So I had this idea to do a little write up on each of our opponents focusing on my most poignant memories of the encounters that have happened over the last 20-ish years. I'm a rather sentimental person by nature, and I enjoy reliving memories...both the fond ones and the painful ones. I also like hearing other perspectives on the same event, so this seemed like a great idea.
Of course...the best laid plans often go awry, so here we are looking at consecutive weeks of playing opponents with which we have no prior history. I'll try to switch it up a bit these next two weeks in hopes that we can still take some sort of journey down memory lane. For the game against UT-Martin, there are two possible approaches: season/home opener and inferior opponent.
The season/home opener is special to a lot of people for a lot of reasons. It's the culmination of 8 months of making mountains out of recruiting molehills, overanalyzing coachspeak for hints on the progress of players, and rationalizing why this year is going to be the one. Once that first game comes, it's not about that fluffy stuff anymore. It's about what we can see in front of us with our own eyes. It's about giving us something to talk about that isn't wild speculation. It's about quantifiable results. It's about checkerboards, rivalries, and pageantry. In short, it's about awesomeness.
So, with awesomeness already on the table, is there anything that could make the first game more meaningful? For me, the answer is yes. As I was growing up, the first game in Neyland always seemed more significant for one reason: I never got to go. My family had two tickets and they always went to my Dad and somebody else. My mother got more gracious as time went by, but she was always adamant about going to the opener and leaving me at home (with two exceptions: Fresno State '03 and Florida '98...I should probably thank my lucky stars that I was at the latter and let go of any lingering bitterness :P).
When my parents loaded up and went to the game, I always had a ritual involving hanging out with family friends, drinking Sprite, eating Ruffles and french onion dip, and cooking burgers on the grill. There are certainly worse ways to watch a game, but I was always painfully aware of the fact that I wasn't there in person. If I dig through the pouting, there are certain openers that stick out in my mind even though I was only watching them on TV. UNLV in '96, Texas Tech in '97, Syracuse in '01. For whatever reason, those are the 3 games that I can recall where the season got off to a bright start with us rolling over our opponent on the way to a successful campaign. The seasons where we didn't end up doing so well...somehow I don't seem to have any memories of those...weird.
So...I only have powerful memories of the games where we annihilated somebody. I've got my fingers crossed while rubbing the rabbit's foot and knocking on wood as I say this...but hopefully, that's what we'll be doing on Saturday night. All of that got me thinking about the other possible approach to the UT-Martin game, which is looking back on opponents that just did not belong in the same stadium as us (props to one James Howell for the historical scores). The best/worst game I went to in this respect had to be Louisiana-Monroe in 2000...70-3 is both awesome and terrible to watch at the same time. I have this image (whether it actually happened or I just made it up...who knows) of UT shanking a punt from deep in their own territory that ended up in the hedges setting up ULM's field goal...poor Louisiana "formerly known by a cardinal direction" school. My Dad insists that Pacific in 1990 (the game that blew up Chuck Webb's knee) was the most overmatched opponent he saw despite "only" losing by 48.
And there you have it...my random musings on the first game. Have your own memories to share? Comment away!
P.S. Happy College Football Day to everybody. Thank goodness college sports are back in our lives for the next 7 months!