Hell and High Water
Nothing deters the SEC, or Rick Clausen
by Tony Basilio
Are you ready for some football? A Monday-night party. This is Kesling, my friend, down on the Bayou. We’ve got Rita, Katrina and the Vols are so tight! All my rowdy friends are here on Monday night! “You’re looking live at ESPN2 with Tennessee and LSU on Monday-night football.” The SEC once again proves that it wouldn’t budge from its TV schedule and obligations no matter what is visited on league fans, including hell and high water.
You have to admire the SEC’s steadfastness. It didn’t matter what point of paralysis visited the region. The LSU-Tennessee game was going to be played in Baton Rouge during this week! Kind of makes you wonder about LSU’s explanation of why it didn’t just move the game to Knoxville to begin with. Flip-flopping games, LSU’s Skip Bertman told us, was “out of the question” because the region’s citizens needed to “return to normal.” Monday-night college football in late September is as normal as the two-headed man at the circus. LSU refused to cooperate, and so did Rick Clausen.
Remember Mike Hamilton’s comments about willfully overheating UT fans back in the summer? When our leader decided against a Sunday-evening kickoff for the UAB opener, the game ended up being kicked off in tropical conditions 30 minutes past noon on a Saturday. It was all about accommodating television and the ESPN contract. Arguing against a second consecutive Sunday-night beginning for the season, Hamilton said, “I believe that college football is a game that was meant to be played on Saturday. We don’t want to get in the habit of playing outside of Saturday.” So much for that! Upon Bertman’s and the SEC’s request (I mean, extortion), Tennessee refused to bow up and punt the Big Orange football.
When Rita swung in, Hamilton could have demanded of Bertman and SEC commissioner Mike Slive that the Vols would see the Tigers in Baton Rouge in early December.
Implacable as ever, Slive and Bertman knew they were doing the wrong thing by insisting that UT come down on Monday night and play a football game. “If we’re going to err, we’re going to err on the side of caution,” Slive said while announcing the decision to postpone the game 48 hours to Monday night. “With so much going on in that part of the country, this is the right thing to do.” It’s a shame that Rick Clausen would have the last laugh. He used the ill-timed stage to etch himself in Tennessee folklore alongside the likes of Dale Jones and Floyd Miley.
Hamilton’s UAB decision is rehashed above to illustrate the inconsistency with which fan bases are treated. To the administrators of SEC football, fans are obviously mushrooms clad in school colors. We are kept in the dark and fed a bunch of crap. With Tennessee’s season in the balance, we were left—30 minutes into the Tennessee-LSU visit into the Twilight Zone—to feel like poor Erik Ainge scraping himself off the upright in Death Valley. That Ainge was even the starter to begin with was as bizarre as this Monday night madness, where Rick Clausen willed the Vols to a win.
I took some heat a couple of weeks back when suggesting that LSU’s decision to play a Saturday night game so soon after Katrina was short-sighted, dangerous to fans, and irresponsible. I reasoned that fans would be unable to travel, due the paralyzed infrastructure of the entire region.
Furthermore, there were no hotel rooms within 250 miles. Bleary-eyed fans traveling several hours following an exhausting football game was putting people, who have already been through that, into a needlessly dangerous situation. That roadways in that college town are already overloaded with displaced citizens from Katrina was one thing. To play a game on a Monday night because of a “the-show-must-go-on” mentality speaks to where the SEC’s loyalty truly lies. Ninety-one thousand and change made the scene the eighth largest crowd in Death Valley history. Those are the same people who laughed Rick Clausen out of LSU two years ago when he matriculated at Tennessee.
Tennessee came, saw and was nearly conquered in Les Miles’ LSU home debut. If only football games lasted one half! It seemed over for the Vols before they ever made it to the field. Several windows of UT’s buses were smashed, while the buses themselves were rocked outside the stadium by bloodthirsty LSU fans from every demographic. The vandals might as well have smashed Tennessee’s team spirits. Through the crushing of his own spirits by a rigged quarterback competition that saw him win the job twice, Rick Clausen somehow remained intact.
Like Monday Night College Football and Erik Ainge’s tenure as Tennessee’s starting quarterback, it seemed UT football in ’05 just wasn’t meant to be. Somebody just forgot to tell Rick Clausen. m
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