It wasn’t a question I was expecting to hear last weekend, much less twice in two days.
Friday and Saturday night, my phone was flooded with variations of the same query – “was that the worst loss in program history?”
They came in shortly after Warren County fell 20-7 in Woodbury, then – like a bad dream – they started returning less than 24 hours later when Tennessee was stunned by Georgia State 38-30. Needless to say, Pioneer and Vol fans probably didn’t have a good Labor Day weekend.
It’s not an easy question to answer, but let’s take them one at the time.
Trudging up bad memories of Warren County football isn’t what I want to do. Like Matt Turner has been preaching since arriving, it’s time to burn the ships and move on. When you’re asked over and over for historical context though, it’s hard not to think of the years of futility.
To me, judging Friday’s loss in the perspective of the now 51 years of local football is separating optics from the on-field performance. If you do, the final answer can flip.
Why people were asking in the first place isn’t hard to figure out. Cannon County was in the midst of 27-game losing streak and is a school that has 1,400 less students than Warren County. The Lions, to put it plainly, are not known for being good at football.
Piling on to it, Pioneer fans had notions this year was going to be different. Excitement was higher than it’s been in almost a decade, only ramped up after an opening-night victory over DeKalb County in a rivalry game.
I’ve been covering the Pioneers for 10 years and Friday was one of the first times I’ve seen fans truly stunned about a loss. I’ve seen resignation to losing and sadness after close calls went the other way, but I don’t know if I’ve seen more people flabbergasted over a loss.
In that vein, I understand why people would say it could be the worst.
On the field though, I don’t think it was so shocking.
First, Cannon County isn’t the worst team I’ve seen Warren County play, or lose to for that matter. Last year’s Fayetteville and White County teams were not good and would’ve been bigger shocks had the Pioneers not prevailed. Even last year’s Coffee County team was in a deep funk before running roughshod over the Pioneers in Nunley Stadium last year.
Also, Warren County has lost to smaller schools. Just since I’ve been covering the team, the Pioneers fell to Moore County twice. In 2016, the Pioneers lost to Sequatchie County, a school not much bigger than Cannon County (It should be noted two of those losses were to teams who went on to finish the regular season 10-0).
So is it really the worst loss in Pioneer history? Nobody can say for certain.
I know I don’t feel any worse about the team. This wasn't the 50-0 loss in Smithville, the worst I've sat through, to me.
As for the Vols, I don’t think this requires much nuance. Paying $950,000 to lose is easily in the running for the worst loss in school history.
Tennessee is in the top 10 in most wins in college football history. Georgia State has had a football team for 10 years.
The Vols were a 28-point favorite, at home, in need of something good to happen and had more talent at every positioin. They were totally dominated.
The Pioneers can point to 17 penalties and say they beat themselves. Tennessee was smacked around the entire second half and thoroughly outplayed.
Making things worse, it didn’t really seem like the Vols cared they were about to lose. From the looks of the stands, neither did the fans.
I’ve bled orange and white since I was a toddler. I knew the lyrics to Rocky Top before I knew how to tie my shoe. I’ve traveled thousands of miles to see Tennessee play.
On Saturday, I watched most of the game in stunned silence, then drove and played golf and forgot any of it ever happened.
Once one of the most loyal, rabid and crazy fanbases in football stops caring, you know you’ve messed up. Watch this weekend and see how many show up to Nunley and Neyland Stadiums.
You’ll know which school actually had its worst loss in program history.