I'm retiring the phrase "It ain't over 'til it's over." I would just revise it, make it something like "It ain't over 'til you're on the bus and headed home," but I'm not even sure that's the case after last night. Yet somehow "It ain't over" just isn't particularly satisfying, is it?
You're with me, right, Vol fans? We learned on October 2, 2010 in Baton Rouge what we were sure was an extremely rare and bizarre lesson. Our opponent self-destructed, and the clock hit zero -- the customary sign of a concluded game. A team and fan base starved for something to celebrate did so with abandon. But even though the clock was all zeroes, it wasn't over. And it didn't end well. Psyche.
So when North Carolina self-destructed last night in the Music City Bowl in essentially the same way that LSU did three months ago, we all waited, right? We didn't just blindly trust the clock that had lied to us once before. Did we have the right number of guys on the field? Were there any penalties? Was there something, anything that might advise a little celebratory restraint?
So we waited for the official, and when he turned on his mic, we drew in our breath and listened as his voice echoed throughout downtown Nashville. "[Time] ran out. The game is over."
We'd done everything right. We'd dusted off our britches and pressed on through a trying offseason and a tumultous season. We'd learned our lesson, we'd waited for the fat lady to sing, and she'd sung us a love song. So we celebrated.
And again, it wasn't over. And it didn't end well. Psyche.
Funny thing is, the game may still be in doubt this morning. With all of the discussion about the rules and the officials' interpretation and enforcement of them, and the speculation that Tennessee could appeal and get some rule retroactively enforced in such a way that it would result in a Volunteer victory, well, is it over or isn't it?
To me, games are played for the emotion, and the game's over when the emotion subsides. Unless we're going to trot everybody out onto the field and into the stands again and let them jump up and down and flying side bump each other, it doesn't matter what happens today or tomorrow or next year. Perhaps there's some monetary reason for Mike Hamilton to parse the rules and draft and file an appeal in an attempt to correct something that might have gone wrong last night, I don't know.
But for me, the players and fans experienced the emotion of losing last night in the worst possible way, so it's over in all of the ways that really matter. And it didn't end well.