Knoxville – University of Tennessee v University of Florida (Vawls v Gaturs) – Part II

Vols 38 - Gators 33 - #HendonHeisman

Vols (quite possibly) are back

I should have undoubtedly worn a heart rate monitor to this game. My goodness… the momentum swings were wild and the tension was nearly tangible.

Tennessee football, for all of its nearly 2 decade long struggles, holds a near and dear place in my heart. I love it. I love the Big Orange, Rocky Top, our coliseum known as Neyland Stadium, and everything that encompasses this mighty program.

I answered the same question about 50 times this past weekend so I’ll ask it and answer it for you here:

“Nick, so you’re from Michigan and live in Dallas, how did you come to be a Vols fan?”

Great question!
I was born in 1988 and all of my childhood memories were obviously spent in the 1990’s. For anyone who knows anything about college football in the 1990’s, Tennessee was a terrible force to be reckoned with on the gridiron. We owned Alabama and had SEC East deciding clashes with Florida. And let’s not forget our beloved conference and National Championship season of 1998 #feelslike98

I also hold many precious memories of visits to middle Tennessee.
We had family just south of Nashville and my brothers and I regularly spent afternoons and evenings throwing a football around in their very large backyard.

From the backyard you could see glimpses of the main road out front and I would often hope a Tennessee scout would be driving by and catch a glimpse of a beautiful spiral pass launching from my hands.

Spoiler alert: I was never scouted nor have I played a down of organized football in my entire life.

Nevertheless, you can see why I love Tennessee football so much. I cannot help but group the program and all its glory together with my beautiful memories of south Nashville.


Now… back to the (pre)game

Official attendance in Neyland for this game was 101,915… the noise level dictated about 909,000 raving lunatics (including yours truly).

I had the unique opportunity to be on the field for a portion of the pregame festivities. Such a surreal experience and I count it a blessing to have taken part in this opportunity.

My friend, Curt Maggitt, was able to arrange the on-field portion of the afternoon. For all of Curt’s football accolades you will be hard pressed to find a more humble and giving individual. Thanks Curt!

Eventually I was forced to leave the field and not afforded an opportunity to begin using my 4 remaining years of NCAA eligibility. But despite going into the stands, the excitement and anticipation of the event continued to build.

You may consider me biased when I speak about the Neyland Stadium experience but I continue to read INCREDIBLE stories from Florida fans regarding their perception of the event. At one point the crowd noise exceeded 108 decibels and a Florida fan took to Twitter to compare the sound to “jet engines” all around him.
Hyperbolic? Perhaps, but the noise and intensity was truly insatiable.


And finally kickoff

After about the 13th playing of Rocky Top, the game finally kicked off.

Florida had the first possession and the pregame noise only further intensified.
The scene in the stands was chaos in the most beautiful way.

First 1st quarter was tense and ended with a 3-0 advantage for Tennessee.
For anyone watching on television wondering if the crowd began losing their edge through the quarter I can tell you it did not.

But the back and forth affair of the 2nd quarter only led to pure insanity before halftime:

12:41 remaining – 44 yard Florida touchdown
11:59 remaining – immediate Tennessee response on a 3 play drive
8:28 remaining – touchdown Florida – queue battered Vol syndrome
0:07 remaining – Tennessee touchdown to cap a 99 yard masterclass drive

The last drive of the half would have blown the roof off of the stadium and undoubtedly shook General Neyland’s body in its grave. Hendon Hooker’s 43 yard pass to Ramel Keyton was nothing short of legendary.


2nd half & #HendonHeisman

Tense does not begin to describe the final two quarters of this game.

Despite going up by 10 at the end of the 3rd quarter and eventually stretching the lead to 21 late in the 4th, the game still came down to a final intercepted Hail Mary pass to finally finish the Gators.

Perhaps this season will be something truly magical. I have my doubts that we can truly compete for an SEC Championship this year. But if I am wrong (and hopefully so) maybe this dramatic win will be a major highlight in a truly remarkable season.

Hendon Hooker continues to put in masterful performances. Going from an unknown transfer BACKUP quarterback to being a Heisman hopeful is something every Vol should love.

Hendon and his family also appear to be very grounded people who speak openly about their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. I highly recommended buying a copy of his new book: The ABC’s of Scripture for Athletes

A lot of mixed opinions have come forth concerning the recent changes concerning name, image, and likeness (NIL) for collegiate athletes. Being a complete believer in the free market I only fully support these athletes and any opportunities that present themselves. Hendon’s book only further solidifies my opinion with the great work he is doing through his book.


Should you visit Neyland…?

If you’re a Vol’s fan the answer is nothing short of absurdly obvious. Flights, lodging, and tickets are not cheap but if you can ever in your life attend a game you will have 0 regrets. The game day experience is 100% indescribable.

What if you are not a Tennessee fan or have an extreme hatred for the Vols? Absolutely!

Knoxville, Tennessee has a great group of locals in the area.
The people are warm, friendly, and truly a joy to be around. They will make your visit absolutely enjoyable.

The fans and the stadium are very intense but I again reference a number of Florida fans on Twitter who boasted about the hospitality and non-threatening atmosphere.

Vol Nation fans hard. We’ve been through some very dark days over the past 20 years but we’ve never lost our class.


Final thoughts and a shoutout or two

Get out to Knoxville for a Tennessee Volunteers game. Enough said.
Big one coming up on October 15 v Alabama… that atmosphere might actually outdo the Florida game.

I head out to Red Stick (Baton Rouge) to watch the Vols play LSU.
I’ll be with my wife and her parents for the game; all 3 are LSU fans; this should be fun to watch when the Vols drop 40 on Tigers.

One more shoutout to my friend, Curt Maggitt. He arranged for me to be in Knoxville for both the game and our tailgate to bring awareness to The EDGE Foundation. Check it out!

Good people are hard to come by but shoutout to Jared Lawrence for opening his home to me. You saved me a bundle on an overpriced hotel.
Check out his IG profile or his company’s website – the dude is a fitness beast.

And finally, my wonderful wife, Brooklyn. She stayed home with our boys and dogs while I went to play with my friends. Beating the Gators is tough… playing zone coverage against 2 kids is a tough task. You’re wonderful, thank you for allowing me to experience some truly amazing moments.

You’ll always be home sweet home to me…

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