Leonard Little was the Vol Legend of the Game last Saturday against Georgia. This weekly ceremony honors former football players that impacted the program and helped lay the foundation that Tennessee now stands upon. Little is one of these legends but hadn't been on the field since 1997.
Before leaving Shields-Watkins Field to thunderous applause, Little stopped and turned back toward the middle of the field, as if he'd forgotten something. Here's what he did:
To see a Super Bowl Champion, known for his vicious play in both college and pro, get down on hands and knees to kiss the T tells it all: The Vol Nation is strong and united, filled with loyalty.
While players and fans have always been loyal to Rocky Top, the uniform message and strategy is due in no small part to the work of Butch Jones.
Just one week ago, the Volunteers fell flat against South Alabama in the second half. After previously writing about the importance of improving throughout a tough October schedule, I had my doubts about the prospects for this season.
It's hard not to be impressed with the kind of grit the team has showed in the face of adversity. While Georgia's offense was decimated with injuries last weekend, the defense was in perfect health.
That didn't stop Justin Worley from leading three second-half touchdown drives. It didn't stop freshman Marquez North from reeling in the catch of the year. It didn't stop Rajion Neal from rumbling for 150 yards.
Per UTSports.com, Jones said he didn't need to deliver a halftime speech. When he walked in, three players were already doing it. They're united under a common cause.
Losing is Different
Both of the previous coaches had near-misses against great teams, just like Jones' 34-31 overtime loss to No. 6 Georgia. The difference is the way in which the game ended. It wasn't an accident that the Vols won or lost. It was totally planned and intended.
Compare that with the bad clock management and blocked field goal at Alabama in 2009. Compare that to the disorganization of the defense that led to a whirlwind loss at LSU in 2010.
This time, Tennessee lost because Pig Howard was stretching for the end zone in overtime. It wasn't because Justin Worley fumbled. It wasn't because the Volunteers ran out of timeouts.
Tennessee lost going for it all. If you're going to go down, that's the way to go down. They're fighting the same fight.
Recognition of Terrific Play
There's a silly saying, "There's no such things as moral victories." That's simply not true. There are, and the sold-out crowd of 102,455 fans at Neyland Stadium last Saturday showed that.
After Georgia had kicked the winning field goal, the Bulldogs rushed the field, and their fans went crazy. Nothing takes the wind out of the victors' sails than complete indifference to their victory, and that's what happened. Vol fans stood and loudly applaud the effort, the grit and the no-quit attitude that their team showed.
Between Leonard Little kissing the T and the crowd recognizing terrific play, even in a loss, I don't know if I've ever been prouder to be a Volunteer.
On Monday, I wore my Tennessee polo to work and got three comments from total strangers, all positive. Foes are impressed with the Vol Nation's unity. Fans are proud to be a part of such a contingency again.
You can thank Butch.