KNOXVILLE – The smoke started to make its way into the air as fans ran onto the field with joy and jubilation. For the first time in sixteen years, Tennessee was able to celebrate a win over Alabama.
Players and coaches had no clue where to go, running out onto the field as Chase McGrath drilled the game-winning field goal to break the longstanding streak.
Who would’ve thought this was coming, considering Alabama had this game wrapped up. But just as they’ve done so far, Tennessee found a way to win. To the Dixieland Delight of over 100,000 people that broke out into a loud barrage of cheers, they weren’t keep them off the field tonight.
It’s hard to explain, unless you were in the stadium, but there was a sense of calm that came over the crowd when McGrath was lining up for his field goal. It was just like that ‘Powder Keg’ I was telling you about last month, or how Tennessee fans were ready to celebrate a win like this.
The thick smoke billowed from the crowd — with a hint of California Kush but mostly cigar — as the thousands of fans made their way around the field. It was like a scene out of a movie. I don’t know if I’ll ever get the privilege of covering something like this again.
As Peyton Manning lit up a cigar, making his way into the locker room, the crowd started into Dixieland Delight again, dancing and reveling in the smokey lights. This was the biggest win at home since Tennessee defeated Florida in 1998 and the fan base felt it.
Whether it was fathers hugging their sons, friends engaging his celebratory cheers, or players lighting up cigars, this was the moment Tennessee fans have been waiting for.
How do you put something into words when you’re still trying to figure it out? I knew this team had fight, but this was something else. When Alabama missed the kick, giving the Vols enough time to get into field goal range, you knew something crazy was about to happen.
Just as the ball knuckled over the goal post, players and coaches starting storming the field in unison, with special teams coach Mike Ekeler making his way over to the sidelines.
“How bout that? Down goes Frazier,” Ekeler said as my father gave him a hug on the sideline.
The moment will never be recreated, the field is now missing chunks of grass from one end-zone to the other. The goal-posts are now somewhere along Cumberland avenue, waiting to take their final resting place in the Tennessee River.
Fans were joyous, coaches were hugging, former players embracing current players. The moment was something that’s been brewing for over twenty years. One thing that shouldn’t be lost on anyone is how big this is for a Tennessee program looking to make a statement.
“Man, Rocky Top! This is college football at its absolute best! Our team competed 60 minutes. These fans – phenomenal. What an environment, man!,” Josh Heupel said postgame.
The Tennessee head coach wrapped up his interview discussing what this means for his program.
“Hey, it’s about this team. It’s for our former players, our fans. We know what this means. I’m lighting a cigar tonight.”
It’s been a long time since reporters could say these words, so forgive me if they sound a bit dated.
Tennessee. Is. Back.