The writing staff of Rocky Top Tennessee 2016 had several extended conversations while we were putting the thing together, but the longest and most interesting concerned the text we were going to put on the cover (along with some of the headlines we were using for articles). These are usually some of the most difficult decisions we make because it involves distilling drawn-out thoughts into their essence, a process that is much more difficult than it sounds. Mark Twain once said, "I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead." Headlines present the same issue in the extreme, and a title is essentially a headline for the headlines, so it's the booger of all boogers.
Eventually, we decided on this:
That was the end result of an extended conversation that began with what it means to be "back" and whether Tennessee was there. On one end of the spectrum was the very reasonable advice to avoid reserving all of your joy as a fan solely for national championships and to instead enjoy to its full potential the period for which your team is legitimately competing for championships. Basically, the argument is that a team is "back" when they're in the mix again.
On the other end of the spectrum was the also reasonable observation that the Vols' actual resume over the past several years isn't exactly elite and that mere talk about potential this season doesn't yet warrant the declaration that they are "back." That argument is basically that perhaps we will be able to say that after this season, but we can't say it right now.
As everything was coming together, I kept coming back to Neil Armstrong's, "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." To me, that's a poetic description of a tipping point, the moment at which a series of reasonable, attainable small steps results in the accomplishment of an outrageous, audacious goal. I've been viewing the Vols' progress under Butch Jones over the years as a series of small steps in the right direction, and I'm viewing the 2016 season as an opportunity for another small step, one that might even be the tipping point to the ultimate goal. I'm not "expecting" a championship right this moment; but I'm in the frame of mind that it could happen. At any time. Starting right now.
To me, that's "back." And the Vols are back.
So what does being "back" mean to you, and are the Vols there? What will it take to get them there?