I’ve already watched more Tennessee baseball this year than I have since at least 2005, and maybe 2001. And we haven’t even gotten to the part of the year that a percentage of fans will only tune in for, the old “bad Lady Vol fan” demographic I used to be part of too: if you know they’re going to be in the tournament and should make a deep run, how much attention do you really pay before March? Or June?
The baseball Vols are packing out Lindsey Nelson with post-pandemic glee. But I would imagine no one is enjoying it more than those fans, however many or however few, who have followed the program closely in the 16 years since we last had a shot at Omaha.
It’s an absence a couple years longer than the football program’s from the national conversation, in an SEC sport just as tough, if not more so, to rise in. What Tony Vitello and those guys are doing is truly amazing.
Meanwhile, in football it’s still easier to measure the distance to the bottom than the top:
The “sheesh” is actually worth appreciating in terms of Tennessee’s brand, I suppose. The perception that this is, in fact, the worst it’s ever been for a program of UT’s historical caliber is, in fact, stronger than the reality of where the program’s actually been.
If you’re graduating from UT this month, grew up in the area, and are a lifelong fan…what do you actually remember?
It’s not just that a 21-year-old wasn’t alive in 1998. Do they remember 2007, when they were seven years old? Because since then…
And sometimes in the since then, we say, “Well, at least there were a few good times in 2015 and 2016.” That’s true, including circumstances from 2016 that may never be reproduced in any of our lifetimes between Bristol, 38 unanswered points on Florida, and the hail mary.
But not only did the Vols fail to win the SEC East those two years and fail to ascend any further, they’ve regressed. In SP+, three of Tennessee’s worst four seasons in the last 15 years are 2017, 2018, and 2020.
The other one in that group is 2013, the kind of suffering a first year coach in the SEC might expect. Maybe something similar will happen to Josh Heupel this fall, or maybe the Vols will take advantage of a softer schedule and make the most of it. Maybe it’ll get worse, maybe it’ll get better.
But being +34 at Alabama isn’t a sign of new depths. It’s a reflection of what’s been Tennessee’s reality for long enough to be named and accepted, which, again, is usually the best way to start moving forward.
Via covers.com, here are the biggest closing lines the Vols have faced in the post-Fulmer era:
Seven of those 11 belong, of course, to the Crimson Tide. Six of those 11 belong to the last four years.
At this point, it’s not new that Tennessee is a 4+ possession underdog to Alabama or Georgia. Whatever the Vols accomplished in years three and four under Butch Jones, his fifth season and Jeremy Pruitt’s tenure and removal set the most relevant circumstances Josh Heupel inherits.
So yeah: embrace the moment. This is who the Vols are right now. It’s not just letting go of the 90s or stretching everything back to 2008, it’s acknowledging the depths of the last four years in particular. The Vols are significant underdogs. At this point, the best way forward is to embrace that more than lamenting its relationship to what Tennessee used to be. It’s not that those days are so long ago as much as the days that have been most recent these last four seasons have been most bad.
Embrace the moment.
It’ll always be the best way to appreciate the climb.