Dear Lane: They Weren't Waving With All Their Fingers

Dear Mr. Kiffin,

I'm willing to let your vapid self-aggrandizement and self-denial go up to a certain point, mostly because it's pointless to expect anything better of you.  But when you suggested in your USC press conference that the students were rioting because you must have done some things right here in Knoxville, for some reason I can't let that one slide.  Is that actually what you thought when you were huddled inside an athletics building with a police escort while hundreds of students were waiting for you to step outside? You high-tailed it out of Knox faster than a snake-bit hound.  You were there; you know better. 

I know better, too; I was there to watch the crowd.  And, after having done something you wouldn't-- hang about to observe the aftermath of your hatchet-blow to this campus, I just want to point out one thing.

Lane, sweetie: try taking a page from your Daddy's play-book and man up just a little, for heaven's sake, before you embarrass somebody.  Take a look at the photos.  That wasn't sadness or disappointment I saw last night-- that's outrage.    None of these students are waving with all five fingers

Mob Action, UT Campus, 01/12/10

Okay, so here's what I saw the other night as I watched a bunch of kids expressing their pent-up emotions the only way their Grand Theft Auto- playing lives could understand.  I went down to the campus to check out the scene after Swiperboy's mistaken Tweet about tear-gas popped up on the message boards.  As it turned out, the only 'tear gas' in the area were the reeking fumes from a burning dorm mattress.  Yet, now that I know what kind of acrid, brain-melting stench gets let off when you torch a mattress soaked with the sweat of who knows how many students (most with questionable bathing habits), Swiperboy's mistake is understandable.  


Mob action on UT Campus, 01/12/10



For two hours, I wandered around campus with that mob of students (usually about a few hundred in number) with a camera to try and figure out what this was all about.  Most of the destruction happened pretty early on-- like that mattress, or a soggy, nasty pile of burned T-shirts.  At first, some in that crowd tried to sustain something like hatred for you and they funnelled it into some pretty pointless destruction.  Most of the students were standing around just to watch.

For some reason, I find it typical that you would mistake petty criminal behavior by a mob of restless kids as approval.  In fact, let's look at the official record: the local press never exactly embraced you, the college papers were lukewarm at best, and the students were ambivalent.  Your win-loss record was mediocre.  Some of us loved you, to be true.  But you made most of us nervous.  Many of us never supported you because you were the Lord's gift to SEC football; instead, it's because we understand family loyalty.  We supported you because you were one of us-- at least, we thought you were.   We supported you, not necessarily as a great coach, but as one of our own; we defended you as one of our family.  So, at first, many in that crowd weren't reacting to disappointment.  They were expressing their rage at feeling betrayed by someone they thought cared about Tennessee and their traditions but then didn't even give ditching them for the next hot job even 48 hours of thought.  Heck, a marriage in Vegas lasts longer than that.  Hell hath no fury like a Vol fan scorned.

Anyhow, once the fire truck moved in, the police actually made one arrest and more cruisers kept on coming, the crowd got restless and started moving impulsively from one spot to the next, drawn by a magnetism only they understood.  At first rumors reported that everyone was headed to the Torchbearer to do something drastic, but that symbol is too precious to so many.  Instead, the crowd instinctively moved to the most hated piece of modern art on campus, presumably to deface it.  I watched that crowd of students ring around the "Whirlwind" statue and try to egg each other on to do something stupid: 

"The sunburst!  Break off that ugly sunburst!"
"Tear it down!"
"Knock it over!"
"Do it!  Do it!  Do it!"
"We hate that $*&# thing!"

Then a dozen or so kids rushed the ugly thing and climbed on top of it, howling like maniacs.  They didn't actually have the conviction, however, to do anything more than hang some of those "It's Time" T-shirts off of it like old shoes on a power line-- tacky and useless.

Mob action on UT Campus, 01/12/10

That's the moment that the crowd started to change for me, however.  It wasn't about you at all anymore.  They attacked that statue because they've hated it ever since it was installed.  After a few short obscenities chanted out in unison, the tenor of the crowd changed; the chants turned from "F--- you Kiffin" to "It's great to be a Tennessee Vol."  Then everyone streamed down to the stadium, and for most of those kids, the name Lane Kiffin was long forgotten.

That's the real kicker, Kiffin:  after the first thirty minutes of rage and those flames were doused by the police presence, it wasn't even about you anymore.  Just like the flash in the pan that you are, that you have always been, UT had already forgotten you.  This was carnivale: that crowd was about being nineteen, stupid, rowdy, and alive.  It was about loving their hometown so much they wanted to be noisy and disrespectful about it.  And it was about defying the authorities for a little while and rub it in their faces before they had to settle down and obey, and be good little college students the next day. They used you, Kiffin; you were just an easy excuse to get what they wanted for a little while-- an easy emotional release, some feel good.  You know, like taking the Tennessee job apparently was for you.

I hope you enjoy your new job; I won't wish you a long career, however, because we know you better than that.  The rest of us will be waiting for the time when the Trojans forget all about you just like we did.

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