[Note by Joel, 11/22/09 7:49 AM EST ] Updated with video at the end.
When Lane Kiffin arrived in Knoxville, he quickly instituted a couple of hard and fast rules: (1) every position was up for grabs; and (2) every player competes for playing time during the week at practices. It was widely publicized that the first rule had one major exception -- every position was up for grabs except Eric Berry's -- but there was an exception to the second rule, too: defensive tackle Wes Brown would get playing time even when coaches forced him against his will to rest during the week at practice.
Why the exception for Brown? His knees were a complete and total wreck, and everyone knew pretty early on that Brown only had so many snaps left to give, but he'd left no doubt in the minds of the coaching staff that he would be ready when the ball was snapped. The trick with Wes was saving those snaps for when they really mattered.
So on Senior Day, during his last game at Neyland Stadium, in what would likely be the third-to-last football game he would ever play, Wes Brown was making the best of the last of the ration of snaps his battered knees would allow. And he and the rest of the Big Orange Nation received a just reward.
With 14 seconds left and the Commodores down by eight points, Vandy quarterback MacKenzi Adams scrambles out of the pocket looking for a miracle for himself and his team. Instead, he hands one to Brown and the Volunteers.
Chris Walker chases Adams down, wraps him up, and as he's spinning Adams around for the sack, Adams tosses a desperation pass directly to Brown. Brown intercepts the pass at the 26 yard line and takes off toward the checkerboards. He outruns an offensive lineman, but Vandy's Warren Norman catches him around the waist at the ten yard line. Norman uses all of his 188 pounds against Brown, making himself an anchor on Brown's ailing knees while Brown attempts to will himself toward the end zone.
Ten yards. All he needs is ten yards.
Ten. Nine. The ever-stoic Lane Kiffin leaps into the air, thrusting his arm toward the end zone.
Eight. Seven. Kiffin returns to earth but immediately leaves it for the air again, and he continues to bound down the sideline waving his arms like a lunatic, like he's attempting to add whatever strength he can offer from afar to Brown's screaming knees.
Six. Five. Four. Jonathan Crompton is bounding up and down now, too, wishing for another the storybook ending Crompton would likely be denied.
Three. The entire Tennessee sideline goes berserk. The entire stadium is a bubbling cauldron of orange.
Two. Brown's knees begin to fail, and he begins to fall.
One. Brown stretches out his arms, hoping to break the plane of the end zone before one of his traitorous knees gives out and touches turf.
And then he's in.
The official raises both arms to signal touchdown, and Kiffin's and Crompton's sideline gyrations bring them crashing into each other. Kiffin actually smiles and gives an airborne Crompton a mighty shove. On the field, Brown is dogpiled in the end zone by his teammates, and Kiffin is literally dancing back up the sideline the way he came, smiling wider than I have ever seen.
This is what Senior Days are made of: Wes Brown spent the last of himself and was rewarded with one last shining moment in front of a wildly-cheering home crowd, a moment that he -- and we -- will cherish forever.