How many of us are reading a Tennessee Football blog in 2013 because somewhere in our past our fathers introduced us to the orange and white?
None of us get to choose where we're born and raised; what's in the water has a lot to do with who we end up giving our passion to. But at some point along the way, many of our parents made a specific choice. I'm going to take you to the game. We're going to spend time together on this. I'm going to tell you about your heroes. I'm going to dress you in the right shade of orange. And more often than not, it's our fathers who are most responsible for creating who we are as a fan.
Given the choice of what to do with second grade Will on fall Saturdays - AYSO or UT - I'm very thankful my parents chose the right kind of football. As I watch my friends with kids try to figure out how young is too young to bring them to their first game, I think back to those early impressionable days. We've already discussed the first game you remember in our series, and our fathers usually have a lot to do with that. But it takes more than one game to build a relationship between fan and team.
It's more than just dressing your kid in orange and buying him or her a stuffed Smokey. My Dad raised me on the highlight tapes from the 1985 season I didn't remember and the 1989 season I did. He was patient enough to give me the tour of Neyland Stadium even when I wanted it in the middle of the game and not before or after. He was always there to explain what's a screen pass and why two points for a safety when the Auburn punter had it snapped over his head in the rain and what's an oskie and why don't we play Vanderbilt's fight song during pregame? He was there to turn down the television and turn up John Ward.
As a pastor when I do premarital counseling I use The Five Love Languages as a resource. The book talks about how each of us tend to give and receive love in a primary language - acts of service, gifts, physical touch, quality time, or words of affirmation - that we probably learned from childhood. To this day, I'm a huge quality time person in large part because my parents spent so much time with me and my two sisters. And while that included spelling bees and ballet recitals and cross country meets and everything else that happened in our family of five, my favorite of all those times were always spent watching the Vols with my Dad.
We put in the time, and the Vols certainly did their part making it quality during the 1990s. I missed the 1990 Pacific game because of a family reunion (Mom's side, of course). The next home game I missed was in 2003. My Dad and I were there every single Saturday from the week after Chuck Webb's injury until I moved to the student section nine years later. When we blitzed the Gators in the second half on my ninth birthday in 1990, we celebrated together. We stood under the overhang in Z11 and watched it pour in another blowout over Florida two years later. The 1996 Alabama game remains one of my all-time favorites because it's the first time I saw us turn the Tide in person, and we were there together, this time on his birthday, and went out for a steak dinner afterward. And when we got those Gators again in 1998, we were on the field together.
We also took the show on the road. I got to miss a day of school when the Vols played at Louisville in the first ever ESPN Thursday Night game in 1991. I got a trip to Universal Studios and the parking lot of Sea World (because all I wanted to do was play putt-putt) and we watched the fireworks at Disney from our hotel balcony on January 1, 1996, just hours before the Vols put a stop to Eddie George and Ohio State. We made the safe trips multiple times - I've seen a lot of Columbia and Lexington - but we made all the ones that mattered too. When the Vols finally made the SEC Championship Game in 1997, we celebrated in the upper deck. And after an insane flight delay you'll probably read about later in this countdown, we were there on the night that mattered most in Tempe.
Sadly but poetically, it's the last game we went to together. I went to the student section the next year, and by the time I came back to Z11 my Dad's back had betrayed him to the point he could no longer tolerate sitting in Neyland Stadium for four hours every Saturday. But I will always remember that weekend in Tempe. It was, for Tennessee and John Ward and my Dad and I, the perfect ending to a great story.
But, as you've probably figured out, I remember all the others too. I got to grow up with Andy Kelly and Heath Shuler, Reggie Cobb and Chuck Webb, Peyton Manning and Al Wilson. But my Dad made sure I also knew DeRon Jenkins and Greg Amsler, Craig Faulkner and Tyrone Hines, Floyd Miley and Billy Williams, and everyone else too. All the games and players you have read about and will read about in the next 77 days during the 90s, during Tennessee's very best days, I got to experience because of and with my Dad.
He doesn't go to the games anymore, but I know he still loves the Vols as much as any of us. So many of the conversations I missed getting to have on a regular basis when I moved to Virginia that led me to start blogging were the ones I had with my Dad. He was one of the first people to read SouthEastern Sports Blog back when I had as much traffic in a week as Rocky Top Talk gets in an hour. And part of the great joy I get from doing what I do here is knowing my Dad is always reading it, and in that way we can still have those conversations and still experience the Vols together.
So here's to my Dad. And your Dad. And to all of the ways they helped make us who we are, and the small but incredibly meaningful parts of our lives they have given to us as Tennessee fans. And to all of you who are Dads, and all the ways you have shared and are sharing and will share the Vols with your children. It is in these moments of fathers and sons and daughters that sports become more than sports, and Tennessee Football for us is given and received as a gift. College football is great because it brings families together in real, meaningful, and everlasting ways that nothing else can. And I'm forever thankful that my Dad shared something with me that continues to give me such incredible joy into the 31st year of my life. It is these moments, these relationships, and these stories that make that joy tangible; no matter how good the product on the field is, what it produces between fathers and their children cannot be quantified with wins and losses, but only love.
What memories do you have of your Dad sharing the Vols with you? And how do you share the Vols with your children?
Happy Father's Day. Enjoy your weekend and your families. Go Vols.