It has been a long time coming. Counting days when I was in the Army is an old habit. Every deployment, every overseas action, every mission had a countdown. And on that wake up, that final day, the struggles, the heat, the smell, the sand, dirt, mud, grime, oil, paint, and clutter that was whatever hell we resided in at the time came to an end. Be it a big iron bird, boot leather limousine or a truck, it did not matter: the hard part was over.
We start our count down now. We’ve been down this road before you and I. The summer heat starts to swelter somewhat in to the old southern dog days of the season, as the humidity climbs. Nevertheless, the tree’s, breezes and grass offers a hope for cooler days ahead, and with it comes the impending roar that we love.
Since November of last year, we have been waiting for these days. Ever since those endings strains of the "Tennessee Waltz" was played we have prepared. Dreaming of these days to come. It consumed our thoughts, and our conversations; the anger, the bitterness, the curses and the tears.
We are ready for victory. We voice our hopes for the new season, the new year. We pitch our wills, our intellect against the naysayers who say our time has come and gone. By March, it is almost an afterthought, but it still resides in the back of our minds. That little glimmer of a voice saying. "We’re almost there…..just hang on a little longer…..soon!"
We grow quiet. Despondent. We have tried to look back on our last season, but the previous years have left us wanting. We hunger now. We crave. We start watching the calendar, grinding our teeth anticipating that next fix. But no more.
Orange. It’s more than a color for my family. It’s the color of sunrises and sunsets. Flowers on the Hill. It’s part of my family’s tri -color Irish flag. It decorates our home. It lights our way, colors our lands, and shines not blindingly, but bright enough to provide light in our dark hours and solace in our times of trouble. There may be 24 crayons in a box, but in my daughter's world there is only one shade of orange: Tennessee.
When your football team struggles, we struggle. They are our outlet. We pin our hopes, our success, our dreams and even our fantasies on the players and coaches every year. They get to be, and participate in an amazing cataclysmic spectacle that we can only imagine being part of somewhere other than the stands or our living room. Through them, we live vicariously. Through them, we become something more than a screaming mad face painted orange clad cromag shouting defiance, triumph and demanding victory.
We want them to do better; we need them to do better. We need that feeling of elation to bring us above our own day-to-day problems, work, and grime. We need them as I needed that C-130 years ago. To take us away from all that haunts us and bothers us. To transport us to another place, a union, a paradise, with brothers and sisters of a common blood stand and hold our fists to the sky proclaiming victory over foes that we have battled against for as long as we have walked this Earth, blaggadring us with their victories, or their taunts. We seek to crush the git’s and their silly prods to our nobility. They hold names steeped in history, these foes. Vanderbilt, the old Navy Commodore. Alabama, an old Choctaw word that even historians cannot agree with its meaning. Georgia, the colonial military buffer turned college football powerhouse. Kentucky, synonymous with coalmines and prohibition.
The names go on, and the history stretches back from our memories and beyond. We are the new age Greeks and Romans. Our arenas are filled to capacity and our volume is no less impressive. The cry for victory no less demanding, and our sabbaticals no less religious.
For those of us fortunate enough to call Tennessee our home, our team, our school, there is no other substitute. There is no other drug, no drink, no sport that will ever give us our fix, quench our thirst for football like the Volunteers. It is embedded in to us. Through friends, family, and neighbors. All of us, at some point were exposed to the Orange, sang the lyrics to Rocky Top, and become enamored with something that endures, and that we pass on to our own.
We remember our first games as we remember the birth of our children. We hold those days as self-evidence of our dedication. We remember events such as touchdown runs, interceptions and amazing tackles as we do our graduations, our weddings and our hallmarks.
We wear them like badges of honor, and cloaks of shame. However, we do not bow down. We do not quit. We pick up the mantra's, the chants, the shouts, the calls and the war cries of our beloved gladiators. And we do not quit rising to the challenges of our foes.
23 days and a wake up. I can almost hear the cheers now.