Tennessee, one of the few teams in the BCS era to win a national title, returned tickets to Georgia’s ticket office.
Let me say that again: Tennessee returned tickets to Georgia. The Vols, who have played in front of 100,000 fans too many times to mention, could not fill their allotment of tickets for one of the most important games of the year.
The action underscores just how far Tennessee has fallen since winning it all in 1998. More than anything, however, it shows just how fast an athletic director can wreck a school’s athletics department.
Rewind to just before kickoff of the 2001 SEC Championship. Nick Saban’s, before he was Nick Saban, LSU Tigers were about to knock off the Vols – derailing them from a certain appearance in the BCS title game a few weeks later.
Phil Fulmer, for one reason or another, was never thought of the same even though he won the SEC East two more times before his ousting (2004 and 2007). Tennessee’s lost decade started the afternoon they were upset by the Tigers... still the only team to win SEC with three losses since 1992.
But if you are looking for a person to blame (or pat on the back) for the Vols not making their way south by the masses Mike Hamilton is your man.
Hamilton has to be the only AD in the country to have hired a basketball coach and football coach to run afoul with the NCAA at the same time.
Hamilton is now heavily involved in helping find clean water and fighting AIDS in Africa. It should be noted that’s significantly more noble than running an athletic department.
But those in orange – still licking their wounds from Lane Kiffin, Bruce Pearl and a combined 18-20 record since Fulmer’s firing – are struggling to find a reason to get excited thanks to Hamilton’s decisions years ago.
Make no mistake – Tennessee will be back. It has too much tradition, too many resources and too many people care too much for the Vols to be down forever. They may not make it to Athens in droves this fall, but the Vols will be back.
Still, it is amazing how difficult this time has been for the Tennessee faithful. Looking back, the news may have been somewhat predictable that the Vols would return tickets to Georgia at this time - worlds away from that magical 1998 season.
But Tennessee’s current apathy has to be put into perspective… the only other SEC school to return tickets this fall was Ole Miss. The last SEC school to return tickets to Georgia was Kentucky. History says those three programs don’t deserve to be in the same paragraph, but right now they are.