a truck stop outside Maryville: "Forget hell!!"
If it's good enough for the little old Confederate on the cheap ball cap it's good enough for me. It's going to take a lot more beating of the Tennessee Volunteers for me to forget what Phil Fulmer did to my college years.
So today's cocktail is a little different: pure kerosene. Some 'Dawgs just want to watch Knoxville burn a little longer. And I'm one of them. Don't drink it, but feel free to light some Jamal Lewis memorabilia aflame. It's good for the soul.
Feel free to use this as your open comment thread for Thursday night football. I'm told that both Georgia Southern and Appalachian State are playing and there's very little chance of Florida or Michigan losing. But I'll probably watch anyway. Until later...