Dear Ol’ Tennessee:
Although now six years removed from my days of living on your hallowed hills, the first day of September still finds me with Christmas Eve-like jitters.
Now representing the orange and white in the mid-state, sometimes lost amongst a sea of gold, black and every other color of the SEC rainbow, this time of year always brings me straight back to you. Even at a sweltering, 98 degrees today, the air somehow feels crisper. The leaves somehow seem more orange — paying homage not to fall, but to you, sweet Tennessee.
I know as we speak the Vol Navy is tying off at the dock, their captains toasting a glass of Tennessee’s finest to a brand new day. Toasting to the boys that will lead our team this year. Toasting to the coach who many suspect still has no idea what he’s gotten himself into, but who we love for diving in heart-first anyway. Toasting to the family that comes back together every fall, no matter the outcomes of the previous year – the family that is the Volunteers.
I know the freshmen are milling about Presidential Courtyard with childlike excitement — soaking up the spirit, but with no real comprehension of the spell General Neyland will put them under in just two short days, when they sit in the student section for the first time.
I know the new recruits think they’re prepared, but can’t possibly be ready for the reverb of the crowd’s chants that will echo in their ears as the Vol walk descends down Peyton Manning Pass.
I know as the Pride of the Southland forms the T for the first time this season, and the players pour onto the field, fans both young and old will feel the same excitement, honor and pure admiration for our boys in orange and white. It’s a level of pride and respect that knows no boundaries of age or background. It’s born in Volunteers – perhaps at different times for some than others – but born nonetheless.
And most importantly I know that although I will not physically be in Knoxville on Saturday, that when the Vols enter the field, so will my heart along with every other fan’s in, around or nowhere near Neyland Stadium. Because we are Tennessee. We are a family of Volunteers, bound and bred by a tenacious spirit that doesn’t live and die by wins and losses – but an invisible tie that binds us to the greatest love in college football. University of Tennessee football.
You don’t know it, unless you’re a part of it.