One of the big reasons I came to UT was because (in caveman voice) I really like football.
I know I’m not alone in that one. And with that, I know I’m not the only one who’s had that decision continually slap them in the face over and over and over the past four years.
When the class of 2012 arrived on campus back in August 2008, Tennessee had a preseason No. 18 ranking coming off an improbable run to the SEC Championship Game. Things looked pretty much like usual.
That season kicked off with a bummer of a loss to unranked UCLA. It continued with a homecoming loss to Wyoming.
The coach got fired.
Signs of life in the next season. A close loss at No. 1 Alabama. A scandal with three players attempting criminal activities at a prominent booster’s gas station. A disappointing finish in a bowl game loss to Virginia Tech.
The coach left.
A young team with a lot of inexperience hit some tough times. They lost to LSU in a heartbreaker. They then again lost a heartbreaker to North Carolina in the Music City Bowl. No team had suffered such terrible luck in one season.
Finally, 2011 rolls along. The Vols have one of the top quarterbacks in the league. One of the top receivers in the country. Things are looking up, especially after the first two games. Then, said receiver gets hurt, goes out for the season. Said quarterback hurts his thumb, misses the roughest part of the schedule.
A 10-7 loss to possibly the lousiest Kentucky team during the Vols’ 26-year stretch ended the worst season of Tennessee football since most students have been alive.
Instead of championship trophies, glorious moments and memories that will last a lifetime, UT students got backpacks full of tough lessons.
Life doesn’t usually go according to plan. In fact, it rarely does.
That’s a cliché, I know. But here’s something that’s not: Sometimes, it’s important to fight on the losing side.
Growing up playing sports, I played on a lot of teams. I’ve been on the undefeated, league championship teams. I’ve been on the teams that stepped on the field and didn’t even entertain the notion of walking off the field on the losing end.
I’ve also been on the teams that were ashamed to put on their jerseys, knowing they would again be wasting a perfectly good Saturday so they could drive 45 minutes away to lose to yet another team.
The latter situations sucked. But it was from these that I learned maybe the greatest skill I have: how to lose.
In modern sports, and modern life, that’s not something to be merited. If you’ve learned how to lose, you’ve accepted being a loser. But that’s not true.
Learning how to lose means you are mature enough to accept that sometimes you can try your very best and things still won’t go your way. It means that you’re able to have disappointment crammed in your face, only to shove it back, and figure out how to move on.
You thought about going to Alabama, Auburn or Florida. Instead you chose Tennessee. And instead of having similar experiences, you’ve never even had the opportunity to go home over Winter Break and exert your bragging rights over your friends, unless they go to Buffalo, Memphis, Vanderbilt or Kentucky. (And you can’t even use that last one anymore.)
You may not have been on the field for the mess you’ll call Tennessee football during your time here, but if you’ve been emotionally invested in the program, you feel like you’ve had as much disappointment as the team has.
And if this is one of the biggest disappointments in your life, be grateful.
When real adversity comes around, now you know how to lose.