Sad sideshow stole spotlight from exciting main event

Marvin Westwestwords

This is an official proclamation: What happened late Saturday evening at Neyland Stadium was beneath the dignity of the University of Tennessee and the grand old general who loaned his name to the historic arena.

There is almost never a valid excuse for a sideshow to replace the main event as the talk of the town – and the country – but that’s what we got. There is no defense and there’s more to come. We are stuck with a wide assortment of negative opinions.

Pete Thamel, former New York Times and Sports Illustrated star, now flaming for Yahoo Sports, said:

“As the dozens and dozens of items flew down onto the field, Tennessee’s reputation as having the worst fanbase in college football grew incrementally. As each item crashed to the turf, another piece of empirical evidence was added to a rich history of collective classlessness.

“As the minutes ticked by and the hailstorm continued, Tennessee fans exhibited a level of misbehavior that we haven’t seen in college football this generation.”

Thamel mentioned “a scene so unsafe that cheerleaders, the dance team and band had to leave their home field for protection …”

His really mean lick: “A fan base with a vocal element that has long traded in the sewer of the sport somehow found a lower level.”

Tennessee fans are among the most faithful, long-suffering and still supportive in the wide, wide world. They yelled themselves hoarse for the Volunteers, booed questionable decisions by the officials and aimed a few colorful comments at Lane Kiffin.

After that, when the game was almost over, when Tennessee, trying to work a miracle, was not credited with a first down, a hundred or three village idiots threw things – expensive water bottles, vape pens, other trash and a French’s mustard container onto almost sacred Shields-Watkins Field.

Some of the Ole Miss Rebels, coaches and other associates were in the general line of fire. All, including 81-year-old Monte Kiffin, Lane’s famous father, apparently escaped without injury.

Lane Kiffin kept his cool with a minimum of exaggeration.

“I don’t know if I’m more excited that we found a way to win or that I didn’t get hit with the golf balls they were throwing at me.”

A practice range yellow, potentially more dangerous than AA batteries, did roll up close. Lane held it aloft as a souvenir for all to see.

In what passes for authentic press reports, that ball somehow multiplied into a barrage of missiles that threatened the well-being of everybody from Mississippi and other visiting dignitaries.

“I got hit with bottles with some brown stuff in them,” said Lane with a wink. “I don’t think those fans would waste moonshine.”

In a more serious assessment, the coach said “It was an electric crowd, it’s a credit to them. You’ve got one of the most passionate fan bases in America. It’s an electric place with great fans. A call didn’t go their way.”

Embarrassed UT chancellor Donde Plowman apologized for the bad behavior. SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said fan misconduct is unacceptable under any circumstances. He promised a full investigation. Be sure a hefty fine is forthcoming.

Josh Heupel just got his foot out of a trap. Last week he called for “a hostile environment that would make it tough for those guys to communicate. We need to make it loud and uncomfortable.”

He wasn’t talking about violence or a 21-minute disruption.

Early Sunday, Heupel expressed disappointment that the rowdies stole the story from the football game. Heupel loves Vol fans. He counts them as allies. He blamed a small number.

“There were so many that represented Tennessee in a great way.”

Many other things happened. Ole Miss ran 101 plays and rolled up 510 yards. Quarterback Matt Corral was brilliant, nimble and tough. He survived 30 runs, netted 195 yards and threw for 231.

Tennessee started awkwardly. Velus Jones fumbled the first punt. A Rebel got it 11 yards from the goal. Ole Miss got an easy touchdown. The Vols countered. In addition, they trapped Corral in the end zone and took the lead on a safety.

Things got worse after that. Tennessee gained but 64 yards and four first downs on five possessions. Tennessee had allowed 20 sacks through six games, most in the SEC, and allowed four more in the first half.

Hendon Hooker is not quite as nifty as Corral but he, too, is a warrior. He and Jones and Jabari Small, playing despite a bum shoulder because too many other running backs are injured, led the comeback.

It was almost magical how the Vols created a chance to win. On fourth and 24 at the UT 36, Hooker threw to tight end Jacob Warren for 23 – or 24. A linesman chose the under. Video review allowed the spot to stand. Ole Miss got the ball on downs. Fans erupted. Bad boys threw things.

When throwers tired or there was nothing else to throw, all the Rebels had to do was run out the clock. They couldn’t. They punted. Jones ran it back 40 yards. Hooker rushed for 14. Hooker suffered a leg injury. He was helped off the field. Take my word for it, this could be serious.

Tennessee turned again to Joe Milton. He completed one and almost hit a winner. Cedric Tillman got fingertips on a high, hard one that sailed incomplete with three seconds remaining, perfect for a Josh Dobbs-Jauan Jennings Hail Mary.

Milton didn’t see an opening. He ran for 13 and deftly stepped out of bounds. Ole Miss won.

Marvin West welcomes reader comments or questions. His address is

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