NCAAM 2/16 Preview: Take Auburn (-13.5) To Win Outright Against Vanderbilt
There was a loud commotion in the student section as time was winding down in Tuesday night’s matchup against Kentucky.
Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, a young man in the Tennessee student section, wearing a blue Kentucky shirt, was putting on a white “Vols” shirt over his Kentucky gear. And as the crowd began to figure out what was happening, Thompson-Boling Arena exploded in cheers. Tennessee had seemingly converted a Kentucky fan.
But, as the story goes, that isn’t entirely what happened. So, what is the real story behind what transpired in the Tennessee student section with the Kentucky fan? Well, we got to the bottom of it.
Meet University of Tennessee senior Baxter Jackson, a native of Murfreesboro, a student in Knoxville, and a die-hard Kentucky fan since the age of four.
Jackson, a sports management student at Tennessee, grew up a Kentucky fan in the Volunteer State after sharing that bond with his father. And ever since then, Jackson has grown to love the Cats more and more. However, with Kentucky not offering a sports management major, Jackson felt like going to Tennessee and being with his friends wasn’t too bad of a backup plan while still in the SEC. Plus, Jackson would still get to see his beloved Cats frequently throughout the years.
During his four years at the University of Tennessee, Jackson has attended every Tennessee home game, not wanting to miss out on any collegiate sports regardless of the team – even though, as he says, he always wore neutral colors.
Which brings us to Tuesday night’s game in Knoxville. Now, this wasn’t going to be the first Tennessee/Kentucky game in Knoxville for Jackson, so he did have an idea of what to expect. But even Jackson himself didn’t anticipate how crazy this game, in particular, was going to get for him.
Leading into Tennessee’s matchup on Tuesday, Kentucky guard TyTy Washington’s status was up in the air after suffering an injury during the Wildcats’ last game. Washington did play against Tennessee but had to be taken out of the game early after re-aggravating his injury.
“I was kind of on edge about TyTy Washington,” Jackson said. “Was he was going to play or not? So I see him running on the court, and I stood up and started clapping for him. I got all excited because I didn’t think he was going to play. So I got excited, and at that moment, all the Tennessee fans, all the students were yelling at me, booing me, telling me to sit down. All that good stuff.”
Jackson’s decision to block out the noise at that moment ended up setting off a chain of events that are almost too good to be true.
“So as they’re doing that, one of the ushers down on the court started sprinting up the steps,” Jackson said while recalling what was happening before the game started. “As fast as he could, just sprinting up the steps. And he goes, ‘I need to see your student ID right now.’ And I’m kind of fumbling through my pockets, trying to get my phone and my ID out. I pull it out, and he shrugs his shoulders and says, ‘He’s good.’ So I kind of egged it on a little.”
Bryan, a user on Twitter that was supposedly at the game, backed up Jackson’s story from a different perspective.
“We tried to get the guy kicked out before the game started because he was in the student section but he goes here,” Bryan said in a post on Wednesday morning.
See Also from RTI: Vols Make ‘Statement’ With Complete Win Over Kentucky
After an unsuccessful attempt at removing the Tennessee student from the section, Jackson had a little bit of a pep in his step to begin the game.
“I wasn’t going to say anything back, but I knew in that moment, I had a little bit of power,” Jackson said with a laugh.
As soon as that situation concluded, though, another idea had already started brewing, and Tennessee’s DJ Awol began to make his way up the steps.
“So immediately after [the usher] kind of walked down, I don’t know his name, but he is the PA announcer during the timeouts, he came running up the steps,” Jackson said. “And after he came down, he walked up to me and said let’s have a friendly bet on this game, and I said that’s fine. So he says if Kentucky loses and Tennessee wins, I’m going to bring you up a shirt here, and you have to put it on. And I was like, you know what, I just saw TyTy Washington roll up, we just won by 30, you know what? Sure, let’s do it. So I shook his hand, regretfully shook his hand, I guess you could say, but I shook his hand. … It was a terrible game, it was a little rough, and then I knew the inevitable was coming pretty much.”
Tennessee ended up leading for 32 minutes and 37 seconds of the 40-minute game, which spelled out trouble for Jackson’s side of the bet.
“Pretty much every time Tennessee would get a lead, I would look down on the floor, and the announcer guy would be looking back at me,” Jackson said. “And he would be tugging on his shirt. He had my shirt in his hand the whole game.”
“So there was about a minute left [in the second half] when he came over to me and said, ‘Alright man, it’s time.’ And so yeah, the rest is history. I put the shirt on and basically just sat there for the rest of the game trying to hide my face. And then the next thing I know, I see a guy with a camera for the jumbotron come up next to me. He points it at me, I look up, and I’m all over. It was rough. It was pretty rough.”
“I’m standing up and took a little look around, and I’m looking around like the whole stadium was staring right at me,” Jackson said about what was going through his mind when it happened. “It was, like, a shaking nervous type thing, and it was pretty nuts.”
As soon as people started to catch on to what was going on in the student section, all eyes immediately locked onto one person: Baxter Jackson. The entire crowd, both Tennessee fans and Kentucky fans alike wanted to see how the shirt situation would play out.
“When I first put it on, I had it originally just around my neck,” Jackson said. “I was always going to go around my neck; I couldn’t go any farther. But everyone was going, ‘Push your arms through all the way! You gotta go all the way!’ So I was like, alright. I put it on there, stood up for a second, and then just got as low as I could into the seat.”
Keep him. He belongs to the streets now. pic.twitter.com/awotpnZtk6
— Drew Franklin (@DrewFranklinKSR) February 16, 2022
Fortunately, in the spirit of friendly competition, Jackson was a class act through what can only be described as a nerve-wracking ordeal. Jackson was a man of his word and accepted the losing consequence of the bet for the whole arena (and now the world) to see.
See Also from RTI: Meet Jonas Aidoo: Tennessee’s Next Big Thing
“I thought about my buddy being like, ‘Don’t you wish you threw it or didn’t put it on?’ I was like, I mean I could, but it’s a friendly game, it was a fun game.”
At the end of the day, the entire situation showed the positive, interactive, and yet still competitive side of rivalries. So often, in today’s world, it seems like every week, there is a video of a collegiate fanbase going way over the line in the name of “a rivalry.” What happened on Tuesday night, regarding a friendly bet between a Tennessee student and his peers, is so much better of an example of how rivalries can still be exciting, intriguing, and even sometimes gut-wrenching without crossing any lines.
“It’s fun,” Jackson said about being so involved in the rivalry. “It’s like I said, it was a good time, it was fine. I’m still Kentucky through and through. But I’ll respect another team when we get beat like that; I’ll respect it.”
Baxter Jackson, the Tennessee student/Kentucky fan from Murfreesboro, is a class act from the Wildcats’ fanbase and now has one heck of a story to take with him.
“I’m a man of my word as much as it hurt,” Jackson posted to Twitter on Wednesday.