Life’s arcs and trajectories can be strange. One day a person acts one way, but might change the next – a year later, who knows what they’ll be like. That’s kind of how I was with Tennessee athletics.
I grew up a rabid Ohio State Buckeyes fan. I was born 30 minutes northwest of Columbus, so while my family liked the West Virginia Mountaineers – where the elders were born and raised – I bucked the family legacy for the Buckeyes. Scarlet and grey were the colors du jour on any given day. I subsisted on Donatos pizza and buckeye peanut butter and chocolate candies. At the end of victories on Saturdays or basketball wins at The Schott, I’d grab my iPod and listen to Hang on Sloopy. When I got older, I proposed to my girlfriend at The Shoe on a warm July evening.
But when I was younger, my family moved to Tennessee. When we got there, I saw that Power T and bright orange everywhere. I hated it. I thought the color was putrid and all the local fans annoyed me. Throughout middle school and into high school I became the Vols biggest detractor and critic – at least at my school.
One of my best friends was, and still is, a Kentucky Wildcats fan. Together, he and I made the lives of Tennessee fans miserable. Kentucky was doing what they do best: Basketball. Ohio State was generally formidable on the gridiron and the hardwood. As a response to my badgering, I was told that the only reason the Buckeyes were ever good was because they played in the lousy Big Ten and that if they played in the mighty Southeastern Conference, then they’d finish .500 year after year.
These remarks boiled my blood and only further cemented my disdain for all things Volunteers. While I didn’t think there was much truth to their statements, there was one secret I kept: Aside from being tuned in to Ohio State on Saturdays, I was much more interested in SEC games. Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and LSU were generally much more interesting than Wisconsin, Michigan, Michigan State, and Iowa.
I went to college for my undergraduate work at a mid-sized regional school in the eastern part of the state, East Tennessee State University. All the while I held firm in my allegiance to Ohio State; in fact, the football team won the National Championship my freshman year.
Then I graduated and time moved on, but I was still watching Ohio State on Saturdays. But then I shipped out to Rocky Top for graduate school. I don’t know about any of you, but I am the type of person that can become enamored with where I am at the time and what surrounds me. As such, it seemed inevitable that I would start to pay less attention to Ohio State and much more attention to Tennessee. After all, I was only born close to Ohio State, I didn’t go to school there.
As a 12-year-old, I never would’ve guessed I’d have an interest in Tennessee athletics, much less be a fan. If you’d have told me that, I’d have laughed. But now, I send my Kentucky-loving friend Tennessee propaganda on Tennessee-Kentucky gamedays. He still can’t believe I’ve made the transition and abandoned him back in his hatred of Tennessee.
I’ve jumped into Volunteer sports at an interesting time. At least perceptually, all of the major teams seem to be on an upswing: Football is bringing in good recruiting classes and looking to show it on the field, basketball is climbing towards the top again, and baseball was having a tremendous season before the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down.
It’s been a long and winding road to this point for me, but hey, it’s good to be on Rocky Top.