This UT orange ain't burnt, or even singed
"I'd like to introduce you to 100,000 of my closest friends," Jerry Roddy' said.
Thus, on a Halloween night to remember, Jerry outfitted me in one of his pumpkin-orange sweatshirts, a matching jacket and cap, and we set off on the short drive to Knoxville where Jerry's Tennessee Volunteers were to rough up the South Carolina Gamecocks in an SEC biggie.
A year ago, Peg and I were invited to spend a week with retired Alcoan Jerry and wife Vicki at their beautiful home on Rocky Top, just a few miles from the entrance to the Smoky Mountain National Park. During Jerry's Alcoa career, he and Vicki lived in Rockdale two different times, and many other places including Italy, but always knew they would retire back to their native Tennessee.
For the trip, Peg and I selected the Rockdale Tigers' opendate week, during which Mother Nature cooperated with incredible fall colors in the Smokies (I'll share photos later as space allows).
Our hosts bleed UT orange (not burnt orange; this hue really is pumpkin-o). I had heard that everybody in Tennessee bleeds that orange and, as of Halloween 2009, I can attest.
Jerry parked in his favorite lot on the hilly campus and we caught a shuttle to the stadium, passing blocks of pumpkin-colored tailgate tents. Normally, Jerry said, he would have joined his son Rusty's tailgate group but, since it was raining, that group had opted for a favorite pre-game watering hole.
From the shuttle we walked up and down a few hills and Jerry introduced me to his favorite hot-dog vendor, recommending a spicy-blend sausage that was a foot long, thick, and served on a Subway-type foot-long bun, replete with sauerkraut, pickle relish, sauteed onions, peppers, and mustard. Since my sweet Mama taught me to clean my plate, I did so, and felt like I had the night's game ball in my belly.
We trekked a few blocks (uphill, of course) to see the "Vol Walk," a tradition where the UT coaches and players exit their bus and walk a couple of blocks to the stadium with fans lined up 10-deep on both sides of the street, cheering, high-fiving and fist-bumping their gladiators.
Next, we walked a short distance to witness the "Vol Navy," all sorts of water craft docked along the nearby river. Seems many fans make their way to the game by water. Early arrivers get the dockside spots and others tie up alongside, and on and on. This can result in those boaters at the end of the lines stepping from one boat to another to get to the dock. Spirits are usually shared along the way, because the boaters cannot let the tailgaiters get ahead.
"Don't worry about the rain," Jerry said, "my tickets are under cover in the upper deck."
We began to climb the switchback ramps and continued to do so for what seemed like an eternity on a stuffed stomach. Jerry, who is into mountain-ridge hiking big-time (he's done a 21.5- miler), was cruising and I was drafting on him.
Finally, we arrived at the base of the upper deck. Then we started up the steep steps to his seats, which happen to be three rows from the top. On that climb, I was conscious of some funny stares. Must have been my purple complexion.
Finally seated in theater-type folding seats in the end zone, looking straight-down on the field and straight across to the Jumbotron atop the opposite end zone, gulping air and fighting vertigo, I noticed the countdown-to-kickoff clock: 55 minutes, 18 seconds.
"I like to get in early for the warmups," Jerry said, "and see who's throwing and catching well."
The Vol game experience was worth the climb. Old-Ball Coach Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks, then-ranked No. 21, were no physical match for the Vols of New-Ball Coach Ed Kiffen. It was 21-zip after three quick SC turnovers and never close.
Kiffen, whose father Monte left an NFL coaching job to join his son as defensive coordinator, put in new offense and defense schemes. That led to a rocky season's start. But this win, coming on the heels of the Vols' near-miss against Alabama a week before, has 100,000 of Jerry's closest friends thinking the team will run the table and get a bowl bid.
The Vols wore black jerseys for this Halloween outing, a shocking break with tradition for the orange bloods. But as the score mounted, the shock wore off.
The Vol marching band put on great pre-game and halftime shows, ending with a rousing rendition of "Rocky Top." The band also plays that number during the game, celebrating touchdowns, third-and-long conversions, and other current events.
Thanks, Jerry. And I watched your Vols mop up Memphis this week. Run that table.