We’ve been hearing it all week. Ever since Saturday night’s game between the Tennessee Vols and Ole Miss devolved into a storm of ticked-off fans throwing trash onto the football field inside Neyland Stadium, it’s been a days-long shame session for the Big Orange faithful. The holier-than-thou blowhards in the national media along with opposing fan bases have more than delighted in the unruly actions of a small set of Tennessee fanatics.
I’ve said my piece about the incident already. The anger of UT fans was more than justified. The referees for the game had been unforgivably awful and Lane Kiffin was making a mockery of the game of football by telling his players to take injury dives, among other instigating factors. I was absolutely fuming while watching the game from my couch. But as we all know, you can’t throw anything on the field, no matter how righteous your anger might be.
And it’s really that simple. Tensions built up, some overzealous fans threw things and that’s definitely not okay… then life moves on. And that should have been the end of it, but outside detractors wouldn’t allow that. They used the ugly episode to unleash their petty hatred on Vol fans and we haven’t heard the end of it since.
Heck, the shaming has even come from UT administrators. Athletics director Danny White and chancellor Donde Plowman got in on the tongue-lashing and meekly repented for their sins in front of the almighty SEC dictator, Greg Sankey.
It’s all really been… something.
But despite all of the endless, impertinent moralizing, some of the few important figures who have actually refrained from throwing dirt on Tennessee fans are the University’s head football coach, Josh Heupel, and his players.
The supportive tweets from players started on Sunday.
This was nice to see but shouldn’t have been surprising given what the coach of those players had to say on Monday during his press conference. Heupel made no mention of the trash tossing in his opening statement and then was asked about whether recruits would see the first 59 minutes of the game or the ugly final minute and he said this:
“They’re going to take away the 59 minutes. … To see our student body rush down and fill the bottom part of the section and the remainder of our crowd to be amped up for the final minute of play, that’s the takeaway. I know for some people the story is what happened. Our administration has obviously made it clear that’s not what we want in the Volunteer spirit. You know I feel the same way. … Man, the passion and energy from our fan base, I’ve been in a lot of competitive arenas as a player and as a coach. There was nothing better that I’ve ever been in than what happened Saturday night.”
You’ll notice that there was no shaming or condescension, just praise for what was easily one of the best atmospheres we’ve seen in college football this season. And the tweets from players would suggest that Heupel is making sure that his team sees things the same way.
And it is because of this encouragement that I’m really beginning to buy into what Heupel is selling. As cynical as I usually am, he was already starting to convince me with a team that plays extremely hard and is competing in the top half of the SEC in his first season, but this has given me even more hope in Heupel. When Vol fans needed an advocate, their coach was there to emphatically back them up and I hope Heupel realizes that Big Orange fans won’t forget this.
After slogging through incompetent and apathetic coaching for years on end, seeing a competitive team with a coach who will fight not only for his players but his fan base too, means the world to this beaten-down set of devotees. So, keep up the good work, Coach, and we’ll be behind you the whole way.
Featured image via Bryan Lynn-USA TODAY Sports