Have been Incredibly busy this week. Have not had time to break down film and game tape and give you my breakdown for California this week. So i am gonna link to the best breakdown I have seen so far!!
Thursday, August 30, 2007
Well the Bengal Tigers have cruised to a convincing win. Is hard to say if they are that good, or State is really THIS bad! The Bulldog defense has played pretty well at times, but the offense has given them absolutely no help. The first four scores came off of State interceptions. Not looking good for the boys in Maroon. But the comment was made earlier that the MSU fans are already writing this year off, but next year is the one that he has to win. Hated this. I have lost a bet of lunch with a co-worker. He is about 6'5" and about 330 lbs. Lord knows what this is gonna cost me!!
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
The University of Tennessee President Dr. John Peterson announced that Head Coach Phillip Fulmer and family have donated $1 million dollars to the University's "Campaign for Tennessee." It is one of the largest donations given by a coach and his family to their University. The gift, to be split equally between academics and athletics, will be used to support scholarships, athletics facilities and programming. Coach Fulmer has been affiliated with the university for more than 30 years – as a student-athlete, a coach and a parent of four UT students. “Phillip and Vicky always have been great supporters of the University,” Petersen said. “They approached us about making this donation several years ago, and we have been working over the summer to finalize their commitment. With the upcoming season and the anticipated announcement of our campaign in the spring, this is a great time for us to share the news of this commitment with alumni and friends.”“Our family originally chose to make this donation anonymously,” Vicky Fulmer said. “After several discussions with the university, we were convinced that by making this announcement publicly and taking this leadership role, the university would benefit positively and others would be encouraged to make their own contributions.” Coach Fulmer said his wife was a big part of the reason for the gift. “Everyone knows about the sacrifice and commitment of all who have worn the orange and white as players or coaches that have represented our wonderful university on the playing field. This donation will in part be to honor the sacrifices of the wives and families who have stood by these coaches.“My wife, who has stood by me as I have worked incredible hours, been away from home for long periods of time, often put other peoples’ children first, and sacrificed her own wants and needs, all the while never missing an opportunity to hug a player’s neck or provide an encouraging word to a player or coach when one was needed, has been my confidant for years. She has been strong for me when I needed her most, a loyal wife, and a wonderful mother to our children.” Coach's wife Vicky added “The University of Tennessee has been Phillip’s heart and soul for most of his life. We’re blessed to be in a position that allows us to do this.”
Some of Coach Fulmer's accomplishments while at UT
• UT has been in the national polls at game time for 157 of Fulmer's 177 games as head coach.
• Selection as National and SEC coach of the year in 1998.
• The first Tennessee team to post 13 victories in a single season, a record in 1998 that included an SEC championship and Tostitos Fiesta Bowl win for the national title.
• Fifteen Tennessee players have earned first-team All-America honors, including offensive tackle Arron Sears and wide receiver Robert Meachem in 2006.
• Fifteen first-round NFL selections since 1993 and a total of 90 players selected overall. The Vols have had the most players on opening-day NFL rosters each of the last two seasons and the team’s five first-day 2007 NFL Draft picks were the most of any school.
• Back-to-back SEC titles in 1997-98 and five Eastern Division crowns in the last 10 years. The Vols have won or tied for the division title six times under Fulmer.
• A record of 45-5 from 1995-98, the most victories over a four-year span in school history.
• The Vols have ended the season ranked in the top 10 six times under Fulmer.
• Each of the last two seasons, Tennessee has led the SEC in Fall Academic Honor Roll recipients.
Thanks to Stan Crawley for some of the quotes in this piece.
I graduated with pride from a small 4A high school in northeast Alabama. After going to another school my scholastic career, i transferred to Alexandria High School to play football my senior year. Well I didn't get to play, but did go through summer workouts and such. I met the greatest coach of my generation there by the name of Larry Ginn. He is loved by many in the "Valley" and disliked by a few there but by thousands in the surrounding counties that must lace em' up and face the man. They respect him, but do not look forward to playing him. I once heard another coach say, "When you play one of Ginn's teams it tells you one thing, where your weaknesses are, and what you need to work on. If you have a thin spot he will show it to you." I have seen this firsthand. My senior year he took us to Auburn , in the BLIZZARD of 1993, to win his second straight state 4A basketball title. And he did it with a team that included some junior college players but nothing spectacular. That was the way he did it. I heard Ryan Brown say today, he could take players, and make them play way beyond their potential. He would convince them to play harder than their talent level. Coach Larry Ginn stepped down as coach of the Valley Cubs Monday afternoon. After being diagnosed with skin cancer, he stated it as time to spend more time with family, and his church. A standout player at Alexandria and Gadsden State he can still shoot the jump shot. But he taught you fundamentals. Preached fundamentals. A man that won 195 times, with two state titles in football in 2o years of being the head coach. He also logged over 600 wins and three state titles in basketball. The Gym at the Valley is named in his honor. It is expected that long time assistant coach Frank Tucker will be his successor. He will be missed. Greatly.
Monday, August 27, 2007
That is exactly how much time is left until kickoff. Well when I started writing this anyway. Now that we are less than one week away I will be putting thoughts down on here a lot more regularly. I have a lot of things on my mind, so this will probably be one of those "Random Thoughts" posts that so many people like to do.
Thursday night is the Official Kickoff to the 2007 College football season. You notice the color of the text is purple in honor of one of the participants, the Bayou Bengal Tigers of Louisiana State University. Good grief that is a lot of words to have to spell out to try to say "Coon Ass." Yes I know that little name got the "Bionic Coach" in trouble but I have many a friend down on the bayou, and that is what they call themselves, so I will too. Back to business. The very highly touted tigers will make the short road trip north to Stark-Vegas to try to do their best Michael Vick impersonation. (I know that was bad, but every day on D & B some idiot makes the same joke about hiring him as coach at MSU or GA to put some fight........ you know the rest) Everyone has pretty much written off ol Coach Croom. They say he is on borrowed time, just thankful for each day his belongings are still on his desk and not in a cardboard box. Well let me be the first one to say this season........"Not so fast my friend," I am not so sure that ol Sly is not gonna make a game of it. I am not saying the Dogs are gonna hunker down and pull of a big upset, I just think the tigers are not ready for prime time yet. They may prove me wrong, but I think it will be closer than most. I think the tigers have a lot of talent, I just think they are gonna need some time to bring it all together. I am gonna say Bengals by 17. But I hope not more than that. Lets just say I bet lunch with a very healthy eater that it would not be a total blowout. So ring them cowbells, if you have to get down on your knees, just please, please, don't lose by more than TWENTY-THREE!!
I think for the first time today I heard some of the more delusional Bammers start to back up into the land of reality. I heard them start to back off of their 11 or 12 win prediction and start to come back to reality and admit that a 9 win season would be great and even 8 wins would be on the up-swing. But let me document it this way. Dawson, for all you non D&B listeners (And why not for that matter, http://www.dandbradio.com/ click on listen live 1 to 6 pm central mon-fri) is the definition of a delusional bammer, thinks they will be SEC if not national champions this year. Thinks the whole sports world gets out of bed each day just to see what the Bionic coach and the delusional nation are doing today. He made the statement today, that if they "do not win at least 10 or more games, then Saban is not near the coach they hired him to be." I am gonna hang up and listen, but I think those words will haunt our dear Rev. Dawson.
I got to thinking today what are some of the superstitious things that you all do on game day? Do you get up at a certain time? Eat a certain breakfast? I know as sports fans we get a little anal, and plum CRAZY enough to think that how we brush our teeth might affect the outcome of today's game. I do the same thing. I get up, will even set an alarm to watch college game day. I hate the show just as much as most, but I have to watch. I have to! I may play a game on the PS2 or if I have honey-do's now is the time to do them. I have an hour until the Lincoln Financial broadcast. (which is just enough time to go to my local watering hole to watch if that is the game plan) I will watch this, doesn't matter who is playing. Then at 2:30 if my Vols are not on the LF game I will switch over to the CBS broadcast. I may have time to go home, eat something, or talk to my wife, before the 6:45 ESPN or ESPN2 broadcast of the final SEC game of the day. Now here is where I get weird. The clothes I am wearing at the start of the games may not be what I am wearing when the game is over. I will change my shirt or jersey in a heartbeat if ol Rocky Top is not playin up to snuff. I think I was on my fourth shirt last year in the Georgia game before we started clicking. I have retired my #10 jersey. It just has too many losses on it. Am also retiring my current car flags. Also have losses, and a long road trip to the Outback Bowl in Tampa. Yes i believe what I do , and wear, determines our wins and losses.
Lastly. Tony Barnhart has finally lost his mind. He is usually an authority on SEC sports. He slipped. He wrote an article on the top five tailgates in the nation. http://www.ajc.com/blogs/content/shared-blogs/ajc/cfb/entries/2007/08/25/the_five_best_p.html Now he plain missed the boat on at least two of those. But It is nice that almost the whole five is (or should be) Sec schools. But how can you leave out beloved UT? Neyland? Vol Navy? Vol Walk? Let me lay out my day of tailgating. I think to me this is the perfect day. Wake up, go to adult beverage outlet, then make way to Episcopal church on Cumberland Ave. to tailgate. Drink almost all of your beverages, then make your way to Vol Walk. High-five all the players, Chest Bump Coach Taylor and then you feel like tackling someone yourself. Walk around the corner to watch the Pride of the Southland march dawn and do their traditional "Salute to the Hill" before marching in to the stadium. Go inside mother Neyland to see an already full student section yelling at the opposing team trying to warm up. Then watch the Pride in a "Pregame tradition un-rivaled in college sports." Then you lose your breath for a moment when you see them start to form the "T".........When it opens up and Smokey starts down the middle of the field running full speed leading the giant warriors in orange WOOOOOO!!!! I have chill bumps right now!! I am Ready!!!! Lets GO!! That is Game day!! That is Tennessee Football!! That is what I love!!
Thursday, August 23, 2007
I don't know of a fan in college football that has gotten as much camera time as the man you are about to meet. He has been on every televised game for the last year and a half. He has appeared in no less than five ESPN commercials, the Lincoln Financial SEC game of the week's opening video, USA Today and many many more newspapers, magazines and websites. I sat down and learned a lot about the man, the icon, and the story behind "Chief Checkered Head."
Buck Ellis is from a small area in West Virginia. A small two-town community named Ceredo-Kenova was home to the aspiring teenager with dreams of becoming a football coach in an area that borders Kentucky and Ohio, an area that lives for football. A lifelong Vol fan his intentions were to major in Architecture at UT. In order to pursue a coaching angle, Buck decided to major in mathematics. To stay close to home and a certain female companion he decided to begin his collegiate career at Marshall. So how did that work out for you? "Shortly after that we ended that relationship but I was one who hated to admit mistakes, and don't like to make commitments that I don't keep. So I tried to stay in the Math for 2 years and didn't like the Math teaching part so I started looking into schools to transfer to, and get into engineering." He narrowed it down to two schools, LSU, and the University of Tennessee. "Both schools were amazing. But, UT had 2 things LSU didn't. Neyland, and it was close to home." Buck brings up Neyland Stadium, a key starting point in an incredible ride that would take him places he never could have imagined he would go. Tell me about that first experience. "My first game in Neyland absolutely blew me away. I was a Marshall student and we played against UT the 2003 season. I sat in the upper deck with a couple buddies of mine cheering for Marshall. But being reminded that this (UT) was the school I where I belonged by my buddies. Little did I know just what was in store for me in that stadium."
Ok, so now we have you at UT. So how did you go from fan on game day, to crossing the line that would forever change your life? Was it planned or just spur of the moment? "The East Tennessee area is rich in Native American history and on my dad's side of the family I do have native roots leading back to Cherokee, and although I can not officially call myself Cherokee due to paperwork, I am proud of that heritage. I had planned on driving down to Cherokee NC to pick up a solid white Headdress (not a Cherokee tradition) to wear to the games with my orange. I thought that would be a cool idea." Yeah that would make you stand out. Is that what you were trying to do? "I hoped what it would show is not some white looking Native dressed crazy dude in the crowd, but how the true spirit of the Vols shows that a variety of individuals can join in moments of need and battle for the pride of their homeland also known as Neyland. What makes us (Vols) so unique is how we can band together and fight as one. Neyland is not 106,000 individuals but 106,000 breathing cells beating to one Rocky drum." That statement probably solidified Bucks true love for the Orange and White. True fans don't talk it, they LIVE it. So what changed? What happened to the headdress? "The morning of my trip to Cherokee I awoke with an idea like none other. I decided against my road trip and made an alternate route, on a quest for face paint." I would say that was a crucial decision. "The face was the beginning of something I wanted to start, only I had no clue to what It would become." So it all started that simple. How did you do it? "I came home that day and with a finger I painted my first checker. Every game for the first year I had a new person painting the back side of my head but I always did the front. The first game I wore the paint to was the Ole Miss game in 2005. When I walked down Vol Walk I started getting many pictures taken with me." You always seemed to be right up front in the stadium. "I was one of the first in line at the stadium with my usual crowd of wonderful friends. That first year I enjoyed sitting in seat F1,1. Right in the middle of Orange nation and I loved every minute of it. The last year I spent sitting in E1,1 and I really loved that seat! Front row 35 yard line and I could yell at the players on ours and their team. I could tell when they heard me." But 2005 was not a good year for Vol fans. A losing season makes it tough on even the rabid fans. It couldn't have all been good times, could it? "The first year was a tough year since we didn't quite play up to the Tennessee Par, but I was there week end week out. I remember one game the UGA game probably, was the hardest one to swallow that year and yes harder than the Vandy game. There were about 3 minutes left in the game and I had witnessed just about all that I could stand to see. But I hate leaving early. The crowd had just given up and I started making my way to the other side of the stadium to watch the final few minutes of the game before leaving at the end. I figured I'd watch the last few minutes by the players exit gate since that’s where I left out after the games. I was in no mood for taking my time getting home afterwards and was quite pissed. As I was on my way to my new seat, I remember a college mate harassing me and making fun of me and orange nation for leaving early. For his information I didn't leave early and didn't want to cause a scene so I just looked him in the eye and walked on." Yeah, it is pretty hard to blend in with a head like that. "I never wanted to be known as a person doing any of this to get any special deeds, or perks. Most times I would try to get the people on TV or the Jumbo Tron that were around me instead of myself. I just wanted to paint up more so to help the team by making the ones around me become even more of rabid fans. I wanted to contribute to making Neyland the house that it is and take it to an even higher level. Without improvement we are only as good as our ancestors and have learned nothing." Ok there are the bad times. Enough of that tell me about the good ones. What was your favorite game. What defined your legacy? "At the Memphis game I was walking around at half time and a gentleman came up to me asking to take a picture with his lil one and I did but what caught my eye was the line behind him. Almost all the way up the aisle was a line of children with their parents waiting to take a picture with me. That was a cool moment. It made me feel like one of them characters at Disney World when i was younger waiting to get an autograph. I'd have to say my favorite moments where the ones when I got to meet the lil kids at the games. Don't get me wrong I do love taking pictures with the beautiful lady Vols, but the kids are the future here. And when they look at you like 'that is awesome' you know they are well on their way to making what we know is the best in the land even better one day when it is their time to step up to the 30 yard line. That excites me. It tells me that what we are part of is something much larger than just a game, but the hope of a better future for this school, area, and game." So put it in perspective for me, what has the ride been like? "My time as the 'Chief Checkered Head' was absolutely amazing. I was on a Brooks and Dunn opening game video, Vol Junkie made a documentary of me, I was in I believe 5 ESPN commercials, SI website 3 times once as the main link from SC, UT Sports.com 3 times, USA Today, can't tell you how many newspapers, 2006 Vols highlight football movie, I got to meet most of the coaches excluding Fulmer, even a lady from England with undisclosed photographers took many pictures with me at the Memphis game. I would love to be able to be the Checked headed guy for the rest of my life, but now that I'm out of school it is hard to do. This season I will be out of the country on business so you won't see me painted up. I was hoping to make it into a scholarship, but nothing really ended up being made of it. This saddens me because I think its something special that everyone should experience in life. It would take a certain type of person to make it work though. I guess they had to be humble, passionate, and many more things. But most of all a die hard Vol fan!" Buck has definitely left a legacy at UT. I am anxious to see who steps up this year and does something out of the box to carry on the tradition. Buck graduated in the spring with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. His Job will keep him out of the face paint. But to make sure he went out with a bang, Buck had his cap and gown pictures made with the paint, and even painted up for the commencement ceremony. Take a Bow O' Checkered one. You have earned it. And will truly be missed.
Monday, August 20, 2007
We have spent the last two blogs talking about the Big Orange Army. Where they came from, where they stand and want to go, and now I wanna tell you what they are working hard to see come to reality. They have since their inception, been working to become the largest fan based, fan oriented movement in college sports. Every Army needs a home, and they are working to establish one. They have just begun their largest, most aggressive membership drive to date. They want to build a 100,000 membership, and to see a stadium full of orange army helmets. that stadium is what brings us to the point of this entry. The stadium is named after the man that designed it, and led the team to a level of greatness that required a stadium of its size. A great legacy has been left by Brigadier General Robert Neyland. But in the recent years people have brought up wanting to give the stadium a nickname to intimidate opposing teams and fans when they come to town. You have "The Swamp," you have "Death Valley." Tennessee fans want the same type of name for their own stadium. If there is one negative label that has been given to the BOA it is that they are very aggressive and are not hesitant to act on an issue. The army took it upon themselves to start the campaign to nickname the stadium "Fort Neyland." In keeping the military theme, there is no greater honor bestowed upon a retired enlisted soldier than to name a fort in his honor. Neyland stadium is the home base of the BOA, it is the one place fans are willing to fight to defend, and would not go down without giving their all for her. To me, that sounds like what you would read about in history class, a soldier willing to give his life to ensure the colors of his fort were not taken. Nothing meant more to him. That describes most "True" Vol fans. My vote is a resounding YES to "Fort Neyland!"
Sunday, August 19, 2007
In 2005 the world was just beginning for the Big Orange Army. If some people had any say in the matter, this was as far as the group would travel. But there were two men that had other plans, Gen. Jamison who you met in the last piece, and a colleague named John Black. Together these two men would make a group into a corporate model that will very soon be seen at most SEC schools in your area. Not to mention, the NFL, Nascar, and MLB. But they did not get there overnight.
What started out as a plan to get fans involved, began to grow into a way to bring "Fandamonium" to Knoxville, and everywhere that Vol fans went. Things started with a membership package. For around twenty dollars fans would receive a personalized Certificate of membership including your serial number and Rank. A set of personalized Dog Tags to be worn any time you entered into battle for Tennessee, and stickers to show you were proud to be enlisted. Enlistment began slowly, then Jamison began to get the Army involved in the community. Fund raisers, blood drives, telethons any way that he could show the public that this was not just a game day gathering, he was serious in making the BOA a vital tool for all the people that support UT, an outlet to support and build up the great state of Tennessee and do it in the name of the Vols.
In 2005 they enlisted the Mayor of Knox County Tennessee into the BOA, in doing so pledged to be a force in the pursuit of community pride and advancement. In the next couple of months the south was hit with many hardships as mother nature unleashed her wrath on the gulf coast. The BOA helped in efforts by the Red Cross in the Knoxville area to raise money for our fallen brothers and sisters. They helped establish a fund raiser with other local establishments, there was no BOA merchandise, No membership drive, No self promotion, just hard work that ended up raising over $6,000 in a short time that day. Which started earning some respect for the growing Army. On February 16, 2006 the Senate of the State of Tennessee issued a Proclamation stating that the Big Orange Army is an organization that "Enriches the lives of the people living in the great state of Tennessee."
In the fall of 2006 every thing drastically changed. For the better. The big Orange Army merged with Action Sports Media, a collegiate sports marketing company specializing in game day multimedia. Basically, all of the signage in the stadiums, commercials you see on the jumbo tron, and in the programs come to you compliments of Action Sports. If you have been in to games at Alabama, Kentucky, South Carolina, Oklahoma State, Ole Miss, Purdue, South Florida, Rupp Arena, or Kansas State you have seen their work. Action Sports Media holds the contract for all of these institutions. And is doing so, has the inside tract for bringing an Army of the fans , for the fans to each one of these schools. With emphasis on bringing a Fan Army to Alabama, Kentucky, and South Carolina in the Very immediate future, ASM is working hard to promote fan interaction on an "everyday" basis. Unified Armies of America was formed to bring such groups to wanting teams across the country. Using the BOA as the patented working model, the Armies are based on a five factor structure.
4. Corporate Sponsorship
5. Community Involvement
This is a "for-Profit" group, that donates portions of its membership packages to Children's Hospital of Tennessee, along with other specific product based donations to the Vol Athletic Scholarship Fund, and the Robert Neyland Scholarship fund. They provide a full line of apparel that can be purchased online, in their two retail stores, online, or now in Wal-Mart as well. They have an extensive interactive rewards program that allows fans discounts in many Knoxville area businesses and restaurants. Corporate sponsor and partners like the TVA and their Credit Unions, allow greater numbers and abilities when it comes to membership and raising funds for the Large number of charities that the BOA supports. And Community involvement in charity work, fund raising, and local events that allow members to assist using the broad spectrum of strengths and resources our the members possess. Merge that with the powerful contacts that Action sports media brings with it and you get a partnership that can not only build fan support. but the community will see the positive benefits as well. In Knoxville alone they have started football magazines, purchased the ESPN radio affiliate, and a station for Espn DePortes. Those alone can bring endless promotional opportunities for the partners involved.
So check out the websites for these two great groups.
Look at them not as a Tennessee Site that makes you sick, but look at the possibility of your school having this same type Army. Could you imagine the Crimson Army invading the confines of Jordan-Hare stadium. Can you imagine the Army of blue rocking Rupp Arena? then email Gordon Whitener chairman and CEO of Action Sports Media at Gordon.email@example.com and tell him you want to see an Army For the Fans, By the Fans at your school.
Next: what the BOA is pushing for this year.
Friday, August 17, 2007
I decided a couple of weeks ago that I wanted to do a piece on some of the most recognizable Vol fans. Then I said, They each deserve their own separate spotlight. But as i sat down and starting doing interviews with those involved, I realized this was way bigger than i had ever dreamed. So the first one will be broken down into at least three segments over the next few days and then I will move to the second spotlight leading up to the Cal kickoff.
A few years ago i came across a website that talked about a fan organization in Knox-Vegas. "For the fans, By the fans" it bragged. This was my first introduction to the Big Orange Army. that was back in 2004, and a lot has changed. I mean a LOT has changed. That same little fan group has now become a large corporate entity that will be the working model for groups like it all over the country and the world. That is haw far the Army stretches. two months ago as the Army began a huge membership drive, they had over five thousand registered members in thirty states and five different countries. Five countries. With celebrity members ranging from Coaches Fulmer and Pearl, Charlie Daniels, to Dolly Parton, Kid Rock to Bill Dance, people all over are growing to know the strength of the BOA. If you want to see for yourself, simply go to the nearest eastern Tennessee Wal-mart, because they are now stocking BOA apparel. From Knoxville to Nashville, Tuscaloosa to Tampa, where ever you see the Vols you will see the Battle helmets of the BOA. Let me introduce you to the group.
In 2002 a young man, under protocol, we will call him Jamison. General Jamison that is. The general was looking to get involved. Wanted to be more than just an average fan. There was a fan group in place. Known as the Vol Navy. But as the General told me, "If you can't afford a boat, you can't float." So that is where things were. He was not satisfied with that, but a visionary was beginning to take shape in the young General. He saw the growth potential of an organization that was fan based, fan motivated, and fan driven. But anytime you deal with the University of Tennessee athletics, you deal with very large numbers. Fans of UT sports are very passionate about their teams, traditions, and history. Something they would be willing to go to battle for. The more and more he looked at big picture, he saw what the answer was. If you need to give structure to large numbers of people, people that are willing to stand up for their convictions, and for the colors that run true in their heart, you have to look no farther than the United States Military to see the perfect example. Leadership, guidance, and structure are what strength is built upon. Under that premise, the Big Orange Army was born. But don't get me wrong, it was not all smooth sailing. Jamison was not the only person that saw the potential of the BOA. So did the administration of the University. So as soon as it began, the university began its effort to absorb the BOA into its own guidelines. But Jamison did not give up so easily. He knew if it was absorbed then it would not ever see its potential. If it was run by the powers that be, the fans would never have a say in its direction. They could never take ownership, or feel that they were truly a part of the heart of the movement. So he fought, for two years, and in a federal courtroom he was granted ownership of the BOA. And on September 30, 2005 General Jamison signed a license agreement with the University of Tennessee to give birth to what we know now as the Big Orange Army.
In the next installment I will go into the details of how the BOA grew from the adversity that tried to choke it down, to the Icon it has become.
Monday, August 13, 2007
My Blogging buddy has posted a Blog about yours truly. He is a very creative graphic artist. I am honored that he chose to throw a small spotlight my way! Check out the piece and check out the rest of his blog.
Sunday, August 5, 2007
On October first of 2005 I was sitting in a sports bar in Memphis TN doing something I hate to admit, yelling Roll Tide. In Tuscaloosa the University of Alabama was laying a licking on the Florida Gators. This was a good thing for my SEC East Vols. We needed the gators to go down, and this was a great sight in the land of Orange. Then came one of the most gruesome sights I have ever seen. With just under nine minutes left in the ball game, Brodie Croyle throws a pass to his favorite play maker, Tyrone Prothro. The pass was high, Pro went up for it, when he came down, the entire audience watching the nationally televised afternoon game, gasp in unison. Tyrone broke both bones in his lower leg. I could go into great detail the severity of the injury, but I think we can all recall what we witnessed that day. Then there was the sight of Pro on the back of the cart, with finger pointing to the sky as the fans of Bryant-Denney saluted him with ovation. Those cheers quickly changed to jeers as the whole state of Alabama called for the head of Mike Shula on a crimson platter, for having the star receiver in the game in the fourth quarter with a four touchdown lead. Some blame the coach's demise on that one decision. Some blame the Teams 2006 troubles on the missing star's inability to contribute to the team. But in truth Tyrone was fighting his on fight. Actually two foes stood before him. Survival, and the ability to walk. He has weathered multiple surgical procedures, and countless hours of therapy to gain the full use of that leg. But through it all he continues to make one prediction..."I will play again." That is painful to hear. I watched Tyrone make the effort to go on stage to receive an Espy award. I watched Him painfully limp on the field last year to deliver the game ball in the Iron Bowl. Yet last week when Coach Nick Saban announced that the team had taken Tyrone off of Athletic scholarship, I listened in pain as he once again declared "I will play again." It hurts to listen to a young man who has all of his hopes and dreams of the future hanging on one thing, playing football. It seems as if this young man has no reason to move forward without it revolving around playing again. But these stories don't always have to end this way.
On September ninth of last year the Tennessee Vols found themselves in the middle of a battle. The Falcons of Air Force had fought back and made every Volunteer very nervous as the bad guys were still charging. When corner back Inky Johnson made a play on the sideline, fans jumped up cheering at the intensity of the hit he made to stop the Falcons momentum. But the talented junior lay motionless on the turf. For minutes. Then he regained consciousness and could move his limbs, but it seemed he had fractured his collarbone. It wasn't until later at the hospital that the severity of the injury was discovered. Blood vessels and nerves had been damaged. Now the question was not when can I play again, but "Will I lose my arm?" Like Prothro he also had numerous surgical procedures on the arm. But what seemed to set him apart was the demeanor that carried him forward. The next day when coaches visited him, they talked about his smile and positive attitude. As soon as he was discharged from the hospital he was at practice. Motivating. Leading. Inky would have to spend time at the Mayo Clinic to try and make the most of what he had left in his arm. As spring practice started Inky was there. With his injury and the vols sending players to the NFL the vols are likely sending some true freshman to the field of battle. Inky is not letting them go into that battle without being properly prepared. He has been in the weight room, and on the practice field, arm in a sling, step by step with the young men trying to fill his shoes. Coach Phillip Fulmer, knowing how special this young man is, made him a student coach for the 2007 season. In an interview from Saturday Inky was smiling ear to ear and talked of the tremendous opportunity he has been given to help coach and continue to be a part of the team. He talked about growing up wanting to be a mentor, because of what mentors meant to him. Now he has the opportunity to help others and help the school and community he has grown to love, and have fell in Love with him. "Sometimes you cannot focus on the situation, you have to think about your destination." Profound words from a young man who looks like his career has just begun, and not come to an abrupt end. This past week the sports community has talked of how to honor Tyrone. Retire his number? The highest he stands in any category of the Bama record books is third for special teams. Permanent Captain? Name an award after the young man? At the same time, Inky just wants to help his team and do what he can to make the most of the gifts he has been given. Maybe it is just perception. But when comparing these two players I get the distinct feeling of looking at two identical glasses of water. One half full, and unfortunately one half empty.