Monday, October 27, 2014

Week 9 - Good Ole Rocky Top

My new favorite song
In the summer of 1984 as a young ROTC Cadet at Fort Knox, KY, I was introduced to the song “Rocky Top” by two fellow Cadets in my barracks, both students at Tennessee. In fact, I think they even made up marching cadences to Rocky Top a la Bill Murray in Stripes. Some thirty years later, that song still haunts my medulla oblongata as I will start humming it for no apparent reason at very inopportune times. On this picture perfect autumn weekend in Eastern Tennessee, I felt privileged and honored to be amongst the 100,000 + Orange revelers to hum Rocky Top and welcome back one of the Tailgate’s all time favorites to the checkered end zone: Mr. Lane Kiffin, former head coach here. For those of you that don’t remember, Young Lane was hired to be the Head Coach back in 2009. After one year, he left the Volunteer Nation hung out to dry so he could chase the glamour and glitter of Hollywood and return to USC as their head ball coach. Needless to say, the name Kiffin was less popular than the name Bin Laden in the Smoky Mountain State. Things did not work out so well in LA for the disciple of Pete the Cheat, and Lil Lane was spotted in line at a soup kitchen. Saban Clause, AKA St. Nick did a charitable thing and hired the unemployed boy genius as his OC prior to this season. And of course he would be greeted with a very warm welcome inside the imposing Neyland Stadium when the Tide rolled onto the field.
This weekend would be a reunion with my high school crew, SVHS class of 1981. Lodgings were provided by Classmate Tennessee Tony Pifer in his five star cabin in the woods. However to get to the cabin, one must travel through places that could be rift with moonshiners, cloggers, snake healers, and toothless banjo strummers. The hair on my neck stood up on alert as we made our way through the Holler. We were also joined by Maryland Mike McCabe and the good Doctor himself, Alabama Al and his family. After spending Friday night recalling just how great and cool we were 35 years prior and who could beat who up, we were ready for game day in Knoxville on Saturday. We headed to the Palace on the river known as Neyland Stadium for a 1:30 PM Tailgate party hosted by Doctor Eddie Hockaday and his wife Connie. Neyland Stadium is named after legendary Tennessee coach General Robert Neyland. Neyland was the Vols coach from 1926 -1952 with a hiatus to go serve his country in the CBI Theater during WWII. This has added meaning to me as my Father served as an Army Air Corps Officer in Burma and India during the big one. General Neyland also coached the Vols to four National Championships. With UT being a city school, tailgating space is at a premium with the orange clad fanatics setting up wherever possible. The Hockaday party was located on the top deck of the parking garage just next to the stadium with a view of the river down below. In the river there is a phenomena dating back almost 50 years called “Boatgating”. This is an event where boat owners from around Tennessee lash up together for an all day Tailgate on the water. Some of the larger boats even had live music, dancing girls and congressional hearings for entertainment. This is one of the top bucket list events to witness in all of college football. Our Tailgate consisted of a mixture of Vol and Tide families and friends. In our walkabout we found a camera man filming a sign attached to a microphone that said “What would you tell Lane Kiffin?” Many a warm hearted Vol fan stepped up to the Mic and let little Lane know they were just so ecstatic to see him again. We found the Tailgate crowd at UT to be spirited but mostly respectful.
Tennessee Tailgating!
The good Doctor seeking Legal advice
Orange Crush!

General Neyland's commanding view
Say hello to my little Lane

Tailgating with the Alabama Al family. Note the Harbaugh Mom pants on the good Doctor.

Boatgating on the Banks of the river.
As a cruel Joke, Alabama Al stuck us non partisan so called friends in the Alabama section of the stadium in the upper tier of this massive structure. Let’s just say if there was a tornado touching down in Tennessee it would have torched our seats for several reasons. This was not the same polite clientele we tailgated with during the afternoon. The Vol Nation filled the stadium for the 7:30 kickoff cloaked in their bright Orange attire accompanied with their all day tailgate glo. The Pride of The Southland UT Marching band took the field and formed a giant letter T. Smokey the Blue Tick Hound mascot led the Team out onto the field through the giant T to the approval of the Orange people. The Pride belted out Rocky Top for the first of several hundred times of the night. The sellout crowd of 102,455 fans was singing in unison at the top of their lungs. With all the pageantry and nighttime magic that Knoxville has presented so many times, the fans expected a great effort out of their underdog Vols.  Coach “Sergeant Carter” from Gomer Pyle (AKA Butch Jones) was fired up as well. 

Separated at Birth - Sgt Carter and Butchy

Nonetheless, Alabama sucked the rarified air out of the behemoth bowl before the first quarter ended. Apparently, Lane and Nick drafted up their own script for how Lane’s return to Neyland would be. Bama ended the first set with a 20 - 0 lead spearheaded by spectacular play from All American Amari Cooper and QB Blake Sims and a stout D. LK was seen running up and down the sideline in his visor encouraging his boyz to show em who the boss is. Bama scored again to start the second quarter before Tennessee had decided to give us our money’s worth. From that point on, UT outplayed Alabama by outscoring the Tide 20 - 7. But as higher math will learn ya, 27+7 is still more than 20. I will say that even though Tennessee has seen better days, the atmosphere, passion and traditions that the Vol Nation brings to game day is amongst the best in the country. This is a program that claims six national titles throughout time. They will rise again much to the chagrin of the rest of the SEC.
The Grandiose Neyland  Stadium with the unmistakable checkered End Zones

As an added bonus, I was also able to catch the Thursday night ESPN game in Blacksburg, VA between The VA Tech Hokies and the Hurricanes from the U. I met up with my College buddy and Rugby Teammate Terry Kernan who drove in from D.C. to join me because he heard I would score us some free turkey legs. After illegally parking at the Holiday Inn across from Campus we snuck on their shuttle bus that took us to campus. We learned the first stop was the Tailgate party sponsored by the Holiday Inn. So what are two grown men to do when presented with an opportunity to crash a party, eat someone else’s food, drink their beer and insult the guests? You answered correctly if you said “tailgate crash”. We also met up with Terry’s friend John Malone at his Beergate in Lot 1 along with his Fraternity crew that graduated from VT in 1983. They have been doing a Thursday night game reunion annually in Blacksburg with guys coming in from different parts of the country for 30 years. The Hokie faithful have grown restless since their week two upset of Ohio State who at the time was ranked #4 in the country. Since that time VT has been on a downward spiral. Some even have spoken the unspeakable and are calling for legendary Coach Frank Beamer’s resignation.
John Malone and Terry with me at the Beergate.

I'm not a Tailgater but I did crash a Holiday Inn Tailgate last night.
Thursday night games at VA Tech are legendary. The Hokie fans are as passionate as any and pack the 65,000 seat Lane Stadium for home games and provide as hostile an atmosphere for opposing teams to play in as I have seen. They have a ritual when the team takes the field before the game where the whole stadium bounces up and down to Metallica’s “Enter Sandman”. The crowd erupts and the players stream out on to the field and fireworks go off beyond the south end zone.  

Enter Sandman
VA Tech is also one of only two non-military colleges that have a Corps of Cadets. They packed the south end zone while the students and the Marching Band occupy the North. Another unique feature at Lane is hearing a Turkey gobble over the PA system to get the fans fired up throughout the game. However all of the pageantry and non game activity was the most action the Hokies would produce on this night. Miami’s Duke Johnson ran roughshod over VT for 250 yards and 2 TDs on the night as Miami feasted on the Hokies 30 - 6. Regardless, this venue still provided an awesome week night game atmosphere.

Lane Stadium on a Thursday Night
My former basketball player Erika Perez
 Around the Country – Despite what ESPN would have you believe, there is more to CFB than the SEC West. That is why you come to DFT for your information. That being said, LSU proved once again that Death Valley is the place where not only opposing team’s dreams come to die, but national championship aspirations also meet the same fate. Ole Miss found this out the hard way Saturday night as they came into Baton Rouge undefeated and walked out with a blemish on their record. The Hat (Coach Miles) asked the Rebs “how’s that grass taste boys?”  The TCU Horned Frogs Basketball squad beat up on the Texas Tech Red Raiders Football squad 82 - 27. And it pains me to say that our beloved Trojans from USC dropped another one to Utah 24 - 21. Mark Dantoni put one more stake in Big Brady Hoke’s inevitable fate as Sparty won Big against Big Brother Michigan in the Big House 35 - 11.
Bieber Award – After consulting with my Bieber committee we decided it was a light week in bad Biebhavior. However if we go back to last Saturday after WVU upset Baylor, I think we found our winner. You see, it is normal behavior in Morgantown, WV to burn couches after a big Mountaineer victory. I am not sure why, other than maybe them boyz drop their fatties on their moonshine soaked couches and voila, you have your instant heat source all by accident. Nothing new, right? Well, after the Baylor win there must have been extra moonshine and bulletproof liquid courage as the hillbillies burned everything in their path including the traditional couches, pulled down lamp poles and rioted like anarchists. The MOTO PO PO had to be brought in to get the town under control to calm the LA Laker fans down. Reports indicated that the town looked no different the next day then it normally does. The ironic part is past Bieber Winner the bow tied smug dork Gordon Gee, former Chancellor at Ohio State now the Cheese at WVU had to lecture the students on their unsportsmanlike behavior. So to the fans of WVU, not only do you get College Gameday next week, you are this week’s winner of the vaunted Bieber Award!
Next Week - The Tailgate will make its way to the Palouse for the first time to watch Wazoo host USC, I will be joined by USC die hard Major Mark Rodrick, USMC (R) and he is making me sit with the USC section. I think I will wear my Notre Dame Schwag.
Happy Tailgating!

Our classless reunion - McCabe, Dan, Al & Tony
The BC Eagle crew celebrating a victory at Wake with the Mother of All Foxes, my sister Pats!