Open Mic: Volunteers' 2001 Loss to LSU Still Smarts
Over my years as a sports fan, I have witnessed several disappointments.
There was 2005, when both the Houston Astros and Seattle Seahawks made it to the championship, only to fall in the end.
I will never forget the game now in question, the 2002 NBA Western Conference Finals between Sacramento and L.A. As a Kings' fan, I thought Game Six was rigged back then.
Last year, the Missouri Tigers were one win away from the National Championship game when their offense couldn’t get going in a second loss to Oklahoma.
Even this year there have been a couple of big disappointments for me.
Tony Stewart got a flat tire with five laps left when he was going to win at Charlotte.
My favorite golfer, Jonathan Byrd, held a three-shot lead at the AT&T Classic after 36 holes, only to choke it up in a hurry.
But the one that takes the cake came in 2001.
A week prior to the SEC championship game, Tennessee went into The Swamp and beat Florida for the first time since 1971 in a game for the SEC East title.
The game was moved to the end of the year because of the September 11 attacks.
I remember being as nervous as I have ever been while watching a game on T.V. as I lived and died with every play.
When the Vols were victorious, I was as happy as I have ever been with the outcome of a game.
The next week was a rematch of an earlier meeting between Tennessee and LSU.
Tennessee won the earlier game 26-18 at home.
A win would put the Vols in the National Championship game against Miami.
While I knew the game wasn’t going to be easy, my nerves and excitement were nowhere near what they were a week ago.
I am guessing the players weren’t at the same peak either, as they were quite flat throughout the game.
Tennessee held the lead at the half, thanks to the same defensive strategy that it used to contain Rex Grossman the week before—a four-man front with two of the guys standing up like they were linebackers.
The strategy wouldn’t work for long though, as the Vols knocked out Rohan Davey, forcing unknown Matt Mauck into the fire.
The Vols were not prepared for a running threat from the quarterback position after not having to face one all year, and it showed.
Mauck made crucial runs that eventually opened up the passing game, where Josh Reed took over.
Trying to get back in the game, Tennessee was driving when Donte' Stallworth fumbled, ending all hope.
The game showed how hard it is to get up for a major game two weeks in a row, and how a backup quarterback might not be the worst thing in the world.
After the game, I was in complete shock and had to deal with all the criticisms the next week in school.
I was left wondering what might have been. I don’t think any other team in the country could have won at Florida that year, which showed how good the Vols really were.
Also helping the Vols’ cause was a drubbing of Michigan in the Capital One Bowl.
Many people say that the Miami team that year was unbeatable, but after losing the following year, I know that Tennessee had a decent chance to win.
Just ask Michigan if Tennessee 2001 or Ohio State 2002 was better (45-17 loss in 2001, 13-9 loss in 2002 to OSU).
Maybe I was just being greedy after the Vols won it all in 1998, but I wasn’t nearly as big of a fan then as I was in '01, and especially now.
In fact, 1998 was the last time one of my teams won a championship.
I had a good chance in hockey with Philly, Dallas, and San Jose, but none of them could even make the finals.
Last year would have been a great chance for revenge on LSU for the Vols. But Erik Ainge’s interception returned for a touchdown, and another pick later proved to be costly in what turned out to be a brutal day of football for me.
I only hope that the next time one of my teams is in that situation, they can come out on top.
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