There is no way I can not not make a commentary about the events at Neyland Stadium from last Saturday’s Ole Miss game. I will say this now, I do not condone the actions that happened by the fanbase, but it is also the perfect situation. It is also something that combines a lot more of Knoxville’s sporting past to the present day.
Turn the clock back to the end of the 2009 Tennessee Volunteer Football season. We had a transition from the institution that was Phillip Fulmer to what was going to be the next bastion of Tennessee Football. It was a winning season, but not a great season either. However, it was a building year, and you have to start somewhere. Lane Kiffen was brash, trash talking, and brought some sort of excitement. He was young, and was fresh out of the pros. He had the potential to go viral, and that’s before we knew what to call that sort of thing. He was a walking internet meme, again before we knew what to call that. There was something that us as a fanbase could enjoy. However, that was a one season wonder, as the Lane Train was off to LA. In his wake, 12 seasons of mediocre football led by coaches and coaching staff that has over promised and under delivered. He also left us with a wrap sheet about a mile long in the eyes of the NCAA. Yeah Lane Kiffen was a walking timebomb, and probably would have ended up taking the Vols into rarefied air occupied by SMU.
Derek Dooley only delivered on wearing orange pants. While Butch Jones is described as used car salesman, but I don’t look at him as such. He attempted to create buy-in with the fans. I don’t care what you say, brick by brick, sold a lot of folks in Vol Nation. Hell he even pulled off coaching some halfway decent teams in his tenure. We won big games and we won bowl games under that used car salesman. His recruiting was not the best, but it was not the worst either. His biggest issue was player development behind the scenes, and his internal culture apparently was not great. At least that is what I have heard from various folks that have worked in the UT Athletic department. (It’s amazing what they will tell you in an Uber.).
This is not an indictment of Butch Jones though, and I honestly can not do that to him anyway. He was out of his league, but at least did his best. The last UT Game I watched with my father before he passed was Georgia 2016. Need I say more. Jeremy Pruitt on the other hand…well let’s say he made Butch look Vince Lombardi. (I started running Uber again after the year that wasn’t, and the folks in UT Athletics are happily driving a whole fleet of busses right now.).
So now that we have very badly sparknoted our way to now let’s talk about Saturday. In the build up to the grudge match of the century, Lane Kiffen went full heel. For those not in the know, a heel in pro wrestling terminology is a bad guy and a babyface is the good guy. Lane Kiffen played heel coming back to Knoxville. I won’t lie, I really dig that. I like a story with a few additional backstage storylines after all. To me that is borderline hilarious. Lane knows what he is doing, and kudos to him for that. Who knew that what you would see was Lane Kiffen channel Ric Flair (the dirtiest player in the game). It also led to a moment that is not totally unfamiliar to Knoxville. Those who do not understand history are destined to repeat it.
Before Vincent Kennedy McMahon decided that wrestling was sports entertainment, there was rasslin’ in Knoxville. Complete with all the trappings of what came with some old fashioned southern rasslin’. That included some beer, some pageantry, a face that has endeared themselves to the fanbase, and a heel everyone has been waiting on. Welcome to Saturday Night’s Main Event live from Neyland Stadium. The crowd was there in force, and they packed the place out clad in their finest orange and white. They checkered the stadium in that orange and white. They made the atmosphere electric. It was a beautiful day, and a spectacular night. That was until the very end. Ole Miss learned a lesson. The heel went over, but that’s not the whole deal.
In what was the game that would never end. Seriously, it didn’t end until almost 1 AM. The tired, inebriated, and well pissed off 100,000 or so people at Neyland snapped. In what can best be described as the referees doing what they do best in these situations, they made a call that was not favorable. With seconds left on the clock. The march down the field was stopped, the hero was pinned shoulders down, and the real main event was on. Tennessee was yards away from retribution, and firing on all cylinders, and then it became Vol Nation vs Lane Kiffen. It wasn’t UT vs Ole Miss, it was the deeper rivalry, it was Lane Kiffen vs 102,000 not so happy people. It doesn’t matter who threw the first water bottle. Some say Ole Miss fired the first shot, and some say it was a bud light soaked person clad in shade of orange. What happened next overshadowed what was a Neyland stadium classic.
In a scene that looked more familiar to anyone that knows KTown’s Rasslin past, it was that all hell had broken loose, and the heel was going to get their comeuppance one way or another. After 12 years, a constant stream of mocking by the media, and well a general sense of frustration it all hit. The man who started the descent to madness was getting his comeuppance before the night was done. It was a return to our southern rasslin’ roots. It was the moment that polite ole church ladies began to curse like sailors, and will smack you with their purse (and they had a brick in the bag). It was the moment that was always on the edge of happening. It was the moment that will live in infamy. It…It was just that moment that if you don’t get it, you won’t get it. It was just a throwback to days of the past in another part of Knoxville’s sporting history. I mean have you heard about the bench clearing brawl for all that happened at a Knoxville Cherokees game against the Louisiana IceGators? Seriously, this happens from time to time. Our fan bases are passionate no matter what the sport.
Yes Ole Miss won the game, and in time that moment will fade. Especially as our orange and white champions continue to pull off feats they were never thought to be able to do. We own the night in everything except the final score. There is a rematch coming in this series though as Lane Kiffen won’t stop being a heel to Vol Nation. That’s probably going to give years of fun, and hopefully on the field losses for the Lane Train at Neyland Stadium. However, we may be $250,000 lighter in the pocketbook, but a golf ball and a bottle of French’s mustard says in some weird poetic way, this was a draw.