Suddenly, the Auburn-Tennessee basketball game just took on a whole new level of importance.
Thursday night at 7 PM EST, the Vols take on the Auburn War Eagles (hey, that's what they should call themselves...) in Thompson-Boling. It will be broadcast on ESPN2 and, in true ESPN fashion, will likely get less mention than certain news about Tennessee that happens to be unrelated to the basketball program. It's going to be the focus within the media, as well as the big thing on everybody's mind in the arena.
Meanwhile, we have a basketball team with 6 scholarship athletes and 3 walk-ons who just beat the #1 team in the country shortly after experiencing their own sudden losses and public embarrassment. On that Sunday in TBA, Vol fans showed up in force and gave the men's team one of the loudest environments ever seen in order that the team might know that we still supported the innocents. In post-game interviews, Pearl and the players mentioned several times just how much that support meant to the team and how appreciative they were that the fans hadn't given up on them.
It was a night of two remarkable events. The upset victory was the obvious one, but the ardent support deserves mention in its own right. It would have been very easy for UT fans to express their anger over the rental car incident by withholding support that night; after all, the team was suddenly expected to get trounced and it was basketball players who had just damaged the university's appearance on a national scale. But the fans showed up and proved that they were behind those who were clearly not guilty of any wrongdoing. Those nine remaining players were wounded by the mistakes that night, just like the fans - and the fans understood the difference.
With the football team, things are slightly different. There isn't an upcoming football game for us to extend the same gesture toward these athletes. However, we can do the next best thing by proxy: show our support at the men's basketball game on Thursday.
We're already jazzed about the men's team (even if it's hard to feel through last night's news). TBA looks to be an exciting night with conference play opening up. And everybody's going to have the football team on their minds. It's not a stretch to imagine the Vol Nation at TBA cheering their hardest for UT - basketball and football - and making Auburn's ears ring. It should be clear to everybody who watches on TV that UT fans aren't going away anytime soon. We rebounded quite nicely from one incident, thank you very much, and I have no doubt we will again.
And I have a feeling that there will be an opportunity at the game to express support for the football team directly. I have no inside information, but knowing what I do know about the athletic department, I wouldn't be surprised if there's something in the works.