If you listen closely, you might still hear Hank Williams strumming his guitar and pouring out his heart and soul …
“We live in two different worlds, dear; That’s why we’re so far apart.”
So it is for Tennessee football. We spend most of our Saturdays in the same colorful conference with Alabama and Georgia, but the rest of our lives are far, far removed, locked into a very different world.
The undefeated Crimson Tide and bully Bulldogs are flexing muscles in preparation for their meeting in Atlanta to decide the SEC championship.
Tennessee, meanwhile, is wondering about the weather in Columbia, Missouri, and how the historic campus columns are doing and whether anybody really cares about this next game.
There was a time when I thought the Vols and Tigers were similar. Neither group was very good. Alas, Missouri wiped out Florida and distorted that image. The schedule provided Tennessee some relief. Don’t get too excited. Half the team is hurt.
Both programs have dark clouds hanging over recruiting. Tennessee prospects want to know if Butch is in or out. Missouri has a very different problem. It remains burdened by the backlash from the 2015 student uprising. Enrollment is down. Seven dorms are closed. There is a shortage of gifts and grants.
Missouri does have talented players and they have more offensive skills than the Vols but their season statistics are skewed. The Tigers racked up 815 yards against Missouri State and nipped the Bears by 72-43.
Missouri scored 68 against Idaho. Quarterback Drew Lock threw for six touchdowns. Missouri edged UConn, 52-12. Lock hit only five TD passes. Nothing like that has happened for Tennessee, not even in practice.
If it still matters, the Volunteers are positioned to go either way. They stopped the four-game losing streak. They are celebrating a so-so triumph over a mediocre Southern Miss team that did not appear familiar with the rule book. The Golden Eagles were assessed 14 penalties. Three others were declined. Only one was an official error. All those blocks in the back looked as if they had been rehearsed.
To reach a minor bowl and earn Butch another bonus, the Vols must win two of the remaining three games. That could happen. I doubt that it will. Heavily favored Missouri has a better offensive line. The Tiger quarterback, sometimes erratic, appears healthy. Tennessee’s No. 1 quarterback has a gimpy ankle.
Many UT linemen are lost or under the care of physicians, trainers or first-aid caregivers. Ambulance drivers are standing by. Never have Butch and I observed anything like this.
I’ll tell you a story about a big ugly. Tennessee tackle John Boynton was injured in the 1965 Tennessee-Ole Miss game in Memphis. Old line coach Ray Trail remembers it well.
“John came up to me on the sideline and said his arm was hurt. I looked and it was bent the wrong way at the elbow. It was awful, so bad it was almost sickening.”
Trail called for the team physician, Bill Youmans. The really good doctor said Boynton should go to the hospital for repairs. John asked why he couldn’t fix it right there. Too painful, said the doctor. Nobody could stand that.
John said he’d see about that. He invited the doctor to join him on the bench and put his arm back into place. Dr. Youmans didn’t think it was a good idea but went about his work.
“Sweat popped out on Boynton’s forehead but he didn’t say a word,” said Coach Trail. “When his arm looked almost normal again, he thanked the doctor, stood up and said ‘I reckon I’ll go back into the game. Are you going to wrap it up?’”
John Boynton was much like I imagined the original volunteers to be, the men who walked from Tennessee to Texas to help fight angry Mexicans. He was the epitome of toughness and dependability.
Football linemen used to be called big uglies. John was big. The girls thought he was rather handsome.
Marvin West invites reader reaction. His address is firstname.lastname@example.org