Many have probably witnessed those sorts of moments on television, but when you’re in the stands as a spectator, there is not much you can do about it other than watch.
I haven’t been in this world for nearly as long as some of my coworkers, but there have been some disheartening moments that I’ll never forget.
Spoiler alert: There is going to be a lot of Tennessee Volunteers football on this list because, well, that’s just the way the Vols have been over the last 10-plus years.
• Vanderbilt 28, Tennessee 24, November 19, 2005: In the midst of one of the worst seasons Tennessee had seen since before Phillip Fulmer, one of the last remaining bright spots was a 22-game winning streak over the Commodores and having won every game inside Neyland against Vanderbilt since 1975. Future NFL quarterback Jay Cutler shredded Tennessee for 315 yards and three touchdowns, including the go-ahead score with 1:11 to go. Most of the crowd had left by the third quarter because Tennessee was trailing 21-7. My dad and friends that I had gone to the game with moved to the 50-yard line by the third quarter, so that was a consolation prize.
• Wyoming 13, Tennessee 7, November 8, 2008: Homecoming opponents are supposed to be the easiest wins on the schedule. They’re supposed to make even the bad teams look good in front of alumni and make the seniors feel good. Not in this case, though. The Cowboys were the lowest scoring offense in the FBS at the time, averaging 11.7 points per game. Many prominent Tennessee sports writers believed this was Fulmer’s final undoing as a head coach and ultimately cost him his job after 17 seasons. I’ll never forget how quiet the crowd was when the clock hit all zeroes. You could hear a pin drop.
• Fort Defiance 60, Abingdon 50, March 2, 2013: There were a lot of high hopes for the boys basketball team at Abingdon during my senior year. Some of the goals were accomplished and the Falcons won their first regional title since 1965 and were one step away from the VHSL Final Four in Richmond. However, on that cold March afternoon at UVA Wise, the Indians dashed Abingdon's hopes, outscoring them 22-9 in the fourth quarter. What made it even worse was that Abingdon had a six-point lead early in the third and a one-point lead with 2:41 to go. The boys have not made it that far since.
• Tennessee 16, Alabama 13, October 21, 2006: The days of Erik Ainge under center for the Vols were either meant that he was going to be very good or he wasn’t going to do anything. There was really no in-between and Ainge threw three interceptions this day. Thank goodness Arian Foster didn’t cough up the ball like he was known for in big games. My dad and I sat on opposite sides of the stadium that day and No. 7 Tennessee gave Fulmer his final win over the Crimson Tide. What makes this disheartening is that Alabama, the next season, hired Nick Saban to replace Mike Shula and the Tide went on a meteoric rise to the top of college football.
• John Battle 38, Abingdon 14, September 28, 2012: It hadn’t been since 1991 that John Battle had beaten Abingdon on the gridiron and all but three of the games in 20 years had been lopsided victories for the Falcons. That night, however, the Trojans came out firing and blitzed Abingdon in a way they could not recover. The previous year was a foreshadowing though as Abingdon had to block an extra-point attempt at home to force overtime and went on to win 13-6. The Trojans went on to make it in the state semifinals before losing to Essex on the road, 40-9. What rubbed salt in the wound is that Battle won 36-20 the next season at Abingdon, making it the first time JSB won back-to-back years against Abingdon since 1990 and 1991.