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Tennessee Football: A Family Affair

image via Paul Efird/News Sentinel

But when the decade turned, the family would feud, and once the dust from that feud had settled, there was a new man in charge. Though some didn’t like how it went down, at least the man that emerged was cut from orange cloth.

Besides, winning heals all wounds, even those caused by rifts in the fanbase, and it wasn’t long before Phillip Fulmer had virtually 100% support from Vol Nation. And rightfully so. Just as the run in the 90s wouldn’t have happened without the work that Johnny put in on the front end, it also wouldn’t have happened had Fulmer not led the charge the rest of the way.

But fast forward ten years and the party was over. The wins were no longer coming as fast and furious as they once were, or at least the marquee wins against the upper tier of the SEC weren’t. And suddenly, the fanbase was split again.

Some felt Fulmer deserved more time. After all, he was a Tennessee guy through and through. But others pointed to coaches like Urban Meyer and Nick Saban as proof that you didn’t need to have decades-long ties to a state or a school to bring that team glory. Such folks argued that the Tennessee Football ideology had grown stale. And that the time had come to go outside the Tennessee family to find a man who could breathe fresh air into the program.

I’m not here to debate whether or not that was actually the case. But I am here to say that if it were, the Vols overcorrected. Because the next man hired didn’t have a clue about things like tradition and family that were part and parcel of this program and its fans. And though his predecessor hailed from SEC royalty and, by extension, surely understood the importance of tradition and family at a place like Tennessee, he still wasn’t a good fit. Again, Vol Nation has never been one to give a damn about pedigrees. It goes deeper than that here.

As happenstance would have it, I missed those years, at least to a large extent. Oh, sure, I followed the team as closely as I normally do, but the triplets were born in 2007 and their brother followed just a few years after. And with all those Littles running amuck, it was hard to make it to the stadium as often as I once did.

It wasn’t till last season when things calmed down enough for me to finally make it back to Neyland for all the home games. And for most of those contests, I brought at least one of my children, just as my dad brought me to Neyland back in October of 1982. Full circle to be certain.

There aren’t very many things I enjoy as much as taking my kids to a UT game. Because it’s impossible for me to do so and not harken back to the days of my impressionable youth when I took in the pageantry of SEC football with eyes as wide as theirs. During these modern-day contests, I try to explain to my kids how it used to be. How it used to feel. And how I believe such days are coming again soon.

And as I do, I often drift back to that 1982 Alabama game, practically able to feel the chill of the aluminum bench offset by the warmth of the man I was sardined against.

Leaving me to wonder if my children will one day recall the games I’ve taken them to with that same chill. With that same warmth.

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