Saturday, November 29, 2008. The end of an era. Woody Hayes had a good run...good and bad. Bear Bryant had a good run...good and bad. Robert Neyland had a good run...good and bad. Joe Pa had...oops, has, a good run...good and bad. Now's the end of another good run...good and bad.
The common thread here is...they are/were all great coaches, and they all did it THEIR WAY.
Phillip Fulmer will coach his last game Saturday night...and I'll be there. I'll be there with different emotions. I'll be there physically and spiritually. For the last 16 years of my life, two things went together...Tennessee football and Phillip Fulmer.
I don't know whether to look forward to the game or dread being there. What will the atmosphere be like? I know it will not be like any of the games that I've been to since 1975.
My two sons, 17 and 15, my exchange student from Brazil (obviously a first Vols game for him), and my brother-in-law will be with me. Will I act nonchalant, or will my real feelings pour out?
I want to go, but I don't want to go. I have tickets for everyone in my party, but will I back out? What to do?
I remember Phil's first game against Florida at home. It was a downpour, and it rained all over the Gators in Knoxville. Of course, I do remember the beautiful games against Florida in 1998 and 2001, as well as others. Phil was (and IS) the MAN.
You know, if you look at this as a business, even Bill Gates had his ups and downs. Phillip Fulmer not only tried to do his job the best he could, he put his heart and soul in the Orange. More importantly, his did it HIS WAY.
So here we are—the last six days of Phil's career at Tennessee. If this was a normal year, I would just be worried about THE STREAK.
I was there at Knoxville in 1984 when Tennessee last lost to Kentucky. It was near the end of the game, the Vols were behind by five...hell, I was only 25 years old...half of my life ago! My kids weren't even born; I wasn't even married to my wife.
So we're behind by five, inside the Cats' 20, time is running out, we have no timeouts, so what happens? Our QB (can't even remember his name) throws a pass out of bounds to stop the clock. Only problem was that that was fourth down. A long ride home for me.
So while THE STREAK was paramount to this game, now I'm not even thinking about that. I'm thinking about Phil, the coach, the teacher, the family man...and that's one thing we have in common that's number two right below God.
Saturday night...it'll probably be cold, maybe raining (not snowing as in the past). I'll be watching the game, probably putting on a front like all I care about is the game. But I'll be thinking about Phil. Oh, I know he'll be okay, with his family, and his career will continue somewhere.
I'll be thinking about the great years in the past, the great players in the past, the great times in the past, the great bourbon...
But I'm really dreading Saturday night, and it's not because I'm afraid THE STREAK will be broken (and it may!). I'll be there cheering Phil on...and I'll do it MY WAY! I REALLY cannot miss this game...