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100 Days of Vols #39 - The Best Start You Can Get

Peyton Manning. Joey Kent. Touchdown.


First and ten at the Tennessee twenty. Manning drops back. He finds Kent running fifteen yards down the right hash. Kent catches in stride and leaves two defenders in the dust. But the safety has an angle, so he'll need a block. Kent cuts left. The safety spins the wrong way. He's a step behind as Kent speeds towards the left sideline. Kent needs no block. He reaches the left sideline with twenty yards to paydirt and the nearest defender trailing two yards back. He doesn't slow down. Fifteen. Ten. Five. Touchdown Tennessee.

80 yards on your first play from scrimmage. You can't ask for a better start. 21-0 at the end of the first quarter. You can't ask for a better start (with apologies to the 2000 Tennessee squad). And a 41-14 finish. You can't ask for a better start to years of watching the Third Saturday in October.

For a lot of you, this was a special game. You'd gone ten years without seeing a win over our border rivals, and when you finally got one, it was emphatic. For me, it was special for entirely different reasons. I'd never seen a loss to Alabama. While I'd seen Tennessee play before, this is the first game I remember watching from beginning to end. The first play from scrimmage is the first play I distinctly remember watching.

This game was my introduction to the rivalry, and it was the game that set my expectations. There was no joyous relief at the end of a losing streak. There was a calm knowledge that this is the way it was supposed to be. Tennessee is supposed to beat Alabama. And it was not supposed to be close. I didn't witness a loss to the Tide until high school, and the closest game in that span was seven points.

It all started with Manning to Kent. The perfect introduction to a game. The perfect introduction to a rivalry. The perfect introduction to a fandom.