Everytime I hit Interstate 40 this time of year, I’m 19 again. Living in a Bill Clinton economy, tips are high, gas is cheap, and Knoxville is Rocky Top of the World as we are undefeated national champions. That memory has carried me through so many “I can’ts” in my life.
But most importantly, it gave me the hope to pull up out of the “I’ll never.”
This morning I grabbed a cup of coffee, rolled the windows down even though it was sweltering, and headed up that oh-so-familiar stretch of country. Just for a drive. It’s a memory I clung hard to every time life tried to get me down. Screaming in the air: “You won’t beat me, world! Don’t you know who I am? I am Pat Summitt. Peyton Manning; Condredge Holloway; Inky Johnson. I’m Kenny Chesney. You may laugh and tell me I don’t have what it takes in the beginning, but I’ll be filling up stadiums faster than Michael Jackson — and I’ll have the last laugh in the end. I’m a Volunteer.”
Though there wasn’t much fall air to fill my soul this morning, that football still begin to seep in my veins and soothe everything that aches.
I reminisced about what it was like to work at O’Charley’s on the strip, waiting on Phil Fulmer in that championship year; singing Rocky Top at College Park Apartments, so drunk with my roommates off of cheap beer that you barely remember it, except that was an experience you can never forget; catching Steven Tyler in Thompson Bowling. Looking back on all the memories between then and now, knowing in good years and in bad, there was one thing that stayed the same — when my boys danced in the checkerboards, they were dancing for me. They were filling my spirit with the spice of life, seasoning it up enough to believe that this too, whatever it is, shall pass. When we came out with a W, some how I believed I would too.
See, it’s not always just about sports. It’s about courage. It’s about life. It’s about the hope to try again when you’re down to believing in nothing. Whether it’s Josh Dobbs getting his legs under him and running in the endzone for A.J. or that broken hearted, lost, confused nineteen-year-old girl standing on that hill and truly believing that Travis Henry just gave her 6 because she needed something to go right in her life, through our team — we win, we lose, we heal.
I’m a woman that got back up no matter what beat her. Whether it was a man — that whiskey fueled boyfriend. Or a sexual assault that steals something from you that you can never get back, and makes every man that comes after have to pay the price for that one. Or the boy you were sitting beside just 10 days before the last time you saw him, when you packed all his stuff, and then he put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger. And you lost a decade trying to forgive yourself for something you couldn’t control. Whether it was a crooked judge and a scheming couple of attorneys in Dickson County, Tennessee, who tried try to steal everything that was always yours in a lawsuit that went all the way to the highest court in our state. Or the alcoholism that you didn’t ask for but was born into just the same. Or the disease that whispers that you can cure everything that ails if you just stop eating again. Whatever it was, with the grace of God, you always got back up. My memoir is a tale for another time, and you can read the mini-series of my life when it comes out as a best seller. The only relevance here is that I am not alone. There are men and women all over the state just like me. Because I am Tennessee. That’s who I am and that’s what we do.
You can black my eye, and I’ll turn to you the other. I’ll never give in. I’m never out. And I refuse to back down. You may kick me when I’m crawling, but when I stand back up — I’ll kick your ass.
And I won’t just make a show out of it, I’ll give you a Broadway freaking musical.
Because I AM Tennessee.
I’m a Volunteer.
I never waiver in my devotion. And my faith, my foundation, is unshakeable. My roots are orange and my pride is real. And my love is unmatched. Stop trying, Tide. You can’t touch it. And you never will. We sucked for six damn years while you were winning championships and sending death threats to your kicker, and I was still in your face singing: “It’s great to be a Tennessee Vol!” Because I’d rather lose every game in the Big Orange than win every game in anything else.
I am Tennessee.
When Jalen Hurd plows over those defenders — looking like a damn work horse and proving to the world that he’s a kid so bad, his mama ought to have her uterus bronzed just for show — he’s running that ball for me. When Cam Sutton comes out on special teams and shoves it up their arse — he’s putting it there for me. When Barnett strip-sacks, when Abernathy recovers, when Even Berry proves his just a chip off the Big Orange block — don’t you know what that’s about?
It’s for me.
It’s for us.
We’re the school that produced Eric Berry, and Eric Berry is the man that told cancer to f-ck off.
Don’t you ever doubt us.
Not in life, and not on the field.
When those kids run through that Power-T, they’re
running for us. The 100,000 that pack that stadium strong; the millions watching at home; the kids playing QB out in the yard; the women like me that find the strength to walk out, and say, “It doesn’t matter if you don’t love me, Butch Jones does.” For the kid that beats cancer like EB; the man that is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and braves it like Pat; the injured that stands up like Inky Johnson and says,” I’m blessed to be alive and you ain’t gonna get the best of me!” It’s for the heart of Vol Nation that refuses to give up on our kids: no matter the score, no matter the schedule, no matter the Tweet.
I want you to remember, Team 120, that when you run out there,
we’ve got your back — no matter what. You’re not just playing alone, you’re playing with me. You’re playing with us. And with a state full of survivors on your side, there’s no one this side of the Milky Way that can bring you men down.
That’s not a concept we understand in the Volunteer State.
Do it for you, fellas. Do it for me. Do it for us. Do it for your Mamas who washed those unis and bandaged those boo boos. Do it for Pat, the icon who taught an entire generation that playing like a girl just means looking good while kicking your ass.
But most importantly, have fun and remember… we love you unconditionally. Always. Thanks for giving us hope.
Your Biggest fan, all of Vol Nation