For anyone who has been paying attention to sports this week, you've been subjected to the SEC Media Days' coverage of football news from every angle possible. Before I launch into the real purpose of this column (to throw some props to the three player reps from UT) I want to try to figure out just what all you SEC fans are so proud of.
Look, even as an interloper from the Great White North, I recognize that the SEC is the very best conference in the land. However, I can't tune into one of the many sports talk shows in Knoxville without hearing this analogy, "Butch Jones as a piece of meat is getting tossed to the wild animal that is the SEC Media Days. Its nothing like he's seen before!"
Now I am not arguing that SEC Media Days aren't crazy; perhaps they're even the craziest. But there is a good reason for the chaos. Between the Mississippi and the Atlantic, the SEC is comprised of exactly two NBA teams, one pro-baseball franchise, one pro-football franchise, and Florida, only part of which is proper SEC country. So of course the fine people of Chik-Fil-A country are going get in a tizzy every time the head coaches and notable players congregate in one place. But it's not like it's exactly the best thing for well over a thousand grown adults with college degrees surrounding about 30 college kids and asking them obvious questions, hoping that one of them is caught of guard and provides a non-obvious answer. Or, for the worst offenders, hoping they do answer obvious questions.
Dear media: If you ask any SEC starting player, "Player x is considered the best at his position. Do you think you can be as good as him?", you should NOT act like the player casually agreeing to your statement is anything like a controversy.
Johnny Manziel, who recently was asked to leave the Manning Passing Academy after showing up late after a night where he was photographed having a good time with adult beverages, was obviously going to be the center of this frenzy. He also Bucked the obvious conclusion that he is going to either become Art Schlichter or Bernie Kosar. He seemed intelligent, thoughtful and nothing like the prima donna party boy that his image has evolved into.
But, of course, the big news for Tennessee fans was something more generic: the Vols seems to be on the right track. Their players seemed intense, focused, and account- able. They also gave the impression that they are very capable of living life outside of football; they were all intelligent, personable and seem like good people. Butch Jones had more energy than any coach I can remember.
More importantly, they spent time talking about two things: "swagger" and "becoming relevant." They are talking about a "return" to prominence.
Look, it's going to be a while before we can look back and see what language like this will be used in a narrative of redemption or a story of over-matched delusion. Since it is mid-summer, and memories of heartbreaking losses are mere specks in the rear-view mirror, it is easy to think that Tennessee just might cash in the promise of frustrating seasons past. Chances are there are going to be moments next season when Tennessee fans are all too reminded that the last five years of Tennessee football have been agonizing, that they can't look at an Alabama fan without showing begrudging respect. But I do think that there will also be moments to celebrate, to remember how stupid it is to feel so good about your favorite team winning a football game.
More than that, I think Tennessee fans will finally get to feel something that is even more distant in their memories than seeing their team put up more points than the other team: the satisfaction that a well coached 6-6 team is better in the long run than a poorly coached 7-5 team. For the first time in years, losing won't lead to a debate about who Tennessee is, but rather what their team can become.
Greg Bearringer is a graduate student in History. He can be reached at gbearrin@ utk.edu.