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Got meh? Hard questions for reasonable Tennessee Vols fans.

An honest internal dialogue about the Vols’ trip to the Music City Bowl.

Tennessee v Vanderbilt
Thinker’s pose.
Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

The last couple of weeks have been sort of a fog for me. An ongoing family situation has preoccupired my thoughts, attention, and time, and the way the Vols football team ended their regular season has added a little extra salt. I got back into town last Saturday late, and my DVR didn't catch the fourth quarter of the Vandy game, so I don't even really know what happened.

But I've seen and felt the fall out. Already this morning, Nebraska Cornhuskers fans have observed the heavy weight of "meh" burdening the Vols fan base, even on a site that favors hope and tends toward optimism. And they're not misreading the situation. Even I, self-appointed ambassador of the optimism bias, have been there for over a week myself.

But it's time to pull out of it, folks. Let's be real for a minute and ask ourselves some honest questions. Beware, some of these are somewhat difficult to hear, particularly the third one. But don't skip ahead. Here goes.

Are you disappointed with the Vols' 2016 season?

For me, this depends on how you're approaching the question. Today, December 5, 2016, I'd have to concede that I am disappointed in how things have turned out. We didn't finish first in the SEC East or represent the East in the SEC Championship game. We lost to South Carolina and Vanderbilt, and we're not only not going to the Sugar Bowl, we're going to a bowl less presitgious than the two we've won the past two years. That's disappointing.

Also disappointing are a few things the head coach has recently done, apparently under the stress of the season. He's failed to realize he's being recorded on the sideline at all times and (apparently) let his frustration at fans fly, then denied it. He's forgotten his audience and his timing and set the stage for the program becoming a national punchline. And he's skipped out early on a press conference after a disappointing loss, leaving his seniors to answer for him. All of that's disappointing as well.

But on the other hand, I will always remember fondly some of the fantastic moments of the 2016 season, fan-making moments that we've been waiting for and haven't seen for years. The Battle at Bristol was a history-making game, and being there is something my daughter and I will always remember with smiles. From the impending doom of the traffic almost necessitating tailgating before the game, to the two fan bases congenially yelling at each other on the way to the stadium, to the goosebump-inducing national anthem, to pulling away and winning the game at the end, that was an awesome, awesome day. I'll always be grateful for it.

Same with the Florida game, when we pulled out all of the stops; ESPN College Gameday, the CBS Game of the Week, Checker Neyland and the Smokey Greys. Jajuan Jennings bobbling and tip-toeing and managing a long bomb touchdown after juking a trash-talking Jalen Tabor out of his cleats. Josh Malone adding the exclamation mark as the Vols started running away from the Gators and the crowd celebrating with a fourth quarter party. Me screaming like a mad man and glancing over at my daughter who was witnessing her first real fan-making moment after about decade of showing up and waiting for one.

And winning the Georgia game on a miraculous Hail Mary after presumably losing it moments earlier in heartbreaking fashion. And running out onto my porch to scream like I was at the stadium only to notice that my neighbors were doing the same thing. Neyland Stadium was on porches all across East Tennessee that day. And hearing that my daughter, who'd had to attend some function or other that day, was checking the score on her phone instead of texting her friends.

Narrowly missing another such moment against Texas A&M.

Those are moments that happened, and if I'm intentional about it, I can protect them from being sullied by the disappointment of the back half of the season. I'll always have them.

And yet, on December 5, 2016, I'm sitting here troubled by how it all ended and how the prize we'd held in our hands slipped through our fingers. Am I disappointed? Yes. And no. And yes. And no.

Are you excited about the Vols' bowl game? Are you going? Are you going to watch?

Sigh. Optimistic me doesn't want to say this, but if I'm being honest, I have to say that no, I'm not very excited about the bowl game. (But keep reading -- the story's not over.) Two years ago, we had the TaxSlayer Bowl, and last year it was the Outback. This year, there were times that we could legitimately dream about making the playoff with a win in the SEC Championship game. But that died when we gave the wheel back to Florida and they drove over LSU. And then we could dream about the Sugar Bowl, but that one turned to bitter disappointment against Vanderbilt in Nashville. Instead, we're headed to the Music City Bowl three hours from campus and the scene of the last disappointment.

I'll always watch Vols football games. They're precious. But while I would have lobbied my family for a trip to Tampa and might have done it for a trip to New Orleans, we'll be spending the entire holiday break with extended family again this year and not in Nashville for a football game.

Yes, I'm not particularly excited about a trip to the Music City Bowl in Nashville. I'm guilty of "meh" this bowl season. I'll be watching, but whatever.

How critical/upset would you be if you heard a coach or player say the things you just said in response to the prior set of questions?

It's getting real now, right?

If Butch Jones or any player came out and said they really weren't all that interested in playing in the Music City Bowl, they would never recover. We fans would eviscerate them. Call them quitters. Crybabies. Hey, they're either being paid or on scholarship. It's their job to put forth their best effort to win every game. Lack of effort is the one thing we simply cannot tolerate, right?

Is it consistent/fair to expect good attitudes from the players and coaches when we haven't mastered them ourselves?

No. It's not. Fans are different than coaches and players, yes, but it's just not fair to give myself a pass on something I expect of others.

One of the things I love most about watching sports is my sincere belief that the relationship between a team and its fans is symbiotic. They feed off each other. A team doing well spurs praise from the fans, and the cheers from the fans can give the team some extra juice to perform well. It can also work the other way, as both can infect each other with negativity and send the whole thing into a tailspin.

That's why, after thinking through all of this, I'm calling myself out. My thinking has been hypocritical, and that is unacceptable to me.

So I've decided to get my mind right about the bowl game. It's not honest to say it, so I can't say that I haven't been disappointed.

But I can put it behind me.

Bring on the Music City Bowl.

Bring on the Cornhuskers.

Let's finish well.

Go Vols.