As Jauan Jennings’ sure hands wrapped around an Auburn onside kick, I assumed a feeling of euphoria would rush over me. After all, Tennessee had just secured its first SEC game in two years, its first win over an SEC West opponent in eight years and beaten Auburn for the first time in 19 years.
And yet, I wasn’t overwhelmed with happiness. If anything, I’d say I could only feel a sense of relief.
My dad, who introduced me to UT football and developed me into a diehard Vol fan who has orange running through his veins, sat just a few feet away. His body language was just as stoic. Maybe we were both in a state of shock.
And why wouldn’t we be? In the last decade, we’ve learned to brace for the worst as Vol fans. Every time the team gave fans a reason to get excited, it followed with a painful punch to the gut.
Lane Kiffin came in with a talented recruiting class, turned a sad-sack team into one that stood toe-to-toe with Alabama, then fled in the cover of night within a calendar year.
Derek Dooley took over and his most memorable moments, aside from some wacky press conferences, were two crushing losses. The first was a win reversal on the bayou, when Tennessee celebrated by rushing the field after stopping LSU at the goal line – only for review to penalize the Vols and allow for an untimed down. The Tigers scored on the extra play, winning 16-14.
Later that year, time had again expired on North Carolina in the Music City Bowl. With the clock at :01, the Tar Heels spiked the ball with 17 players on the field. The penalty stoppage allowed the field-goal unit to rush onto the field, tying the game on the last second.
The Tar Heels won in OT, just a few months before the NCAA would add a clock runoff for penalties like the Tar Heels took.
And then there was Butch Jones. Where to begin?
There were the two 60-plus yard touchdown passes in the Swamp to lose to Florida in 2015 and 2017. Don’t forget the 14-point meltdown at home against Baker Mayfield’s Sooners in 2015. Or maybe just the entire 2017 season, when Jones was fired amid the first eight-loss campaign in school history.
Maybe it’s weird to be thinking of all those losses now, but it seemed relevant Saturday when Tennessee exercised some demons against Auburn.
Perhaps I’ve forgotten what to do when the Vols win. It’s been a rare occurrence the last 10 years.