"The test of success is not what you do when you are on top. Success is how high you bounce when you hit bottom." George S. Patton
Tennessee may not be at the bottom, but it might as well be for the victory-starved Vols.
The last four seasons have been rough for Tennessee football, but through it all, the battle-weary Vols have held their heads high and shrugged off the jests that came their way. Many programs have opened the door for a budding rivalry, and none more prolific than on the West Coast.
Regardless of who they are and which stadium they call home, these are the teams you want to see the Vols face.
Coming in at the bottom of the list is the Clemson Tigers.
The last meeting between Tennessee and Clemson was back in 2003. Before the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, there was the usual trash talking that most often precedes a bowl game. What really got it started though was a few members of the Clemson defensive squad let it slip that they were going to intentionally try to hurt brash-talking Casey Clausen.
The cocky Vol escaped the day somewhat unscathed, but not before the Tigers left the Vols staring at a 27-14 loss. The Tigers' celebration that ensued was well remembered.
First off, I have to apologize for the video because it is beyond obnoxious. It was pieced together by a ND fan, which he just happens to appear in.
The last two meetings between the Fighting Irish and the Vols did not bode well. In 2004, the Irish popped in a last-minute field goal to win 17-14 at Neyland Stadium. Then in 2005, the Vols got their butts handed to them in a one-sided defensive fiasco where again they lost 41-21 in South Bend.
For the most part, I never really hated Notre Dame until that (expletive) leprechaun looked the cameraman square in the lens and said, "Don't worry Vols, it'll be all over soon." He said that as he danced a jig with that jaw-line ginger beard while wearing those neon green fancy pants.
From that day on, I just hated Notre Dame for being in existence.
Much to my surprise, this team came in eighth when I surveyed my Vols audience.
This dates back more than a decade.
The first sting came in 1998 as the Vols finished their regular season schedule 9-2 and met Nebraska in the Orange Bowl, losing 42-17. As the Vols limped home, Cornhuskers fans felt their undefeated team deserved better competition and got very vocal about it. Pretty much Vols everywhere took offense that the 11-1 Tennessee was not adequate.
Regardless, it was a stinging loss.
In 2000 at the Fiesta Bowl, the Vols got a second chance to redeem themselves, but the Cornhuskers again prevailed 31-21, adding more salt to the wound.
I think it's apparent that old wounds still run deep.
In 1994, Tennessee humbled the Hokies in the Gator Bowl with a respectable 45-23 win. It was a good win, as many oddsmakers favored the Hokies by eight points.
Flash forward to 2009. Lane Kiffin waltzed into Atlanta and underestimated the Hokies. By doing so, he allowed VA Tech to outscore the Vols 34-14 in Chick-fil-A Bowl. It was a bittersweet loss since many Vols expected a win, but had renewed faith in a coach that promised good things the following season.
Little did the Vols know...
By now you guys must notice the pattern here.
Tennessee traveled to Los Angeles in 2008 for their season-opener. What was supposed to be an easy game quickly turned into an all-out battle, and the Vols lost in overtime, 27-24.
It marked the beginning of the end for Phillip Fulmer's last season as head coach.
The next season many expected Lane Kiffin to hand the Bruins their hats and send them hobbling back to California, but unfortunately Rick Neuheisel didn't get the memo. In a very long, low-scoring game, the Bruins again surpassed expectations in 19-15 win.
The Vols played host to the Oregon Ducks in 2010.
Everybody knew going into the game that the Ducks would most likely be the future Pac-10 champions, but it didn't damper the spirit of the Vols. The young team came out swinging, and before the Ducks knew what hit them, Tennessee had them scrambling.
Poole was running like a gazelle, Simms was hitting every pair of hands on the field, the defense was stopping everything the Ducks threw at them—then it rained.
After the lightning delay, the Vols came out to win, but the Ducks decided they hadn't flown all that way for nothing. From that point on, Tennessee lost all momentum and never got it back. The Ducks' no-huddle offense surprised the Vols, and before they could catch their breath, the scoreboard read 48-13.
The Tarheels were never considered a threat or an enemy to the Vols—for many years, it was more of a private joke that never manifested into anything.
Then Mike Hamilton removed the Tarheels from future scheduling. Enraged Vols fans asked why, but, according to Hamilton, it was all about business.
Vols fans didn't believe it and furthermore, neither did North Carolina.
After a few months it sort of blew over, but as Tennessee started to win, Tarheels fans started to whisper. It got louder and louder until the inevitable happened, and the two neighboring schools met in Nashville for the 2010 Music City Bowl.
Many times it appeared the Vols were within reach of their first bowl win since 2008, but North Carolina battled back in overtime to beat the Vols 30-27.
This was a bit of a shocker, but Vols can hold a grudge.
It was considered by most Vols as the most embarrassing bowl loss since Bill Battle's 28-19 loss in the Gator Bowl to Texas Tech.
Tennessee was heavily favored to beat the Terrapins in the Peach Bowl. Casey Clausen was supposed to pick apart the secondary like a high school team. John Chavis, by all accounts, was untouchable with his modified nickel package.
It was supposed to be a walk in the park.
The first half wasn't without hope, but left the Vols facing a two-TD deficit returning for the second half. The Vols had glimpses of light when Cedric Houston took the field, but the Terrapins' defensive line refused to give any more ground past the third quarter. Maryland kicker Nick Novak kicked a 48, 44 and 25-yard field goal to cement their 30-3 win.
Joe Paterno and his Nittany Lions have owned the Vols for well over a decade.
For myself—as it is for many Fulmer advocates—it all started in 1992 with a devastating 42-17 loss in the Fiesta Bowl. Many thought the SEC powerhouse of Tennessee would wear down the smaller Penn State defense and win the day, but it just didn't happen.
Two years later, Phillip Fulmer got another chance to tame the Lions, but the Big Ten legends cut the Vols down in a stunning 31-13 defeat.
Twelve years later, again Phillip Fulmer had an opportunity to outmaneuver JoePa in the Outback Bowl.
Sadly,Tennessee's only points came off a LaMarcus Coker TD run and a James Wilhoit FG. Everything else was pure depression, as the Vols witnessed yet another 20-10 defeat at the hands of Penn State.
This one topped the requests for meeting on the field of play. Last of course is USC, and I don't mean the Gamecocks.
When I surveyed the Vols audience, I was not surprised that they cared nothing about winning, only meeting on the field to shed blood. It's not surprising when you factor in all of the hardship Lane Kiffin bestowed upon the hallowed grounds of Tennessee.
Undoubtedly, Kiffin will shroud himself in shameless armor as he continues to declare that he, "was only doing what he thought was best to turn the program around."
Personally, I will gladly say it's all hogwash. If Kiffin's own mother had been an assistant, he would gladly throw her under the bus and yell to the NCAA that it was not of his doing; anything to protect his precious USC.
If any game holds more controversy at this time, it would be this matchup.
If the NCAA could put any game on pay-per-view, it would be this game.
I am glad that Hamilton is gone because as treacherous as Kiffin is, when he landed on the USC campus, it only took him nine days before he issued a challenge to Tennessee—Hamilton declined.
Forget that! Whoever takes over at Tennessee, my only wish is that he or she makes this game happen and that no player leaves the field with any energy left in their body.
Before Kiffin's absconding, most that I surveyed cared nothing about a chance rivalry between Tennessee and USC. It was only after the Trojans and their fans embraced Kiffin as their savior, and thumbed their noses at the Vols' plight that Tennesseans decided the only way to see any justice was to get the Trojans on the field.
Now that Hamilton is gone, it just might happen.
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