Zach’s Football Adventure: Knoxville

I’ll admit up front that I didn’t see a lot of Knoxville yesterday. We really did a “smash and grab” trip to town, coming in for the game and leaving almost immediately afterward. I’ll post the pictures so this may end up as more of a “photo essay”.

Let me set the scene. The two old dudes above are OBL, lovingly interviewed here and John, my father-in-law. We drove to Chattanooga, where John lives, to ensure an early departure on Saturday morning. We left the house at 8. It was still in the 30s and didn’t get warmer as we drove up the Smoky Mountains. The fathers are practically the same age, born within the same 30-day period in 1949. They both were in bands in high school, with OBL playing bass for Cradle of Love and John being the lead singer of The Royals. My dad played a mix of songs that his band had performed, including Wipe Out, some Stones tunes and of course, Bob Dylan. It was an appropriate start to the day.

We were flying blind. My wife got the tickets earlier in the week and none of us knew the layout of the town. I found a PDF map online as we got close and we found a parking space. I thought my dad might have a coronary when we had to pay $30 to park. Maybe it’s the Scottish heritage.

We were at Cumberland and 19th street. The stadium was somewhere near as there were plenty of people in that unique University of Tennessee color of orange and a lot in Missouri’s black and gold, or Nike-esque black, yellow, white, and grey. We stopped in a UT store and my dad bought a visor. He likes visors because unlike Gary Pinkel, he still has a ton of hair and likes to show it off.

We wandered to the stadium, catching the end of the Vol Walk. I preferred the version on the big screen later that showed the players in the 70s all wearing orange jackets on the walk to the stadium.

We entered Neyland Stadium about an hour before kickoff. Our seats were end zone, about 32 rows up, with a really good view of the field. The seats were the old metal benches that were designed for people of much less girth than today’s American football fan. There’s a lot more pomp and circumstance at a college game, with the UT band performing and doing the big T on the field, although my picture had the upside-down version. The team’s final song was the Missouri fight song which I thought was a nice touch.

The strangest pre-game moment involved the booing of prayer. In Knoxville, you say? The band was on the field when Missouri players came on. Half the team ran to our end zone, got down in the orange and white checkerboard end zone and started to pray. A couple of guys in white gloves and tuxes tried to shoo them off. The Missouri players were in the way of the band’s exit from the field. They didn’t yield and were almost trampled, although I doubt that Sheldon Richardson could get trampled.

Before the game, I thought that these were two evenly-matched teams. The results bears that out but really, Tennessee has a lot more talent, especially on offense. The first half was an absolute blowout. If it weren’t for an early Tennessee fumble inside the Missouri ten-yard-line, a missed field goal and a Missouri kickoff touchdown return that wasn’t by Marcus Murphy, it would have been 31-0 at the half. Instead, it was 21-7.

It was a battle all game between me and John to determine who could be more pessimistic. I spend all half wondering if Maty Mauk would be the savior QB next year as James Franklin was clearly done. In the first half, Tennessee had 385 yards of offense and Missouri had about 50. I noted that between last week’s Titans/Bears game and this one, my team had been outscored 72-27 in six quarters.

Football is an unusual game in that a team can get outplayed, regroup, and make one play to make it interesting. Kendial Lawrence ran 77 yards for a TD early in the third quarter and it was a one score game the rest of the way. The end of the game was Tennessee giving Missouri multiple shots to tie the game and Missouri being unable to answer the bell. Franklin looked like his 2011 self on the final drive, making pinpoint passes and scrambling when needed. He doesn’t seem to have the speed on runs that he did last year, but it could be the SEC speed on defense. Missouri completed two fourth and long plays to keep the drive along, and both times, the receiver was completely uncovered. On the game-tying TD, freshman sensation Dorial Green-Beckham was wide open on the right side of the end zone and Franklin needed almost five seconds to find him.

We were up for overtime. I was about to witness my longest football game in person. Neither team struggled much to score touchdowns in the first three overtimes, although Tennessee did score on a fake field goal in the second OT that seemed inspired by Les Miles. Marcus Lucas’s toe was just out of bounds on the third OT two-point try. When Tennessee scored to make it 48-48, I was assured of defeat. Missouri had been one play from defeat so many times already. Tyler Bray couldn’t find a receiver open in the end zone and threw it short of the end zone.

I will note that during the game, OBL was keeping track of the number of times we heard Rocky Top. We either didn’t hear the song in the final quarter and overtime or our brains refused to allow us to hear it again. The Missouri band and cheering section, down and to our left, was almost as loud as the Tennessee faithful later in the game. I got a small understanding of what the Bears fans experienced last Sunday in Nashville. I say small because there probably were 5 to 10,000 Missouri fans and a good 20,000 Bears fans last week.

Tennessee got the ball to start OT number four. I kept turning my phone on and off because it was about to die to post “one more” tweet. Derek Dooley passed on a field-goal try and went for it on fourth and short. The slot receiver was open but the pass was a little low and outside. Incomplete. All Missouri needed was to kick a field goal, but we know how good college kickers can be, as my dad can attest from last weekend’s Pitt/Notre Dame game.

The kick was good, although it went right over one of the goal posts and both of the dads said no good. It was more of a relief than happiness, because as I tweeted before, the teams weren’t playing for much. Missouri needs one win to get to 6 and their last two opponents just defeated top-ten teams so there’s no guarantee.

The crowd was about 40,000 stronger than what I usually see in Nashville so the streets were packed with people on the walk back to the car and the drive home. I didn’t get to a bar or eat in a restaurant in town, so it wasn’t a full experience. I might be back in two years.

Maybe it’s because most SEC schools are in small towns, but it seems like the devotion to the college team is deeper than the pro version. I would say it’s on the level in towns like Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Boston, and Cleveland.

It’s never a fun walk from the game when the home team loses. I know that one really well. It was a fun, albeit brief trip with the dads. I hope we do it again some time.

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