An emotional Senior Day at Neyland Stadium.
I have always loved the Maui Classic. There is something so delightfully bizarre about the gathering of elite college basketball programs (along with Oklahoma and Chaminade) into a tiny, sweaty gym in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Add to that the absurd mandate of dressing college basketball coaches, the least fun-loving individuals on earth, in leis and Hawaiian shirts, and crowds that are exact replicas of the 15th region tournament, and you have an event worth watching. That being said, my heart’s not truly in the Lahaina Civic Center this year. That is because for me, and a few sick individuals like me, it’s still football season, and it’s Tennessee week.
As the more experienced readers can attest, the Battle for the Beer Barrel was once a true rivalry. Then something happened: the last quarter century. Kentucky last beat the Vols in 1984, which, for those not math-inclined, was a long time ago. As a point of reference, at that time a gallon of gas cost 15¢, the kids were all singing the latest Nat “King” Cole ballad and Tim Tebow’s mother was first visited by the angel who foretold his immaculate birth. (*Per Wiki) In fairness, Tennessee had largely controlled the series even at that time, having won 48 games to Kentucky’s 23. But even those numbers indicate that Kentucky averaged winning roughly one out of every three to that point in the series, a ratio which makes the Vols’ 25-game streak since 1984 absolutely inexplicable, and utterly unbearable for those of us who must deal with the Orange menace on a daily basis.
Geography often dictates much about our personalities. This is particularly true in the world of college sports, where our level of hatred for an institution is often directly proportional to our proximity to its fans. Those like me, who grew up a Ryan Tydlacka pooch punt away from the Volunteer state, and its vast army of hilljack UT fans, are keenly aware that the University of Tennessee is the epitome of pure evil. But for those blissfully unaware, one needs to go no further than a brief sampling of UT player biographies to illustrate the point. Here goes.
I truly hesitate to speak ill of former UT running back Travis Henry on this site as it is statistically quite likely that several of you are his children. Henry has famously sired eleven known children by ten different women. When not impregnating the southeasten United States, Travis can be found pursuing his business concerns, as evidenced by his 2009 3-year prison sentence for cocaine trafficking. The drug trade has been popular pursuit after, or even during, the football careers of Vol running backs. Jamal Lewis, who once shared the same UT backfield with Henry, actually spent time in prison during his NFL career for conspiracy to traffic coke. Bet those were some interesting position meetings.
And all the glitz and glamour is not limited to the offensive players. Defensive end Leonard Little’s ability to sack quarterbacks kept him in the NFL despite a 1998 DUI manslaughter incident. (Now commonly referred to as pulling a Stallworth, another former Vol by the way.) Little was so deeply impacted by this tragedy that he was arrested for DUI again in 2004. And let’s not forget big Albert Haynesworth. Back before he was known as a man too fat to play defensive tackle in the NFL, he was known primarily for stomping an opponent’s face with his spikes. A true Rocky Top ambassador if there ever was one.
The last year has demonstrated that regardless of who the current warden of the Knox County penal farm is, the culture of the inmates remains unchanged. Last November, three Tennessee players were arrested for attempted armed robbery. This summer, two more were arrested in a Knoxville bar brawl which left an off-duty Knoxville police officer beaten unconscious. Two more Vols have been arrested just this month: defensive lineman Jacques Smith and reserve quarterback Doak Raulston, for assault and DUI respectively.
I recognize the fact that no college football program has totally clean hands, and that some Tennessee blogger could likely point out the misdeeds of some Kentucky players if only the conditions of his probation allowed him access to “the interwebs.” But nobody this side of the Mean Machine so consistently fields a collection of miscreants as the Vols. Which is all part of the reason this streak has to end on Saturday. Neither God nor karma can allow this travesty to continue, right?
And with that, I’ll leave it, once again, with the distinguished gentleman from Alabama.