DRAWING THE CURTAIN ON PHILLIP FULMER'S FINAL ACT AS THE HEAD COACH OF THE TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS

Above all else, the greatest thing about sports is that it is unscripted entertainment. Competitors are cast together on the same stage with the director insisting from the shadows only that each is to attempt to achieve his own success by depriving the other of his. Often the impromptu drama in live sporting events rivals that of award-winning scripts designed by their very nature to lead you through an emotional gamut from status quo to conflict to denouement.

But if the unscripted nature of live contests is their strength, it is also their weakness. Often the hero fails. Often the villain wins. Too often the curtain closes with the audience looking quizzically at each other and saying, "Maaaaan. It should not have ended that way."

Yet it's precisely the unknowable ending that makes a positive conclusion all the more satisfying. There was really no reason for Vol fans to believe that their team would win its last game of the season, no real basis for believing that the players would be able to put together an entire game that would actually give them a real opportunity to douse Phillip Fulmer with Gatorade one last time or to carry him off the field with the honor he deserves.

But there it was, the happy ending. Coach Fulmer smiling. Gerald Jones and Jonathan Crompton racing straight for him as the clock cleared to zeroes so that they could have their opportunity to embrace him and tell him again how much he means to them. A host of players dumping the Gatorade over his back. A bigger host of players in the colors of both schools huddled together at midfield with Fulmer telling Erin Andrews and ESPN to just hold their money-grubbing horses for a second because we're gonna have our prayer -- it's Tradition, don't you know. Fulmer then answering the inane questions with all of the class and honor and integrity you have come to expect from him, saying not that the administration was wrong -- although he surely believes that they were -- or that his record suggests that he should have been given an opportunity to remedy the problems with the offense -- although he most certainly believes that it does -- but remarking simply that he "will always be a Vol."

And then there were Ramon Foster and Anthony Parker heaving Fulmer on their shoulders and carrying him off the field in a moving mass of welling-eyed, 200- and 300-pound players in a manner fitting a man who has devoted his entire career to the betterment of the Tennessee Volunteer football program. And there was that man, who had struggled against anger and tears three weeks ago, now riding high on the shoulders of his beloved players, smiling from ear to ear, carrying the game ball high and tight, just like he always taught his players whether they listened to him or not.

The curtain has closed. The house lights have lit. Perhaps it should not have ended this season, this game.

But regardless of whether it should have ended at that time, there can be no doubt that it should have ended that way.

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