By Frank Gale
Tennessee’s yearly game with that team that resides in Nashville is finally here. Seems like each year Vandy fans have high hopes, then their team goes out and loses. Only that one misstep by the Big Orange in 2005 blemished the winning ways since 1982.
Sure there has been plenty of close games, but the Vols have managed to escape with a win.
So, while the Big Orange Nation waits for a coaching decision to be made, and ponders the way that the Vols lost to Missouri, complete with enough questionable coaching decisions to fill a season, the Vanderbilt game takes center stage.
Jim Butler has waited a year for revenge for the overtime loss at Neyland last season. He is even starting to envision his beloved Commodores in a bowl game somewhere besides Tennessee. It sure looks like the stars are aligned to make Ole Jim a happy camper this year. But wait!
Better Tennessee teams have struggled against Vandy in the past. Just ask Peyton Manning, who was happy to escape several close encounters with the ‘Dores during his tenure behind center. It seems that despite the records, things seem to break in the Vols favor. Perhaps Vol fans this season should consider that even Phil Fulmer’s squad left Nashville with a win despite his being a lame duck coach.
I guess that explains why Jim hasn’t dared to venture a bet on this contest. Seems that singing "Rocky Top" on the courthouse steps, carrying a “Tennessee Vols are Great” sign in the Crossville Christmas Parade and other humiliating payoffs has taken a toll on our friend.
Or, could it be that the one year Jim didn’t make a wager on the game, Vandy won. I guess he thinks that keeping a low profile, even though his team is favored at home, will somehow see history repeat.
The speculation about a coaching change, coupled with a disappointing 51-48, four overtime loss to Missouri, could all have a lingering effect on this team. It will be up to the seniors to keep this team focused tomorrow night.
Those seniors have endured way more adversity than they ever envisioned when they signed that letter of intent to play for UT. Beating their longtime rival on their home field would help to take some of the sting away from what has been a disappointing season.
Speaking of letters of intent, things are looking really bright on the basketball front this week for both the men and women. A few of the best players in the country will be wearing Tennessee Orange next season. Kudos to both Cuonzo Martin and Holly Warlick for their great recruiting effort this year.
This week both basketball squads will be in action. The men are in Puerto Rico and the Lady Vols returned home to play Rice last night.
The Lady Vols will be right back on the road this weekend to play Miami in sunny Florida. (Now that’s what I call scheduling!)
Meanwhile, there is some unfinished business for this football team. Most likely, more than the seniors will be participating in their last game against rival Vanderbilt.
Last week the Vols’ defense came within one play of winning the game. This week they need to remember they are UT and help keep that dazed look on Butler’s face for another year. Go Vols!
(Frank Gale is a Chronicle correspondent and his column appears regularly.)