Simmons Says - Fans ruin night
I hate our fans.
If you are one of the fortunate (or unfortunate) few to watch sporting events featuring teams I root for with me, then you’ve heard me say that line before. I rarely say it a lot while watching the San Antonio Spurs or Jacksonville Jaguars (yes, I even was up early to see them play in London), but I have uttered it a lot this weekend. I’m sure you can imagine why.
It actually started early this week. Getting back on the sidelines at Nunley Stadium Friday night, I had a good spot to hear some of the heckling of the Pioneers and head coach Matt Turner. The team and Turner, in particular, aren’t without fault, but it was irritating to hear the negative comments and especially frustrating to listen to people try to coach from the stands.
I get it – everybody who has played Madden 2022 is an expert at offensive football now. When the Pioneer players all become PS5 characters and get to play every week on easy mode, then I’m sure they’ll do everything that was being suggested from the stands Friday. Until then, maybe some should just wait for the suggestion box to come out at Nunley Stadium.
I asked coach Turner after the game about the fans, which was bad journalism on my part. To his credit, Turner made his points and moved on. I did not. Thankfully, one of our Facebook followers pointed out on our postgame video that you “can’t worry about the negative fans.” He’s right, for the most part.
When I was standing in Neyland Stadium the next night, I tried to think of the same thing. I wasn’t a media person anymore – I was just one of over 100,000 Vol fans hoping that Tennessee wouldn’t let me down again. While the Vols' loss – and Joe Milton’s inexplicable decision to run out of bounds on the final play – was discouraging, I loved the fight and excitement surrounding the squad.
I hated the fans – again.
Like everybody else in orange and white Saturday, I was seeing red when the refs overturned a call in the first quarter that took away a Tennessee touchdown. I was also seething while watching Ole Miss players drop like flies – for seconds at a time – anytime the Vols got going offensively.
Unlike a large portion of Tennessee fans, I didn’t really care about what Lane Kiffin was doing on the opposing sideline. I’m not still angry about him leaving over a decade ago (even when he did, I wasn’t angry, just hurt). Still, I’m aware enough to realize his presence added to a night full of tension.
It mounted all the way to the end of the game, when Tennessee seemingly was short spotted on a fourth down that gave Ole Miss the ball back. After a review of the play (I haven’t seen it since I left and I don’t want to see the replays because it doesn’t matter), the call was upheld.
In all my times in Neyland Stadium, I can only remember two instantaneous reactions to something on the field. The first was in 1998 when Florida missed a field goal in overtime – I don’t even know if the ball landed in the stands before the goal posts were being torn down on both sides of the field.
The second was Saturday. Before the referee could say the call stands, bottles were showering the field. I turned to my dad and the people I had been talking to all game and said my grumpiest catch phrase, “I hate our fans.”
Several UT players, including DE Tyler Baron, took to social media to thank Vol fans for their support following Saturday's 31-26 loss to Ole Miss.
It was such a stupid, juvenile reaction in the moment. What made it worse was that the hundreds of people doing it – Yes, I’m thinking it wasn’t more than 0.1 percent of our fans making us all look like jackasses – didn’t seem to realize THE GAME WASN’T OVER.
For nearly 20 minutes, a bunch of grown ups acting like children throwing a temper tantrum shut down a very entertaining SEC game. In Section Q, where I was, the fans who were angry weren’t throwing things (thankfully). They were just leaving.
Those who remained, including a smattering of Ole Miss fans, just stood around staring in disbelief. Nobody really could comprehend why people were continuing to shower the field with trash (or how they had so much access to stuff ---- seriously, who brought in the mustard bottle?).
At one point, I looked behind me and an Ole Miss couple were looking in my direction with puzzled looks. I shook my head, nodded at them and said, “Not all of us are like this.” They agreed.
After the delay continued to drag on, I figured a forfeit was going to be inevitable. And I was going to lose it even more on the worst fans among Vol Nation because Tennessee still had three timeouts and a chance to win.
Eventually the game continued, and UT almost pulled off a miracle. It would’ve been surreal if Cedric Tillman had come up with that pass off his fingertips in the final seconds, igniting a celebration in the checkerboards that would’ve been right beside a huge pile of trash. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be.
The usual suspects in sports media made sure to play up the trashy Tennessee fans Saturday. I honestly couldn’t care less about their opinions – many of them have made it apparent they think all UT fans are lunatics and they seem to take glee in pointing it out. Because it’s the most recent over-the-top fan outrage – not the first, nor will it be the last – and it’s Tennessee, it’ll get played up plenty.
What I do care about is how there is a minority of Tennessee fans who don’t understand how dumb they were being. It was reckless, first and foremost. It was also an overreaction, inappropriate and – as I just pointed out – an easy way to make our entire fanbase and university look bad.
We aren’t all bad. The vast majority of Tennessee fans have the ability to be passionate without being petty. Many of us can even be diehards without being delusional (that’s a fine line, admittedly). Over 100,000 fans Saturday night showed how special Neyland Stadium can be and why, no matter how long we’ve been down, Vol football matters on a national scale.
College football is just more interesting when a historic program is relevant. It would be even better if Tennessee was more relevant for what is happening on the field than off it. For a better part of the last decade, that’s just not been the case.
I’m delighted with what coach Josh Huepel is putting together with what is clearly a patch-work roster. It’s not going to change overnight, but the Vols look like they are going into the right direction. The masses will soon have something to celebrate.
But for the hundreds who were throwing stuff: Grow up and just know, I hate you.