Tennessee Football: Has The Love Affair Lost Its Flame?

Stephen SmithContributor ISeptember 30, 2009

KNOXVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 12: A general view of the stadium during a game between the UCLA Bruins and the Tennessee Volunteers on September 12, 2009 at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee. UCLA beat Tennessee 19-15. (Photo by Joe Murphy/Getty Images)

The Volunteer Navy still sailgates before each home game and orange-blooded, orange-clad, orange-obsessed Tennessee football fanatics still pass through the turnstiles at Neyland Stadium at the same rate they always have.

So, outwardly at least, it would appear that the fan's love affair with Tennessee football is alive and well.

But, cynicism is always lurking in the background.

The patient, level-headed Tennessee fan is realistic about the 2009-10 season and has been since the change in leadership during the offseason. With a new regime in place, there's no National Championship game or BCS bowl coming in January and that's okay. 

The Volunteers' latest National Championship is now 11 years in our collective rear-view mirrors, so Year One of the Kiffin era had to be all about reestablishing Tennessee's national reputation from the inside out.

Slick media campaigns are one thing, but if the players inside the program don't believe in the direction they're headed in, it's all for naught.

So far, Kiffin's right on track—that is, as far as the patient, level-headed fan is concerned.

Then they're those other guys. You know, the delusional, Chicken Little types?

The sky may have felt like it was falling when the Volunteers let UCLA off the hook at home the week before traveling to Florida, but it didn't. Sure, the loss to the Bruins stung, but the Volunteers are just a game off where I had them (3-1) at this point in the season.

And no one's freaking out yet—nor should they.

The meat of the Vols' schedule is coming up with Auburn, Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina, so we can revisit this conversation strand at some point in the future.

Regardless, Rome wasn't built in a day and neither was Neyland Stadium, which grew from a single grandstand that sat 3,200 to the 100,000-seat modern marvel it is today.

Great love affairs follow the same path as will the long-standing one with the Volunteers overall and especially Tennessee football.