Put a sticker on it, it’s done
Remember the bumper sticker that used to float around Knoxville in the 1980’s? The one that said to some variation, ”Would the woman who left the 10 kids at Dudley Field please come get them, they’re beating Vandy 21-0.”
My friend Barry still has one on display, but it’s no longer in a spot of honor among the memorabilia.
I miss seeing that.
Saturday night a lot of the Vol nation was missing it.
Not the bumper sticker, but the seven decades of dominance Tennessee had built up over its smarty pants in-state little brother.
Not since the eldest of our Greatest Generation was a bunch of irresponsible teenagers with parents yelling about how horrid and Gawd-awful that new-fangled jazz noise was had a Vanderbilt team put a beating on Tennessee like the one witnessed Saturday.
Watching the Orange & White drain out of Vanderbilt Stadium before the final drive or even the final quarter in November is nothing new. Watching it do so for any reason other than a massive Volunteer lead is. Saturday night it was watching water run uphill as the UT fans — for what they were, and what there were of them — left voided sections as the Commodores established the new conference pecking order in the northern reaches of the SEC.
Tennessee didn’t drop this low overnight, and Vanderbilt didn’t rise above the Volunteers in just a single game.
It’s been a long spiralling path for the Vols to reach this point, but its one that’s accelerated as the bottom got closer and the attention more crushing — like a flushing motion of program momentum.
There was the point where fans called to complain their coach couldn’t beat Florida often enough.
Then it was couldn’t beat Florida at all.
Or keep the streak against Vandy.
And now this.
Being dominated by Vanderbilt.
Some one should probably go check General Neyland’s statue down by the stadium that bears his name in Knoxville. It may have more than rolled over. It might have had enough, gotten up and left.
Neyland spent a career mastering the first rule of being the Tennessee head coach: You must beat Vanderbilt.
From that task, all good things can spring, but you have beat Vandy first.
Over the decades it’s become less recognized how important that fact is for a UT head coach, how much it impacts recruiting and standings and how many good things for the Vols are based on being better than Vandy. It helped when Vanderbilt wasn’t the power it once was, but those days seem to be ebbing if not ending.
Vandy coach James Franklin may have just ended his second SEC coaching career this month and he’s still got a game, make that two, to go yet.
Tennessee faces a lot of soul-searching and decision-making and image-building in the coming days with Kentucky already hungry on the horizon. Not just for this season, but for the program’s future.
Vol fans can wish for better but will have to watch and wait and worry and think about the good old days when they made bumper stickers about Vandy.
Marcus Fitzsimmons is sports editor at The Daily Times, follow him on Twitter @TDT_Sports. He wrote from Nashville.