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Understanding the UT Psyche Regarding Alabama Football

Posted by Nashphil on May 16, 2000

Let me start this by giving you some background and a few caveats. Though raised in Huntsville, Alabama, I have lived in Tennessee for about 20 years. I actually liked Tennessee until I moved here and was first exposed to their fans. (I am not saying they're all bad) My personal observations are limited to late 60's or early 70's. Other observations are based on general college football history. While I don't want this to be a long essay, I just want to make some observations about the reasons behind the bizzare conduct in Knoxville and throughout Vol-land as it relates to Bama. To begin to understand it, you need to understand what I have observed to be the typical ut fan's perspective on Alabama football.

1. First, Tennessee does have a fine football tradition. The problem is that their accomplishments have been overshadowed because they happen to be in the same conference as Alabama. This has always been a source of considerable consternation for UT fans. The feeling is that Alabama, simply by virture of being Alabama, has "stolen" something from them, namely, what they perceive to be a higher place in the annals of college football history. Imagine how Ohio State would feel if they were in the same conference as Notre Dame; then you will begin to sense the frustration UT fans feel when the topic of Alabama football is broached.

2. Bama won't die. Somewhat akin to my first point, UT fans in general live for the day that Alabama will just die and go away and UT will take its rightful place as king of Southern football. This has been another source of historical frustration for the Vols. Let me explain. There's no question that Alabama ruled pre-WWII Southern football. Tennessee had good teams that were, as usual, overshadowed by Alabama. But that seemed to change in the 1950's when it looked like UT would finally shake Bama and become the new king of Southern college football, or at least so they thought. They had Gen. Robert Neyland and a NC to boot in 1951. In the meantime, Alabama stunk up the 1950's and appeared to be dead. In the eyes of Vol fans, things were definitely going their way and the sky was the limit. Enter one Paul W. Bryant; at a critical time, when the overall series between the two was essentially tied. For the next twenty or so years, Coach Bryant reduced Gen. Neyland to a footnote in college football history (By all accounts, he was a great coach and probably deserves better) Coach Bryant did this by doing one thing: winning. And win he did, pounding UT year after year after year. Believe me, that ate at UT fans. From the Vols' perspective, rivalry turned to pure hatred.

But UT fans saw their hopes soar with the hiring of Johnny Majors, fresh off a NC at Pittsburgh. He reeled off four straight against Bama, and much like the 1950's, UT fans were sure that Bama was dead. You know the rest of the story. Bama reeled off 8 or 9 more and added a NC to boot in 1992.

With our unjustified probation in 1993, UT once again had hopes of a Bama decline. Those hopes were sent soaring with their own NC in 1998. So what does Bama do? Simply outrecruits them and, even though UT prevails in 1999, Bama wins the SEC in dramatic style, whipping the Gators twice in the process, a team UT has proven it can't beat without a rare strange twist of fate.

3. UT fans hate Alabama with a passion. I'm not talking about every UT fan, but don't fool yourself, the majority absoulutely hate Alabama and are thrilled any time something bad happens at Alabama. I believe this occurred during the long streak in the 1970's, when their frustration at constantly losing to Alabama reached its peak. It got to the point where they were seemingly as pleased with an Alabama loss as they were with a UT win. Laugh if you will, but I have observed it. Please also keep in mind that Phil Fulmer is "from" this era of almost maniacal hatred for Alabama. Same goes for Tenndud--listen to him trash Alabama for cheating, all the while having to acknowledge that he is a confirmed cheater. His rationalization for his conduct? Alabama does it! Another instance of trying to drag down Alabama at any cost.

4. UT fans have extremely selective memories. I can't explain this one, but it's a fact. Just listen to them chide Alabama for its minor NCAA violations, but they seemingly can't remember all the NCAA investigations and probations (yes, probations) of their football program in the late 80's and early 90's, for things worse than anything the NCAA charged us with. And who can forget the 20/20 episode regarding the UT football player charged with murder, the "investigation" of the murder by the UT Police and the mysterious circumstances surrounding the dismissal of those charges? Add to that the infamous gang rape by members of their football players in the late 1980's and all the recent assaults/rapes that have gone on there. That's not to say that bad things don't go on everywhere, but to hear UT fans talk, these things just haven't happened; they simply ignore them. So add an unhealthy dose of hypocricy to the UT fan's general psyche.

5. UT fans are getting nervous. Ever wonder how UT went from a traditional second-tier football progam to a MNC in 1998? Enquiring minds want to know, and that includes me. I'm not about to spread rumors, even though people who I have heard from are reliable. But let's look at what's happening on ol' Rocky Top. There's the tutor problem and it looks like Spencer Riley has now obtained an injunction to prevent any further examination of his records. Hmmmmmm. In addition, have you ever seen so many underclassmen declare for the draft, seemingly in unison? Coincidence? Maybe. If not, don't Fulmer's actions in leaking information about Alabama seem a little more understandable now? Add to the picture Doug Dickey. Remember now, from the newspaper accounts I recall, ol' Doug, who had a second business interest as a Shaklee distributor, thought it would be a great coup if he awarded himself a contract to supply Shaklee products to the Athletic Department. Of course, he had to rescind the contract once the wrong people found out what he was doing. Point being, what does this say about the moral and ethical leadership of the UT Athletic Department?

I could go on and on, and I have already. It's probably not possible to fully understand the UT fan's perspective on Alabama unless you live up here and are exposed to it. In short, it's one of frustration and extreme jealousy and envy. Makes you sort of understand why there are people like Tenndud, who seem to have allowed that jealousy and envy to become a mental illness.