by Tony Basilo
One of my favorite aspects of talk radio is its unpredictable nature. You truly never know what's going to happen when a topic is introduced. Just when I think I have my audience/market figured out, the shift occurs. It reminds me of former New Orleans Saints head coach Jim Mora when he chastised the local media, which was questioning Xs and Os during a football game, by screaming, â“You may think you know. But you really don't know. And you know, you never will!â”
Last week on my midday radio show, I had a Mora momentâ"the results of which should make Coach Phillip Fulmer and the administration at UT shudder.
To my mostly knowledgeable, sometimes entertaining and fiercely loyal audience I administered the following on-air survey: â“When it comes to the upcoming Tennessee football season, I can best be described by the following: A) very interested, B) mildly interested, C) not very interested, or D) when does basketball practice begin?â”
As usual, I refused to only use this survey as a cheap ploy to generate calls on a sports-boring May day (which it was). I'm also using it as fodder to fill up this weekly Metro Pulse page I've been entrusted with.
All kidding aside, I decided to not only ask what of my audience, but why ? When it comes to Tennessee football these days, there is simply no buzz. In my 14 off-seasons as a talk show host in the Knoxville market, this is easily the least hype-filled. Generally, May is a month of anticipation for college football on our sports calendar. Spring practice has ended, hoops is history, baseball is boring and NASCAR is NASCAR. So in the myopia that is Big Orange Country, there's always next season. Only it seems no one wants to discuss this next season.
From afar it would be safe to assume that Vol faithful would give a resounding A or at least a strong B to our survey question. After all, Tennessee is coming off a 9-3 regular season, which (to hear them tell it) was only two plays from being an 11-1 BCS campaign. Regardless, a 9-3 regular season is a strong answer to the feeble 5-6 posted in '05. So it would only stand to reason, with a senior quarterback in Erik Ainge to go with a healthy LaMarcus Coker and Arian Foster, Tennessee fans would be pining for a return trip to the glory days. One recurring theme that seems to have stifled anticipation is Penn State's squeezing of the Big Orange in the Citrus Bowl. Hearing them tell it ad nauseum, the Penn State debacle has many feeling like Phillip Fulmer will never win another SEC championship. Ill feelings aside, there should be reason for great optimism for the upcoming season.
Not only does Tennessee have a battle-tested senior leader, but SEC East rivals Florida (Tim Tebow) and Georgia (Matthew Stafford) will be led by inexperienced signal callers. And isn't Florida coming off a national title? So they're bound to come back to Earth with a depleted defense, while the Dogs looked awful at times last year on their way to a third place finish in the East. Remember UT's Saturday night massacre of UGA last year on ESPN? Vol fans should feel like Tennessee is due for a breakout eastern division title in â‘07. Because they are! It's been nine years since UT's last conference title, eight seasons since its last BCS appearance. There should be a hunger for '07, but it's been replaced by a sense of malaise and apathy.
As one caller after another chimed in, it appears that the pulse of expectation from the living Vol fan was faint at best. Among the responses came this one from a usually upbeat caller who identifies himself as â“Rocky Top Chop Block,â” or â“RTCBâ” for short. He said, â“I don't know, Tony, but I can't get up for this year. It's like watching the Bush administration or something. Even if Tennessee has a big season, it feels like we're only a couple years away from a coaching change. It's like we have a lame duck administration. And I like Coach Fulmer. Sometimes I just wish we had something different.â” Something different. Like Bruce you-know-who.
For the first hour and a half of our three-hour extravaganza, the vote was running at an 85 percent clip for answer (D), â“when does basketball season begin?â” Ouch. After some cajoling by yours truly and Beano, we were able solicit positive calls and end the â“scientificâ” survey with the following results: (A) very interested: 25 percent, (B) mildly interested: 20 percent, (C) not very interested: 30 percent, and (D) when does basketball practice begin?: 25 percent.
Before you scoff at the numbers, take your own survey. Ask folks if they're looking forward to the return of the Good Ship Phillip Fulmer. It seems Tennessee is taking on water, while its fans are going overboard. Talking Tennessee football used to be a great way to spend a May day. Now a majority of the fans are saying, â“Mayday, Mayday, Mayday.â”
Tune in and talk sports with Tony Basilio weekdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on ESPN Radio WVLZ 1180 AM. Visit www.tonybasilio.com for more information.
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