Tennessee Recap: Pass the Plate of Biscuits, a Great Fall Weekend Almost Turns Sour
I have been an Alabama fan since I went to my first game in 2005. I remember my downstairs neighbor’s father was in town and had a few extra tickets. She knocked on my door, and when I opened it she was standing there with a plate of biscuits. She offered them to me as she asked me if I’d like to go to the game. This, I thought, is the South.
I didn’t wear an Alabama shirt because I didn’t own one. I did wear jeans. It was late September and I was optimistic. After sweating through August in Alabama, I’d forgotten that 88 degrees was still very hot.
The game was against Arkansas. Bryant-Denny only held 81,000 people then, but it was the biggest stadium I’d ever been in, and it was the most intense crowd I’d ever seen. One bald guy a few rows up stood before every play and barked until his face and scalp were so red he wavered and almost passed out. He slammed down onto his padded seat to regain himself and then shot up again as the teams huddled. At the end of the game, the crowd chanted Rammer Jammer. I had to ask my neighbor what they were saying.
I’ve only been an Alabama fan for 11 years, but my fandom is founded on these types of memories, charity and intensity, and maybe even intense charity. Since 2005, I’ve only seen Alabama lose to Tennessee once, and that was ten years ago. The sanctions were basically over by the time I came to the team. Phil Fulmer was still there but even he was on the way out.
All that is to say, I think I understand the Tennessee hate, but I don’t feel it. I can’t.
For me, the game not a rivalry so much as its own tradition. Tennessee weekend. A weekend that carries a late fall intensity. The leaves are turning brown and dropping, the crunch of them on the quad. The heat of summer is still there but waning. Once, I assigned a longish reading to my American Lit class, and when they came back on Monday, it was clear few had read. Afterward, one of the best students came up to me and said: “Dude, you can’t give so much reading over Tennessee weekend.”
I should have been mad, but I wasn’t. Instead, I realized something I already should have known: Tennessee weekend was not something to fuck with. It has its own power. Giving reading over Tennessee weekend is like giving reading over Christmas. From then on, I made sure to check my syllabus against the schedule every year.
So, I don’t hate Tennessee. In fact, I kind of love them because this game always falls in the perfect spot in the year. Late October, when our team is always beat up and staggering, the semester is in full swing, and the fall weather is actually hinting at fall weather.
By the time we play LSU in two weeks, we’ll have forgotten that the game last Saturday was our closest game against Tennessee since 2009, when Alabama won 12–10 on Mt. Cody’s blocked the field goal. Unlike that game, this one was not a classic. It was simply a hard-fought Alabama win, another example of our talent and depth beating out their youth and moxie and determination to beat us. Our offensive line was terrible, gassed and hurt. Our defense was exhausted. Only Derrick Henry looked strong, and somehow Jake Coker and the receivers were able to overcome Kiffin’s tendency to get too kute in the red zone.
We were even down late in the 4th quarter, and at one point I texted a friend: “If we don’t score here, the season is over. True hyperbole.” We had everything to lose in this game, but we didn’t lose it, not quite.
And so we can celebrate the greatness that is Tennessee weekend instead of mourning our season.
Let’s take a week off and recuperate. And let’s not point out that this year the game was actually on the FOURTH Saturday in October.
Alabama 19 Tennessee 14