Fore and Out: Return of Lane Kiffin

The word uniformly being used across media to describe last night’s football game is “bizarre.” Lane Kiffin made his triumphant return to Knoxville as a head coach, a decade after abandoning us in the pit of despair, and it did not disappoint.

If you don’t think he will have that golf ball in a shadow box on his desk, you’re due for a reality check.

A decade and a half of pent up outrage showered the officials, the Ole Miss bench, the tuba players and much of Shields Watkins Field Saturday night after the last in a series of questionable calls from the zebras. Commentators at MSESPN, particularly the former quarterback of snobbish Vanderbilt, relished and opportunity to moralize to the unruly drunks attempting to shower Kiffin in beer, and not in the fashion he’s accustomed to at Rooster’s Bar and Grille.

While Neyland did for a moment resemble a Portland ANTIFA rally, minus all the purple hair and facial piercings, the conduct of a few fans really isn’t that unusual or unprecedented in the long history of sports and alcohol. It happened, it was a little embarrassing, and it’s over.

Tennessee started in an uncharacteristically slow fashion for this team, committing turnovers and crucial defensive penalties virtually handing Ole Miss and early lead. But, they battled back and got up off the canvas many times throughout the night, setting up a dramatic final sequence in which the backup quarterback, Joe Milton, who has excelled this year at closing his eyes and heaving the ball as far as he can, somehow panicked and ran out of bounds as the clock expired when all he had to do was toss up one of his trademark Hail Marys. It was one of the most bizarre endings imaginable to an equally bizarre game.

What was unusual was the product on the field, and no I don’t mean the mustard. Saturday night’s game had enough drama to keep Shakespeare on his toes. Before the game even began, Lane was characteristically teasing Vol nation with a trip down memory lane on Twitter. He posted uncaptioned photos of his favorite haunts and people from the moment he hit the Campbell Station exit. We still aren’t over it, and he knows it.

For the first time in a long time, I was really devastated about a loss last night, and I take that as encouragement. Like my Sunday school teacher always used to tell me, when you stop caring is when you’re really in trouble. My apathy seemingly has dissipated in a matter of weeks, as has all of Vol Nation’s. Josh Heupel has taken a squad that should probably be 3-3 at best right now and had it in every single game, competing blow for blow with teams with vastly superior talent and depth. Last night we had more three-stars on the field than a Gettysburg reenactment. This team is less talented and far less deep than probably any other we have ever had, and I guarantee they’d beat the pants off of almost any team we’ve fielded since Lane left town.

This staff has cooked up chicken salad out of chicken scat faster than anyone thought possible. I don’t know how anyone could not be encouraged by what they’ve achieved with an offensive line held together with duct tape and bubble gum and only 72 scholarship players. They aren’t perfect, and I think the off-season program needs to be evaluated due to all of the injuries but it’s hard to think we aren’t headed in the right direction.

We are headed into a bumpy couple of weeks against the two best teams in America, and no doubt we will take some licks as everyone does. But thankfully the home stretch is clear with a grossly overrated Kentucky team being the only throng standing between Tennessee and 7-5. There was a time, like two weeks ago, when howl eligibility seemed like a stretch. Now it seems inevitable. Go Big Orange.

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