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This Week in UT Sports History – A Season’s End

(Photo courtesy of Tennessee Athletics)

This Week in UT Sports History is a weekly series written by RTI columnist Lexie Little

This week in UT sports history looks a little different.

For more than two years, readers on Rocky Top and across Vol Nation traveled back in time through this weekly series every Monday. Though many readers likely would have preferred the news of championship wins and All-Americans plaster home pages and front pages dated 2019-2021, Tennessee history still holds a place in the hearts of Big Orange faithful.

That includes the heart of this series’ author.

Nearly every Fall Saturday as a kid, my feet pounded the pavement (around the everlasting construction) at the University of Tennessee. A quick trip to the University Center for some Petro’s and a pitstop marked the precursor to the day’s main event: a gridiron matchup at Neyland Stadium.

Clad in Big Orange, my mom held my hand as we walked up the ramp at Gate 10 toward our season seats. I looked back at the College of Communication and Information behind us. Mom had graduated from that college in 1990 (the same year my dad graduated from the College of Engineering). Though little me suspected she would continue to ascend that ramp with family and friends for years to come, she didn’t know she would eventually do so as a journalism student (and later alumna) of that satellite-speckled college down below.

My career remained far from my adolescent mind as stadium announcer Bobby Denton asked us to “Pay these prices, and PLEASE. PAY. NO MORE.” Choruses of “Rocky Top” drowned out any thoughts in my head as 102,455 fervent folks anticipated players running through the T. The cast of characters in the surrounding seats changed as I grew from elementary school to middle school to high school to college. But one thing remained the same: the pride rooted in tradition. (Well, and the Pride… A band pregame unrivaled).

Fast forward to my senior year at Tennessee. Sports reporting instructor Brian Canever asked the class to create a one-off podcast for a multimedia assignment. I needed a story to tell. A history.

Tradition, to me, remained the backbone of Vol sports – both because of rich athletic histories at UT and because of my own record with the programs. Having attended nearly every home football game for 20 years, memories swarmed. Games like the six-overtime win against Arkansas in 2002 popped to mind. The lore of those matchups colored every season. Each year, we recounted where we sat, what we ate from the concessions stand and which player gave his all for Tennessee that day.

Collective memory of college athletics is a powerful force that binds thousands of fans generationally and geographically. With that in mind, I recorded a single podcast episode detailing a particular day in UT athletics history.

Shortly after my graduation, former Rocky Top Insider managing editor Nathanael Rutherford asked me if I would like to contribute. Equipped to tell stories and ready to launch my career, I turned to the past to pave my future through the hundreds of stories, memories, people and records in UT sports history.

This weekly series has followed the idea sparked during that podcast assignment nearly three years ago. And while the words detailed Vol athletics history, the series has become an integral part of my history as a researcher and writer.

Since 2019, I’ve explored newspaper archives from the late 19th and early 20th centuries for my research as a graduate student at the University of Georgia. On the side, old editions of the Knoxville News Sentinel and Knoxville Journal sustained my Vol ties. Their headlines found new relevance in this series. Those pages taught me much about the foundations that led to the current coaches and players – and my role as a Vol for Life.

Now, my history enters a new era. In one month, I will graduate with my master’s in journalism and mass communication from UGA. Though I add Bulldog to my resume, Vol still remains on the adjacent line. And though this column will take a hiatus as I continue my career in a new chapter of the story, UT sports history lives on.

Just up Peyton Manning Pass from Neyland Stadium stands the Torchbearer statue. Its flame continually burns, a reminder of how history has lit the way for generations of students and athletes. As that Big Orange flame burns, so does the passion of all familiar with it.

Thank you, Readers, who know that passion and have followed this journey. I’ve enjoyed reminiscing with you while explaining facts and stats from decades gone by – games we remember, players we miss and legends whose memories endure. You might likely see my byline again. But for now, I’ll sign off with hope for the next season.

Thank you for being part of my history. See you in Neyland.

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