Samuel Taylor Coleridge called it the "willing suspension of disbelief." It is a state of mind that allows us to look at actors on a bare stage and let Shakespeare's words create a scene. It allows us to enjoy novels, sci-fi, and movies because we just decide to put aside critical thinking and enjoy the ride.
I would like to suggest this concept for us Vol football fans as the season opens in a couple of weeks. I understand the angst of a lot of fans, I share it. We have been through a lot the last five years. Firing Phil Fulmer. Lane Kiffin and Ed Orgeron putting a stain on our reputation. A new coach with a bare cupboard who lost to Kentucky last year.
I get it. I've been as critical as anybody. But there are hopeful signs that the team is stocked with talent and a good year is possible.
So here's a suggestion: Let's stop complaining. Let's yell and cheer and encourage the team throughout the season. Even when they lose, and they will, let's be supportive. Let's try positive reinforcement and suspend our disbelief that our team can beat Alabama. (We don't have to play LSU.) Surely we can handle the Akron Zips and Georgia State and the Troy Trojans.
Cognitive dissonance is the ability to hold two completely different positions at the same time. The best example of it was in the early 1990s when Vol fans knew two things absolutely: The Vols should be number one and, simultaneously, we couldn't possibly beat Steve Spurrier's Gators.
Remember how we felt when Peyton Manning graduated without a national championship? If we couldn't get it done then, when would we? Then the next year Tee Martin, Al Wilson, and the gang proceeded to go undefeated and win a national championship.
Who woulda thunk it?
Well, Al Wilson for one. He took the team on his back and carried them when he had to.
We don't know who the leaders will be on this team. One hopes they are there—the guys who grab their teammates in the heat of a game and will them to win. Given his recent antics it may not be quarterback Tyler Bray. But we can hope that Wilson-type leaders will emerge. When they do it's our job to help them.
We face the usual bruising SEC season and every game will be important. It is essential that the team not give up. When they lose is when they need us most. Let's not create a crisis atmosphere. Derek Dooley knows it's win or go home. We don't have to put him in a pressure cooker.
But you may wonder why it matters. If you are a true SEC football fan it wouldn't occur to you to ask. It's a cultural thing. But for you agnostics out there, a few thoughts on why it matters.
I've been in this town 30 years. I've been here when we had winning teams and when we've had losing teams. Winning teams are better. The mood of the people is upbeat, business is better; the morale of the entire community is improved. With the miserable seasons we have had lately you may have noticed some really bitter, angry people on the Web and on talk radio. The frustration level is high and we need a boost. I don't think it's hyperbole to suggest that the quality of life in Knoxville for many people depends to a certain extent on what happens in Neyland Stadium.
It hurts our pride when there are more red shirts than orange shirts in the stands at Neyland in the fourth quarter of the Alabama game. Understandable. But sad.
Are you ready for some football? Banish your doubts. Suspend your disbelief. Let's do our part and be good fans. We can then expect the coach and the team to do its part. If it is a disappointing season, let it not be because we didn't do our best to be supportive.
As Kenny Rogers might sing, "There'll be time enough for countin' when the season's done."