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2008 retrospective: Wyoming 13, Tennessee 7

A final look back at the 2008 season, quick-like, because pain should be fast.

Up today: Send in the Clowns.

Well, some Homecoming this was going to be. The Monday following the South Carolina loss, Tennessee had a press conference to announce that Phillip Fulmer was stepping down as the head coach of the Volunteers:

Fulmer's ouster and that emotional press conference elicited an outpouring of positive posts about the guy who had just been fired from a program to which he had devoted his entire adult life:

Needless to say, the minds of the fans and the players were more on Fulmer and who his replacement might be than they were on the Wyoming Cowboys.

It showed:

Isn't it rich?
Are we a pair?
Me here at last on the ground,
You in mid-air.
Send in the clowns.

The myth of my youth was that Stephen Sondheim's Send in the Clowns was a song written about two trapeze artists, one of which fell to her paralysis in front of a live audience during a circus performance. As she lay immobilized on the hard ground, she implored her partner to go on with the show and the circus managers to "send in the clowns" to distract the audience from the horrific sight of her failure.

Sondheim himself says that's not at all what the song is about, that it is instead a song of irony, regret, and disappointment, that we are all fools for the decisions we make and that "when the show isn't going well," it's time to "do the jokes."

Whichever version you prefer, the lyrics resonate with my take on the state of things on Rocky Top. Is it coach Phillip Fulmer having fallen to his career's end pursing his mouth, fixing his resolve, and fighting back tears as he tells the rest of us -- his partners for decades -- that it is okay to go on without him? Don't look at me down here. Look to the sky. It's about the program. Send in the next guy. I will be okay. Go on. Send in the clowns.

Or is it the Tennessee program, its players, coaches, fanbase, and administration who lay motionless at the lowest point imaginable yet acutely aware of the continuing success of others still in the game? If you've felt any hint of jealousy while watching Alabama or Texas or Texas Tech or any of the other teams still swinging around at the top of the world, you know what I mean. All we can do is sit and watch and covet and hope that the distraction comes quickly.

Isn't it bliss?
Don't you approve?
One who keeps tearing around,
One who can't move.
Where are the clowns?
Send in the clowns.
On Monday, Athletic Director Mike Hamilton fired a national championship-winning head coach who had won nearly 75% of his games over his entire lengthy career. The players, who revered coach Fulmer as much as a father figure as a coach, resolved to harness their heightened emotions and leverage them into a satisfying victory. Instead, they went out and gained 219 total yards and one touchdown and lost to a Wyoming team that was ranked somewhere around 81st in the nation at home for homecoming. I don't fault them really. Whatever has been wrong this season -- whether it's an overcomplicated offensive scheme, inexperienced quarterbacks, an inattention to detail by the coaching staff, or whatever -- was still wrong last week, and to think that it would be fully remedied by mere emotion was simply wishful thinking.

It will be fixed in due time. We may be stunned and broken at the bottom of it all right now, but everything is cyclical, and our time will come. Coach Fulmer will not be on the sideline for the next Act, but knowing his character, he will be encouraging us from the shadows backstage and telling us that it's okay to shine the spotlight on the next performance.

The show will go on. Send in the clowns.

Isn't it rich?
Isn't it queer,
Losing my timing this late
In my career?
And where are the clowns?
There ought to be clowns.
Well, maybe next year.

Some would say today that we indeed got our clowns. But that's a question for another day. We still have two more games of 2008 to address.

Up next: Vanderbilt.