ATLANTA - SEPTEMBER 3: The Georgia Dome is shown during the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Boise State Broncos on September 3, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
We just keep adding to this thing and trotting it out when necessary. There is increasing talk of building a new stadium for the Falcons, though I am unsure if this will help kill the curse or merely anger the Georgia Dome. Either way, I'd like to break this thing before the building is destroyed, and Friday seems like a good place to start.
Avert your eyes!
1997 SEC Championship Game: #3 Tennessee 30 - #11 Auburn 29
In our first trip to Atlanta and still alive in the National Championship hunt...the Vols turned the ball over six times. Auburn built leads of 20-10 and 27-17, then blocked an extra point and ran it back for two to make it 29-23...but thankfully, we had Peyton Manning. The Vols used a 73 yard catch and run from Marcus Nash to finally get in front 30-29, then finally got a turnover from the Tigers to secure the victory. We won in spite of ourselves.
1998 SEC Championship Game: #1 Tennessee 24 - #23 Mississippi State 14
The following season, the Vols went to Championship Saturday with two other undefeated teams, in the hunt for the two spots in the first ever BCS Championship Game. The Vols dominated the Bulldogs, allowing only 149 yards of total offense, but MSU ran an interception and then a punt back for a touchdown to take a 14-10 fourth quarter lead. The season of destiny came alive in the final minutes, as the Vols scored a touchdown, recovered a fumble, and scored a touchdown on consecutive plays from scrimmage to win back-to-back SEC titles, en route to the big prize. We won, ugly. And in football, the winning stops here. But The Curse of the Georgia Dome isn't confined to just football...
1999 SEC Basketball Tournament Second Round: Mississippi State 62 - #18 Tennessee 56
First time the Vols had ever won the SEC Eastern Division in basketball. First time the Vols had ever received a first round bye in the SEC Tournament after league expansion in 1992. And the first of many, many disappointments to come.
2000 SEC Basketball Tournament Second Round: South Carolina 75 - #6 Tennessee 68
Second verse same as the first. First time the Vols had won (a share of) the SEC regular season championship in almost twenty years. And at 24-5 and ranked sixth, the thought was if the Vols could win the SEC Tournament, they'd have a shot at a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Instead, Jerry Green's Vols were bounced in their first game in Atlanta once more, and would slide all the way to a #4 seed in the big dance.
2001 SEC Championship Game: #21 LSU 31 - #2 Tennessee 20
The most heartbreaking loss in Tennessee Football history. (BUT...remember, Derek Dooley was on the winning sideline on this fateful night. Derek Dooley loves the Georgia Dome! Surely the Georgia Dome will return his affections, right? Right?)
2002 SEC Basketball Tournament Second Round: #8 Alabama 91 - Tennessee 72
In Buzz Peterson's first year, the Vols came to the SEC Tournament with a 14-15 record, meaning they'd need two wins to make the NIT. After beating Arkansas 68-61 in the first round, the Vols couldn't compete with the Tide in the second round, and missed postseason play for the first time in five years.
2002 Peach Bowl: #20 Maryland 30 - Tennessee 3
The Vols had been banged up all throughout their 8-4 regular season, a year that started with the Vols in the top five. But there was no excuse for this performance - the Vols were lifeless and humiliated on and off the field; players were checking their cell phones at halftime down 17-3, and it got worse in the second. The Vols actually outgained the Terps in this one, but ran for only 45 yards on 27 carries and had 8 penalties, a theme that would return the following year...
2003 Peach Bowl: Clemson 27 - #6 Tennessee 14
Screwed over by the Outback Bowl, the Vols returned to Atlanta despite being ranked sixth. We started fighting Clemson in pregame warmups and didn't stop after the whistle: 10 penalties for 119 yards. And here again, the Vols finished with more yards but again couldn't run (26 carries for 38 yards), negating Casey Clausen's farewell performance of 31 of 55 for 384 yards and 2 TDs. The Vols missed a fourth quarter field goal that would've made it 24-17, unranked Clemson kicked one of their own, and chants of "ACC! ACC!" echoed throughout the Dome. True story: I got tickets in the Clemson section for this game, and sat next to an 80 year old man dressed in a full tiger costume from head to toe. Miserable.
2004 SEC Basketball Tournament First Round: Alabama 84 - Tennessee 49
In one of those years where the Vols were an average basketball team (15-13, 7-9 SEC heading to the tournament) but had some close losses that made you hope we were a good team in disguise, the Vols went to Atlanta determined to make a run. And then Bama's Ron Grizzard hit six threes in the first half, and the Vols were laughed out of the building.
2004 SEC Championship Game: #3 Auburn 38 - #15 Tennessee 28
If moral victories existed in the Fulmer Era, this was one of them: with injuries having sidelined Erik Ainge and Brent Schaeffer, Rick Clausen led the Vols against an undefeated Auburn juggernaut that had blasted them 34-10 in Knoxville earlier in the year. Gerald Riggs ran for 182 yards on only 11 carries and tied the game at 21-21 with an 80 yard touchdown run, but the Vols ultimately couldn't keep up with an Auburn offense that gained 559 yards. Perhaps our best football effort in the building...in a ten point loss.
2005 SEC Basketball Tournament Second Round: #4 Kentucky 76 - Tennessee 62
With Buzz Peterson's job on the line, the Vols blasted Arkansas 65-46 in the first round, but couldn't save their coach's job in the second. The Vols lost three games by a combined 50 points to the Cats in 2004-05, and Peterson was dismissed after four yeras and zero NCAA Tournament appearances.
2007 SEC Basketball Tournament First Round: LSU 76 - #22 Tennessee 67 (OT)
Bruce Pearl is not immune to the curse. The Tigers had massively underachieved in 2007 after making the Final Four in 2006, but had plenty for the Vols despite being the #6 seed from the SEC West. It was only a miraculous effort from Chris Lofton and JaJuan Smith, and a very, very fortunate charge call against the Tigers that got the game to overtime. But once there, LSU flexed their muscles again, and the Vols had no answer. At this point, the Vols hadn't played on Saturday in the SEC Tournament since 1991.
2007 SEC Championship Game: #5 LSU 21 - #14 Tennessee 14
In a game few thought the Vols had a shot in, the Vols carried a 14-13 lead into the fourth quarter...and then Erik Ainge threw the game and his legacy away. It started with a pick six that gave LSU a 21-14 lead. It ended in the LSU red zone on the Vols' final drive with another interception that killed UT's chances and handed LSU the keys to the National Championship. Both passes were very poor decisions, and both broke Vol hearts. A question that still fascinates: if Ainge doesn't throw those two passes, does Fulmer survive 2008?
2008 SEC Basketball Tournament Second Round: #4 Tennessee 89 - South Carolina 87
Again, a first round bye, and again, a game that never should've been close - the Vols beat this Carolina team by 33 points in Knoxville five days earlier. But the Cocks held an 87-86 lead in the final minute. Chris Lofton's career had one last shot in it, and #5 was just enough to fight off the curse with a deep three in the final seconds to give the Vols the win. Four hours later, a tornado hit the building and moved the rest of the tournament to Georgia Tech's campus...where the Vols lost to Arkansas the next day.
2009 Chick-Fil-A Bowl: #12 Virginia Tech 37 - Tennessee 14
The final game of the Lane Kiffin Era saw Tennessee use a furious rally in the final minutes of the second quarter to turn a 14-0 hole into a tie game, seizing all the momentum heading into the locker room...or so we thought. The Vols inexplicably allowed VT to convert a hail mary to set up a field goal after the refs put time back on the clock (foreshadowing!), giving Tech the lead back 17-14. The second half was all Hokies, as they saw through UT's smoke, mirrors, and walk-ons on the offensive line and lived in the Vol backfield the rest of the night en route to a 37-14 win.
2011 SEC Basketball Tournament Second Round: Florida 85 - Tennessee 74
The night before Bruce Pearl won his final game in Knoxville despite blowing a sixteen point lead with seven minutes to play. After UT disposed of Arkansas, the Vols fell to a Florida squad that had swept them in the regular season on the final possession. Perhaps more telling here was the rumored meeting between Mike Slive and Mike Hamilton during this week that prompted Hamilton's infamous radio interview and vote of no confidence in Pearl. On every level, the Georgia Dome is no friend of the program.
If you're scoring at home, that's 2-6 in football, 4-7 in basketball. Our next scheduled appearance after Friday is the 2014 SEC Basketball Tournament (in Nashville in '13, '15, and '16). Or, if you'd like to engage in my brand of optimism, the 2013 Final Four is in Atlanta. Just saying. Let's hope our football team has reasons to return that are more SEC than Chick-Fil-A. But first, the curse must die.