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Rocky Top, Tennessee: UT 24 North Texas 0

Look, you found one. That’s what the hotel man said to his colleague upon seeing me come to the front desk resplendent in my green sweatshirt. They hadn’t seen a Mean Green fan up to that point and I hadn’t either. I guess they do exist.1

That last bit is probably the best way to sum up the game. I guess we do exist. We lost respectably, but still fell to 1-9. Vols fans weren’t left with a new found respect for our program — our unofficial goal after every such encounter — but with consternation about their offense. The post-game reviews and chatter was less “that North Texas looked fiesty!” and more “our guys couldn’t score more than 24 on that team?”

More on the game later.

The People

I imagine every late-season non-conference opponent of an SEC school endures a similar reception to the one we received. It was pleasant but slightly disappointed. We are more of a respite than an opponent. And so we were the Homecoming squad. When the matchup isn’t exciting,  you hope to boost attendance with events. Still, I heard complaining about the 96K announced crowd. Oh to be with such problems.

Mike Canales coaches Harris and Smith
Canales out here coaching

I’ve always found the ESPN overarching narrative slightly out-of-step with people’s actual story on the ground, but tale of Southern love for college football is based on a true story. I bet it is strange to change up the ritual in the midst of the weekly battle against storied programs with passionate fans. You go from familiar rival to a visitor who usually is just happy to be there. Maybe it is good for the fandom’s collective soul to take a break and have a friendly visit?

While Texas is both the South and yet not — being its own special place and unique and unlike anything else on this earth 2, and while I’ve seen many an old lady fan hard on Saturdays, I’ve not seen so many ladies say “Arkansas is beating LSU? We got to get home to watch that now”.

You can imagine how a place with people who love their college football would be slightly disappointed to meet a fanbase so beaten as to not send a decent contingent of traveling fans.

Everyone was very nice and welcoming to we few who dared travel to the Gateway to the Smokey Mountains. I’d love to do it again early in the season, when everyone is excited and spending money on travel and not banners.

The Stadium

They only have four cheerleaders someone said in a pitying tone, as the game started.  It was true. We brought the minimum to Neyland to save on costs and maximize the return on this paycheck game. The Tennessee band played our fight song before the game and I was thankful for such a gesture that I usually consider hokey. I must be getting old in my old age.

This wasn’t my first college football Saturday in the South 3, but it was my first game in an SEC stadium. And what a stadium.

Neyland  is one of the oldest and most storied college venues in the nation. It has the air of history, like the Cotton Bowl and the renovated look of all the fixed up classics, like DKR. You see shiny luxury boxes after you have walked up Works Progress-era ramps.

Stadia never look as big as they do on television. The stands, instead of looking expansive, look like they are right on top of you. I sat in Row 1, at the ridiculous request of my friend who was unable to make the game. I’ve watched lots of live football games and the first row is the worst for watching the game, but the best for watching the team.

In case you are wondering, yes, we looked like a 1-9 team enduring a shutout on the road in November. The Woman remarked that losing looks the same on a team no matter the level of play. She is right.

NT faced TN
Goree, Thompson, Kidsy, Tucker look on

DaMarcus Smith said the first time he played there the ground shook. The crowd didn’t get nearly as loud for this matchup. They seemed to be waiting for their Vols to blow it open but instead of a knock out, they got a choke hold. As the team came off the field you could see resignation instead of frustration. I can’t blame them.

Ground shaking or no, I’m jealous of the atmosphere 4. Being the millennial I am, I am a fan of disruption by nature 5 but rather than fully wanting to blow up CFB I wish NT was a bit more like these schools. Not to the point of straight out aping the traditions but mostly through creating some new things of our own. A problem is so many NT fans complain about “forcing” things and are resistant to some new things that they perhaps forget that Rocky Top is only 40-years old. It was a popular song about Tennessee and absorbed.

Denton is a great place and UNT is a great school and it seems to me more could be done get the two working together. Lots of things would be easier if there was some winning being done. I know this, and so I’ll leave my soapbox now.

I hope you were treated well. My Uber driver said this as we cheerfully discussed a surprising amount of things in the short 20 minute drive to the airport. The North Texas football team went up to Knoxville looking for a win — or at least a respectable showing. I honestly looked for a way to cleverly cram in the second verse of their unofficial fight song into this here musing. I thought of using something like “points don’t grow on Rocky Top” or some such.

Instead I’ll leave the verse here for you to do with it as you will.

Once two strangers climbed ol’ Rocky Top
Lookin’ for a moonshine still
Strangers ain’t come down from Rocky Top
Reckon they never will
Corn won’t grow at all on Rocky Top
Dirt’s too rocky by far
That’s why all the folks on Rocky Top
Get their corn from a jar

“Rocky Top” copyright 1967 by House of Bryant Publications Written by Boudleaux and Felice Bryant

Tennessee was a school before Texas was a state. That was the best heckle we heard at the stadium, from a guy we had seen previously wearing a corduroy jacket on the plane from Atlanta. The worst was You guys lost while on Market Square. In between were plenty of Nice Uniforms and Welcome to Knoxvilles and Is it Denton?s.

They sure are nice up there in Tennessee. I hope next time we go up there they have reason to be a little less nice.

College football is fun underneath all the angst and stress and bloviating. Even when enduring one of the worst seasons in school history, I had a great time. I spent a cool Sunday morning having coffee with my wife, and a fun Saturday evening with old friends eating, drinking and conversing. I spend the rest of the time enjoying a cool little city I wouldn’t have otherwise visited.

The Game

Get your hands up! Support your team. Mike Canales said this on more than one occasion. He wasn’t talking to me, but the team. The defense had the Vols in a third down situation and he wanted support for his squad. He believes in that kind of thing, but it can feel inorganic and so I can see why it’s difficult to adopt.

Sometimes we got stops and most of the time we did not. The defense was not to blame for the loss. Offensive line coach Mike Simmonds came over to the offense once and said “we need to score”.

It is really that simple and that hard. The offense looked okay in the beginning — 101 yards through the middle of the second quarter – but finished with only 199. DaMarcus Smith slipped often on the awful turf, and struggled to hit any of his receivers in the hands. There were drops when the passes found hands, and also incidences of receivers trying too hard to make a play when they finally received a pass.

It is all unsurprising. The Woman mentioned it reminded her of her losing co-ed soccer team. Occasionally a player would think they would have to Do It All, because Nothing Else Was Working and it would hurt the entire team even more. She’s right.

Let’s all praise the ball control strategy, one previously employed by Dan McCarney but abandoned in favor of tempo. Play to your roster’s strengths, kids.


North Texas @ Tennessee 11.14.15
Click for Gallery

  1. Outside of that bit of rudeness Knoxville was friendly in the way you would be to someone you didn’t quite know was visiting. 
  2. Obligatory love for my home state, to combat the relentless Tennessee-love-fest that took place. :). 
  3. I watched an Ol’ Miss game in Jackson, Mississippi where I made the mistake of suggesting someone check the Texas score. I was met with looks of incredulity and bafflement. Basically the look you’d have if someone suggested talking Miss State football during the Cowboys game. 
  4. Or terrible groundskeeping? 
  5. Please know I’m exaggerating here. But you can argue that my fondness for the culture there is akin to the weird fascination with 1960s and 1900s eras among my cohort. 

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