One good thing that came out of the Derek Dooley era at Tennessee was the Vol For Life program and the associated "VFL" tagline for all players, past and present. You can add the now retired Smokey IX to that list after he went out with style against Kentucky.
Smokey became the official mascot of Tennessee Volunteers athletics after students voted for him in 1953. His first owner was Reverend Bill Brooks. Upon being named the mascot at halftime of the Mississippi State game that season, he promptly howled loudly for the crowd.
It was the first howl of many for the Volunteer State's most beloved canine.
Smokey VIII, who proudly served as mascot from 1995 to 2003, remains the winningest Smokey of all. His record was 91-22 over nine years, during which he won two SEC Championships and one BCS National Championship.
His successor, Smokey IX, took over at the 2004 Peach Bowl and recently retired after the 37-17 win over Kentucky last Saturday. His record was 62-53, depressed by the numerous changes in the coaching staff. But if you're going to go down, Smokey IX believed it was best to go down fighting.
Or biting, in his case.
In 2006, Smokey IX made national news when Alabama receiver Mike McCoy was bitten by the hound after landing on him in pregame warm-ups. It's still debated whether Smokey got all uniform or a little meat in the bite. What's not debated is the chorus of howls that followed.
This past Saturday, Smokey broke loose from his trainer as the team entered the field for the second half. Like any good Tennessee fan, he bolted straight for an opponent and found one in Kentucky kicker Craig McIntosh. Smokey ran right into McIntosh's kicking leg, clearly trying to help the Vols anyway he could.
He's definitely a VFL.
That kind of ferocity has been missing from the team in recent years, but it must make fans glad to know that the spirit of the Vols is alive and well. As Smokey IX exits for a retirement full of backwoods hunting and watching his boys play on TV, we should honor his grit during an otherwise weak era of UT football.
Thank you, Smokey!
Who said the Big Orange was all bark and no bite?