Hey Father, the last time we spoke like this we were on the verge of playing Florida, and things turned out more than well. Then, the following week, we had the Hail Mary win over Georgia. Last week, after fifteen to twenty turnovers we nearly upset A & M on the road. I imagine these kind of games will make a number of people, uh, "find religion."
Now, we come to the final game in the murderer’s row stretch of the season, and of course, we finish up with # 1 Alabama at Neyland. Honestly, did you expect this kind of run for the Vols?
Father Aaron: I did. Record-wise, I did. Did I think we would do it in that fashion? No. I don’t think anyone thought after last season that this team would be on the opposite end of the comebacks. Justin, I am absolutely exhausted. I hope it hasn’t showed on Sundays. We are better than Florida and Georgia, but the surprise for me was I thought we were 14 to 21 points better than the Aggies. And, without the seven, yes seven, turnovers we walk away with a very easy win in College Station. But how are you? Does this week make you nervous? It does me.
JP: I’m actually not nervous at all. This week doesn’t feel anything like Florida week. I believe now. I believe that we are a good football team that still hasn’t played its best game. I expect our best game this week. We just gashed the #8 team in the nation for nearly 700 yards of offense (without Jalen Hurd), and we’ve played Bama well the last two years despite being out-gunned, personnel-wise. So here’s my question for you: Why shouldn’t I believe?
FA: Not sure you shouldn’t. We have not won this year because of luck. Even the Georgia game was about us pouring on the steam and then throwing it to the best athlete on the field to win the game. We are a good football team. If we put four quarters of solid football together we could be great. Like beat the #1-team-in-the-country-great. However, I never feel good about going against Saban (who may have been surpassed by Jeremy Foley as the most disliked guy by Tennessee fans). He has our number. But, and please hear this the right way, I am not so sure you’re as confident as you seem. I mean, you are asking me if you should believe. That sounds like doubt is knocking on your heart a little bit. Care to unpack that?
JP: I’m just thinking about history: We haven’t beaten Bama since 2006, when Tim Tebow was still a football player and Donald Trump was a reality TV star. But now…
All I’m saying is that things change, and why shouldn’t they change this year in our favor? Ole Miss and Arkansas each put up 30 points (Ole Miss scored 43!) and averaged 400 yards passing against the Alabama defense. That does not sound like a typical Crimson Tide team to me. Sure Nick Saban has had our number, but nothing lasts forever...outside of, well you know, a few things in your area of expertise.
FA: I remember talking to you just three weeks ago about Florida. I remember hearing the quake in your voice. See, that’s me this week. I used to live in Alabama. I have dear friends who bleed crimson (I think everyone does, but you know what I mean). They sent me pics of Terrence Cody blocking that field goal in 2009 for years. I was at that game in 2006 when we beat Bama. I remember the feeling. Florida week was a cake walk. Alabama, that’s the nemesis. I am old school. I have a picture in my work shed called "Orange Lightning Strikes Alabama". It’s been with me for 30 years. I don’t trust Saban. He worries me. He wins. Always. And we have never beat him at Bama. So, say what you wish about Arkansas and Ole Miss, but the same thing happened last year. Except Arkansas played them better and Ole Miss won. See my point?
JP: Wow. This runs deep for you, Father Aaron. Quite the role-reversal for us. Maybe I should put on my metaphorical collar.
Consider that the Vols will be at home, playing against a freshman quarterback; we supposedly have several key guys returning; we have a home crowd that should be amped for a chance to knock off the #1 team in the nation...and oh yeah, we haven’t played a full four quarters yet. Now, if I were the type to twist the scriptures and to make them fit whatever I wanted them to mean, I might call your attention to the fact that Nick Saban has, according to some, a well-earned nickname with a certain biblical flavor to it. Furthermore, I would then blend that ad hominem hot-take (blazing hot, if you catch my drift) and remind you of your work shed sign: "Orange Lightning Strikes Alabama". If I happened to be just that kind of scripture-twisting, eisegetical syncretist, blending together some loose theology with football karma, then I might conclude with Luke 10:18 - "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven". Now that’s what I would call an orange sign.
But you’d see through that pretty quickly, so I’ll just rest my case by saying that we’re a good football team again and we should expect to be competitive, even win, these kind of games.
FA: I remember as a young boy sitting at the Cracker Barrel on Cedar Bluff the Saturday of the Tennessee vs. the Bo Jackson led #1 Auburn Tigers in 1985. I looked at a table full of Auburn fans and talked a bit of smack. One of them rubbed my head and laughed. I hated that moment. I felt so stupid for believing. Now I relish it.
That’s what I want again. I feel like Saban has rubbed our little heads and laughed along with the throngs of Roll Tiders for way too long. I just want Josh Dobbs to strike Alabama like Tony Robinson did 31 years ago against the other team from Bama. I want to see tattered Alabama flags and bumper stickers moving swiftly down I-75. I want to see crumpled up hounds tooth hats sitting in the muck of a post-game Neyland. I want those "Alabama fans" here in Knoxville who can’t tell me the name of the coach before Saban to look away when they see Vol fans walking their way. Oh, this goes much deeper for me. Lightning strikes? Bring ‘em. I want to see Bama fall. Vols 38-34.
JP: Well said, Father. Go Vols, and I'll see you Sunday.