To all Clemson fans:
We know how you feel.
Sitting at #9 in the nation coming into the game, you had very bright hopes for the season. All of the pundits were talking about how the team was going to break the myth of Clemson's self-destructedness. The MNC hype often included talk of the Tigers as one of the two teams. You were looking at a clean run through the conference, along with a sufficiently difficult OOC schedule to give the bump necessary to take one of the top two slots heading into bowl season.
Then the first game came along. The team just didn't look in-sync. The opposition appeared to be far better than advertised. The commentators were reciting your obituary before halftime. Nothing worked.
We were there, too.
Last year, UT headed to California to play a team they had just demolished the year before. The game was supposed to be a little more difficult than the previous year, but the gap between the two teams appeared to be too much for one year to make up. When a sack caused a fumble-TD for the Golden Bears on the first drive, we thought it was a chance fluke. When the Vols couldn't stop their offense, we got worried. When the Vols allowed a punt return for a TD, we got scared. When the game ended, much of our hopes were dampened.
Then it got worse. After a tune-up, UT went to Florida. They got destroyed, 59-20. It started ugly and never improved. Suddenly, the Vols were 1-2 with two gigantic losses and trailing our nemesis within the Eastern division of the conference. The season appeared to be over.
But the season wasn't over.
The Vols never gave up, even though most of the fans were ready to hibernate until basketball season. The team fought on. After another tune-up, the Vols hosted a then-#12 Georgia and found their stride. Perhaps the Dawgs thought the Vols would be soft, but the Vols drew the line in the sand and held, 35-14. For the first time, the team had a winning record in the season at 3-2. Glimmers of the season everybody anticipated were beginning to come through. The Vols had finally taken a big team to task and come through on top.
The rest of the season wasn't perfect, by any means. Another loss came to the same Alabama team that dashed your hopes last night. Many games game down to final plays, including games against South Carolina, Vanderbilt, and Kentucky that (on paper) did not appear like games that should be so close.
But the team never quit.
The team worked through the bad times and ended with high times. Despite dropping 2 conference games, the Vols earned the right to represent the East in the SEC championship game. They were within a couple plays of possibly even winning the championship game against the eventual MNC - an ending that was completely unthinkable after the start of the season. To end the season, the Vols physically outmatched one of the toughest-playing teams in the nation: Wisconsin. After the 4-quarter dogfight, the Vols walked home with the bowl trophy - a complete 180 from the disaster that was the beginning of the season.
The season is long. The team needs your support right now.
The easiest thing to do right now is to point fingers and to lay blame; we did exactly that when the Vols had such a rough start. But the team doesn't need another critic right now. That's what the coaches are for, and the coaches know what needs fixed. Trust them. Rather than criticize, support. Let the team know you're behind them. It's a long, long season, and very few (if any) teams will finish undefeated. The conference is still completely up for grabs, and the MNC is not yet out of the picture. Clemson does have the talent, but they'll need to fight through this pain to get there.
Are you on their side? Are you with them?