I was one of the estimated 65,000 to witness Phil Fulmer’s last game as coach of the University of Tennessee Volunteers. Why did I go to Neyland Stadium on such a cold and wet evening? Mainly because the tickets were free. However, I’m glad that I went.
You could say that I was encouraged to be a Big Orange fan early in life. My dad was a fan and made sure that he always either watched or listened to each football game. Because I wanted to spend time with my dad, I did the same. I still remember watching the Sugar Bowl following the 1985 season and cheering on as Dale Jones and compnay stunned the Miami Hurricanes. I remember the excruciating 1988 season when nothing seemed to go right. I remember the transition from Coach Majors to Coach Fulmer and the successful seasons to follow.
The most successful season, of course, was in 1998 when the Vols won the National Championship. I really didn’t there was any chance of that happening. After all, the starting quaterback was the untested and inexperienced Tee Martin. If we couldn’t win it all with Peyton Manning, how in the world would we be able to do it with him?
For the first game of the season, my dad and I hiked up to Spencefield. This is a grassy level area just below Thunderhead Mountain, one of the highest point on the Appalachian Trail. We brought along a blanket, some food for lunch, and a radio. When we reached Spencefield, we sat down on the blanket, chowed down on our sandwiches, and turned the radio on to listen to John Ward and Bill Anderson call the action between our beloved Vols and the Syracuse Orangemen. A good day turned into a great one as we won a close one in the final seconds.
The rest of the season featured many other good, close games. I remember watching the Tennessee-Florida game and shouting with joy as we wond and the goal-posts came down. I remember the Tennessee-Arkansas game where we snatched victory from the jaws of defeat (thank you, Clint Stoerner). And I remember the National Championship Game when the unimagineable happened.
I guess its for these reasons and so many more that I wanted to be there last night for Coach Fulmer’s final game. I have so many good memories thanks to him and the team that he coached and I just wanted to say and final “Thank You.”
I realize that football is not even close to being one of the most important things in the world. However, family is one of the most important things and watching Tennessee Football is one thing that has been passed down from my dad to me and, now, from me to my kids.
So, Coach Fulmer-thanks for the memories and for doing your best to inspire others along the way.