I haven’t purchased University of Tennessee football season tickets in several years. With a family to clothe and feed and bills to pay, the cost simply became too much to justify. Even with tickets in hand, the average gameday experience in Knoxville is $100 for food, gas and parking, which might not sound like too much for most folks but is a healthy chunk of change in my budget.
But I still enjoy a few trips to Neyland Stadium each fall, and a few more to Thompson-Boling Arena during the winter months that follow.
Like many Tennessee fans, I had anticipated Saturday’s visit from Oklahoma with a special kind of alacrity that is reserved for the biggest of games. In fact, I spent far too much time in the weeks leading up to the game — which was the home opener after a yawner of a game against Bowling Green in Nashville — reading all the material on the Vols that the internet and newsstands had to offer.
I am an unabashed football fan. From the opening kickoff until the final whistle, I cheer the big plays, yell at the officials and even do that weird hand-waving thing when Lil’ John’s voice is piped into the stadium on third downs.
So for most of Saturday’s game, myself and 102,455 of my fellow Tennessee fans enjoyed ourselves thoroughly as the Vols put a spanking on the Sooners, their trash-talking players and their brash coach.
Then the fourth quarter happened, followed by an overtime period that obviously didn’t go Tennessee’s way.
On my way out of Neyland Stadium, I saw grown men with tears in their eyes. I heard some of the foulest language that I’ve ever heard.
You would’ve thought that something life-changing had just happened. And the disappointment spilled over into Sunday as fans took to internet message boards to vent their anger and frustration with 18- to 22-year-old players and their coaches, insisting that they are cutting off their donations to the university, and declaring that they are giving up football altogether.
I’m a junkie for competitiveness. Whether it’s football or a card game, I want to win — badly. And there was a time — probably more recently than I’d care to admit — when I would’ve been a lot like some of those fans who were bitterly stomping back towards the parking garage after Saturday’s game. I’ve never cried over a football game, thank goodness, but there have been times when the outcome of a single game has ruined my weekend.
Somewhere along the way, as I’ve progressed from a 20-something fan to a 30-something fan, that’s changed. As disappointed as I was by the final score of Saturday’s game and the way it ended, I can honestly say that I was over it by the time the crowd had thinned enough for me to make my way from my seat, up the steps and into the concourse.
A few hours later, as I stopped by my parents’ home to pick up the kids in the wee hours of Sunday morning, I could honestly shrug my shoulders and say, “It is what it is,” when my father asked what I thought of the game.
What it is is an event that isn’t going to change my life. The outcome of a football game is important for coaches whose livelihood depends on those games, and for players who are eyeing a career in the game after their college playing days are finished. But for the rest of us, what happens for 60 minutes on the gridiron 11 or 12 times a year is completely insignificant.
As much as I enjoy following the University of Tennessee, and as much as I enjoy yelling in the direction of the field or the television when the Vols are playing, my life doesn’t hinge on wins and losses. When Tennessee won the national championship in 1998, my life didn’t suddenly improve. Nor did my quality of life diminish when the Vols fell from the good graces in 2007 or thereabouts. Come to think of it, the Chicago Cubs — a team I’ve followed closely since I was a kid — are in the thick of the National League pennant race as we scream headlong towards October. That’s as close to a miracle as you’ll ever see in sports and it doesn’t seem to be seriously impacting my life, either.
I would submit that sports are an important part of our society. Done correctly, they teach values and provide guidance to our children. They provide a recreational outlet for us adults. And they’re a significant part of the economy in many American cities and towns.
But can you imagine what we could accomplish if we could bottle all the passion of a single college football Saturday and apply it to things that really matter — like world hunger, global strife or child neglect? Heck, the passion of the callers from a single episode of the Paul Finebaum Show could probably life a couple of third world countries from the mire of poverty.
That’s asking a lot, obviously. Sporting events generate a special passion that few of us could replicate in non-sports settings — in no small part because sporting events are our escape from the everyday problems like world hunger and global strife.
But at the very least we should realize that a bunch of kids too young to legally buy a beer fighting over a football really shouldn’t alter our mood for days on end.
I realize I’m preaching to the choir. Ninety-five percent of football fans are reasonable and rational. But then there are the other five percent — the ones who post regularly on VolNation.com. And if you’ve ever perused those forums, you know there are a bunch of guys on there who desperately need to find their happy place.
• Ben Garrett is Independent Herald editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The preceding is my weekly newspaper column.