Mornings in Knoxville were always something special to me, especially this time of the year. On some mornings the fog was so thick off the Tennessee River you could almost smell it.
The colors are changing.
On the hill stand hundreds of the flowers from where we drew our school colors. The tree’s are green still, but in places you can see them changing to the colors of the SEC. Red’s browns, oranges, yellows and greens.
Knoxville is not the capitol of the SEC but it should be.
Every Saturday 100,000 people or more are drawn to its embrace. A sort of Fall Solstice that we call football season. Just like the solstice’s of old, we will bring friends, and family, we will join again surrounded in camaraderie this change that is both all encompassing, unstoppable, and calling to us.
The days will warm, but not for long. As our celebration and season progresses to herald the coming of winter they will cool, and that fog from the river turns to cold winds that whirl Neyland stadiums stands to the point you wonder if your attending a Bills or Pats game. We dread the coming of the snows. We curse the cold as it encroaches, because as it gets nearer so does the end of our season.
Nevertheless, for now, none of that matters. For there comes a time when we must stand resolute. That time when all the world demands that we rage, that we turn away, that we give up, and surrender. It is as this time we must stand firm, we must not give in. We must fix ourselves, like a good Irish wall, challenge those usurpers and demand they move. For what matters currently are eleven men, clad in the colors we gird our own selves with who stand ready for this solstice. The colors that are defined by our school, by our world, by our hill, and our past before we were born.
We will celebrate these gladiators, and our colors with voices, cheers, and song. They will celebrate with skill, athleticism, and the physical. For our benefit, they will engage people from all walks of life. Some from our own state, some from the states we were born, some we may even know. Like gladiators of old, and the ancients they will run, sprint, throw, and tackle to show themselves and ourselves victorious. Or we will all suffer the bitter strains of defeat. Win or lose the pattern will be repeated.
Every seven days again they will rise to the occasion, 100,000 or more will rise with them…in person…in spirit….via the modern technology of the Internet and television. We will cheer their wins and curse their losses. We will berate referees, scream at the weather, and demand justice and fairness in a sport that sometimes feel like it has anything but.
By the time the season is over, and the last shout has echoed off the stadium seats, the transformation will be complete. Winter will be upon us. The cold will have chased away the warmth. We will be tired. Our throats will ache, and our hearts will mourn the losses but we will speak of the winds and the victories from this day onward.
And what of those champions? Those men clad in orange and white who gave of themselves for the solstice? Who battled not just the elements but each other and themselves for our victory? They too will be tired, sore, and ready for rest. Nevertheless, their actions will forever be spoken of.
Those moments that we shall never forget. For even though the seasons change these moments, these instances and flashes of brilliance and greatness are never forgotten. Their names will join the names of those who came before them. Names like Gault, Manning, McEver, DeLong, Atkins, Martin, White, and Tucker.
Who among us does not miss the voice of John Ward?
Who among us does not upon occasion strong out a strong "Whooooooooaaaa Nelly!" and not think of those days bygone?
Who does not speak of Dwayne Goodrich’s 54-yard interception for a touchdown?
Tee Martin’s 78-yard pass to Peerless Price?
These moments, however fleeting are not lost to some history book. For while we cheer, while we scream, curse, cry, berate, we remember. That is what makes this time so powerful, and that is what makes us the 12th man of the Tennessee Volunteers.
Our gladiators come, and our gladiators go but we remember those shames, those pains, we remember those grievances, those victories, those cheers, those moments and we want our revenge, and our joy, our moment, our continuance of domination.
So onward! We spur our captains of battle, louder we scream for action and continue to demand our justice.
While all the while the clock turns.
It is time. The winds off the river have slowly gotten stronger in the weeks that have gone by. The days are not as hot as they were. The trees are just as bright but they know what is coming. All around you can feel it, the change. The lighter step, the brisker walk, the straighter backs of our friends and strangers we pass on the street. The streets call for it. The change of season.
Today is that day. Today is the day we have longed for since we turned out the lights in November of last year. We have struggled and felt our gladiators’ pain. We have cried with them, and for them.
Today we cry no more.
Beware winter, and beware football fans:
For today, it is once again Football Time in Tennessee and here, there be Volunteers!