It sure feels good to be writing this knowing Jim Butler was prancing around decked out in his Orange and White this past Monday. What a difference a week makes for attitudes within the Big Orange Nation. Now all the attention will be on the game with Kentucky this Saturday when UT tries to even their season’s record at 6-6. Thankfully, this year’s SEC losing streak is behind the Vols with the 27-21 overtime win over Vanderbilt last weekend.
The weekend was not without a few hiccups. The SEC officiating crew did their best to try and ruin a great play by Eric Gordon that won the Vandy game. After several end of game scenarios that went against the Vols last season, the Vols finally had something break their way. At least this time, common sense prevailed, if not the letter of the law.
I know that Butler and other Vanderbilt fans are going to be yelling “foul." If there was a whistle blown by the official, no player on the field responded to it and the play went forward to its rightful conclusion.
The other hiccup belonged to the Lady Vols. Poor shooting from both the field and the foul line contributed to an overtime loss on the road to Virginia. This upset should remind the team that superior talent alone will not be enough to get victories this season. I would expect the Lady Vols to be refocused when #1 Baylor visits on Sunday.
UT fans have dealt with more than their fair share of bad news since this time last year. Pat Summitt’s health, Bruce Pearl’s NCAA problems that led to his firing and the untimely injuries to key players on the football team with an already thin depth chart certainly shook most of the Tennessee faithful to their core. In spite of all the negatives, if Tennessee fans take the time, they will find many things they can be thankful for this Thanksgiving.
For me, the list is a positive one and includes some of the following:
First, I am thankful that Pat Summitt’s condition was diagnosed early and is allowing her to continue doing what she loves, coaching the Lady Vols! I would add to this blessing a superior coaching staff in place to help her.
Next, I am thankful for this year’s Vol Basketball team. Although under sized, they are playing from opening tap until final buzzer in the early games. While this team probably will not win championships this season, they should win the hearts of the fan base with their all out effort.
Next, I am thankful that this year’s football team still has a positive attitude despite the injuries and a brutal SEC schedule which included the current top three teams in the country.
I am also thankful for the seniors that were honored last Saturday night that chose to stay at UT after they saw their coaches unceremoniously dismissed a few years back. They have shown character and been a part of a rebuilding process that will ultimately bring the glory days back to Knoxville.
I am thankful that Tyler Bray was able to recover from his injury and provide a late season spark for this team.
I am especially thankful for our talented sports photographer Larry Robertson that captures the essence of UT sports through his pictures.
And yes, I am thankful for the good natured banter with Jim Butler each football season that has made the Vanderbilt – Tennessee rivalry special here on the plateau.
Finally, I am thankful for all those of you that frequent this column, for none of this would be possible without your support.
This weekend UT will be in the spotlight once again. First, the Vols try to become Bowl eligible against Kentucky and keep alive the nation’s second longest winning streak against an opponent. Then it will be the Lady Vols looking to pull off a huge upset against the nation’s top ranked team, Baylor, led by their 6”8” center, Brittney Griner.
The Vols will have to defeat Kentucky for the 27th straight time, if "Rocky Top" is to be heard at a bowl game this season. While at first glance, that looks to be an easy assignment, especially with the “Cats” having a down year and Bray’s return at quarterback. I would remind those with short memories that the last two games in Lexington saw the Vols narrowly escape with hard fought overtime wins.
I hope that everyone has a great Thanksgiving and remembers the many blessings that God has bestowed on each of us, both through sports and in life. In the spirit of Thanksgiving week, (just this once) I will be pulling for Jim Butler’s ‘Dores along with the Vols to become bowl eligible this Saturday. Go Vols and Lady Vols!
(Frank Gale is a Chronicle correspondent and his column appears regularly.)