Is it just me, or has this football season flown by?
Part of it is because this time last year, we couldn't wait for it to end. 2008 just refused to put us out of our misery, seemingly getting worse every week and giving us pain of both the on and off the field variety. We played miserably on Saturday, then talked about our championship coach getting fired Sunday-Friday, before and after it happened. And so, the season dragged on.
And part of it is the other end of the spectrum: the 2009 Vols haven't played any of the life-or-death games the program was used to in the late 90s/early 00s, the sort of games that make Sunday-Friday drag on for all the right reasons, because you can't wait for Saturday to get here. These are the games where it feels like everything is on the line, where winning means you're still celebrating into the next week, and losing means it'll take the next week to get over it. These, we hope, are the type of games Lane Kiffin has in his future.
As such, 2009 has been an interesting breath of fresh air: lower expectations, new attitude, a few surprises and all learning experiences along the way. And without epic misery or epic matchups, these last eleven weeks have moved at an incredible pace.
And so we arrive once again at Senior Day, where this year 20 Tennessee seniors will make their final run through the T on Saturday night. This is a senior class that's seen more of the roller coaster than any UT class in recent memory: the fifth year seniors have been around for both the 2005 and 2008 seasons, meaning a trip to any bowl game will still be a big deal this season. But there are also plenty of contributors from the 2007 team that won the SEC Eastern Division Championship in this group. And there are several names on this list that we didn't think we'd miss as much in August as we do now.
Throughout the day, we'll be taking a look back at some of the best moments from the notable players in the Class of 2009, starting with the man who's been at the center of it all...
So, last week I wrote one of these "everything is going really well!" pieces that you should never, ever write in the midst of the season. I finished it up Wednesday night, set it to auto-publish Thursday morning at 10:00, then woke up and headed out the door before 8:00. Which means I missed the Janzen Jackson/Nu'Keese Richardson/Mike Edwards story by mere minutes, which was exactly the moment when things stopping going really well for this team. Since we were all immersed in that story for the remainder of the day, allow me to revisit something I said in that original post:
At some point during the first half of the Auburn game, while trying to come to terms with the fact that Kiffin simply wasn't going to pull him, I was imagining Crompton running thru the T on senior day against Vanderbilt as the quarterback of a 3-7 team, being the first Vol in history to get booed in his final run. And now I feel like I owe it to him to be there next week against Vanderbilt, to join in what will be a hero's welcome if the Vols take care of business this week.
Tennessee has made a habit of putting the same quarterback on the field for several consecutive seasons: Casey Clausen started every week he was healthy during his four years, Erik Ainge started for most of his four years, and we've seen Crompton under center for part of 2006, most of 2008 and all of this year. As such, the fanbase builds a long term relationship with these guys that has the ups and downs of a marriage; even Peyton Manning spent a few nights on the couch after long weekends in Florida.
We've tried to divorce Crompton, and more than once. I was going to joke that we've tried to kill him, but at one point the kid received actual death threats. But in these last four weeks, Crompton has changed his ways...and so have we. And now we're like the older couple that's been through the worst of times together only to have a greater appreciation for the best of times. Crompton knows he wasn't playing well, and maybe we feel like we were a little too hard on him at some points, though we both had our reasons.
No, the Vols didn't take care of business against Ole Miss. But to be fair, Crompton wasn't responsible for tackling Dexter McCluster either. Saturday's loss may have dampened the mood...but Saturday is also your last chance to cheer for Jonathan Crompton.
The rights and wrongs of fandom are always up for interpretation, while the highs and lows of Crompton's career are simply a matter of looking at the numbers. Either way, we've been hard on this kid. And either way, he's kept playing and finally, finally started playing well. We owe him a good sendoff on Saturday.