As I perused Wes Rucker's Twitter feed earlier this week, I came across this "probably shouldn't have said that" gem from Nick Reveiz: "When I was a kid, I didn’t really realize it was a rivalry, because we just beat Bama every year." As I've previously alluded to, I largely felt this way growing up, too (which might be because I'm only 2 years older than Reveiz). My Dad's displeasure with the 24-19 loss to Alabama in 1991 will forever be burned in my brain (was there a fatal Andy Kelly interception in there?), but by the time I knew what was going on, I didn't have years of baggage associated with the Tide. I was 9 when Peyton Manning found Joey Kent for 80 yards on the first play from scrimmage in '95 and thus spent my formative years watching us beat Bama. It's hard to consider it a rivalry when one team wins all the time.
Sure, Alabama spanked us in 2002, but we returned to our winning ways in 2003 and 2004. As these teams are wont to do, the Vols had gone streaking for 9 out of 10 against the Tide. The tipping point for me was 2005. Not only did we lose in painful fashion, but my ex, an Alabama fan, had the nerve to call me as soon as the game was over and pretend like she just wanted to chat. I was so pissed...and every Alabama fan has been painted with a broad, crimson brush of hate since then. I don't like Alabama. I detest their coach. And I especially loathe that stupid cheer about a newspaper and a bird.
Alabama is distinct from the other opponents I've reminisced about in that there is a long, established history of disdain and respect. This Saturday will mark the 82nd time in 83 years that the Big Orange and the Crimson Tide have met on the gridiron, creating loads of opportunities for highs and lows. Without further ado, here are mine.The bad: I have little memory of painful losses of yore to Alabama...though I'm pretty sure that somewhere, frozen in time, 7-year-old me is still screaming that David Palmer is going to run for the 2-point conversion (wait...you mean that game didn't happen? Alabama lost? Well in that case, nevermind :P). As an adult, I've had plenty of opportunity to witness the carnage first hand. About this time a year ago, I used a lot of words to describe the pain and horror of being on the top row of Bryant-Denny Stadium, giving up hope, watching some craziness unfold, becoming certain I was about to witness something special, and then disintegrating into a heap of despair at the outcome. It sucked, it was terrible, and I don't care to relive it.
Given that I've already opined on the 2009 game, I'm going to step back to 2007. My girlfriend, a Birmingham native, and I started dating in 2006 and made a pact to go to every Tennessee-Alabama game. In 2006, I should have known we would win when she shrugged off her Alabama upbringing and donned orange. Similarly, 2007 gave plenty of signs to foreshadow the eventual outcome. The game was at 11 am Central, which meant waking up at 6 to drive to Tuscaloosa. Before we got very far down the road, we had to turn around to go back to the house because someone forgot her sunglasses. The car's windshield was so dirty on the inside that the driver attempted to clean it with Windex and a paper towel as we drove. We had to pick up our tickets in the parking lot of a Burger King. It was almost as if the universe was trying to tell me, "THIS GAME WILL BE TERRIBLE!!!"
I should listen when the universe speaks. The seats were good...and that was pretty much the highlight of the day. The Vols fell in a 10-0 hole before bouncing back to take a 14-10 lead. Then, as if they had planned it, John Parker Wilson and DJ Hall started brief, but effective, Heisman campaigns. I just remember becoming increasingly despondent as Wilson and Hall hooked up over and over and over again en route to dominating the rest of the game 31-3 and winning 41-17. We got smoked by a team that was embroiled in a scandal involving textbooks, lost to Louisiana-Monroe (coached by General Yamamoto, if I remember correctly), and ended up 6-6 in the regular season. It was simply horrible and I'm not ashamed to say I left early.
Honorable mentions: 2008 (it's embarrassing to see so much of the wrong color at home), 2005 (Oh, Corey Anderson...)
Good: The Alabama game - along with Georgia and Florida - was always one of those at Neyland where my Mom would pull rank and attend in person, leaving me to watch at home on TV. I actually had a better chance of attending the game when it was played South of the Border, meaning my most noteworthy positive memories come from games I watched in Birmingham and Tuscaloosa.
I don't remember all the details of our trip, but my grandparents, parents, and I rolled down I-75 and I-59 to Birmingham for the game in 1997. There was some uncertainty around who would actually go to the game (I think we were one ticket short), but I ended up inside Legion Field. If you've never been to Legion Field, you've missed quite the spectacle. It probably hasn't been renovated since being built in 1926; it's old, dark, and dank; steel columns can obstruct your view; and it's not in the nicest part of Birmingham. I probably didn't realize it much at the time, but it's sort of a sketchy place to watch a football game. Tennessee falling behind 6-0 early did nothing to improve my opinion of this fine establishment (I somehow blamed my grandmother even though she was the one who had given up her ticket so that I could go...not sure how I rationalized that).
Peyton and Company couldn't be kept down for long, though. I have a vivid memory of a beautiful pass thrown high to the back of the end zone that Jermaine Copeland went up and caught. The Vols stormed back from that early deficit and went on to win convincingly, 38-21. What I remember most about that game, though, is just how enjoyable it was to be able to heckle the home crowd. Poor old Freddie Kichens had a rough outing and we razzed him mercilessly throughout the night. "Freeeeddie, Freeeeeeddie." I was also exposed to the timeless classic "Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye!" More than any other, this game showed me how much fun it can be to win on the road.
Honorable mentions: 1996 (Jay Graham's run was AWESOME), 1999 (Tee and the D stomped the Tide in the return to Tuscaloosa), 2003 (I was neither at this game nor got to watch it on TV, but it was still awesome on the CSS replay the next day)
What about you guys? What sticks in your mind from previous encounters with Alabama? Share them below or come find me on Saturday and tell me about it in person :)