John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
Do UT backers have a right to chastise organizers of a Nick Saban speaking engagement? Or is this a UTempest in a teapot?
He's done it again.
Yes, Our Dark Lord has poked the Vol Nation in the eye, pissed in their corn flakes, body checked them in passing. Insult to injury, to say the least.
He has destroyed them in each of his seasons at Alabama. In the five seasons since Nick Saban's hire at Alabama in 2007, the Tide has owned Tennessee, outscoring them in the Third Saturday game by a margin of 204-65 (that includes the 12-10 "Rocky Block" game). His dominance partially led to the dismissal of three of their field generals (and considering we're talking about The Great Pumpkin, the Kiffling and Lil' Dooley, I use that term loosely).
While the state of Tennessee has not been a recruiting hotbed for the nation's top talent in recent years, Saban has plucked those players worthy of his attention from within its previously-picketed borders. (The Harrison Brothers approve.)
This dominance of the once-fierce rival to the north has made Bama fans smile throughout Saban's tenure. Nothing feels better than dominating UT. Nothing. The Third Saturday rivalry is so much bigger than the Iron Bowl, because for much of the storied history of the series, Tennessee has been a worthy adversary rather than a "lil' brother."
Vol fans are not connoisseurs of the flavor of beat-down they've been force-fed by Bama in recent years. That has expectedly resulted in many a hard feeling towards Saban amongst the UT faithful. So, what has Saban done now to rile the Viles?
Recently, Saban agreed to serve as keynote speaker at an event hosted by the Athens, TN Chamber of Commerce. Apparently, some Vol fans consider the entire state of Tennessee off-limits for anything Alabama. Unfortunately, the anal discomfort remains strong amongst the orange-clad heathens.
This email sent to Chamber of Commerce president Rob Preston appeared in an article on the subject penned by John Adams of the Knoxville News- Sentinel. It accurately sums up the vitriol spewed by many Vol fans towards Bama, and more particularly, towards Saban:
"You CANNOT be so naïve as to think Saban has agreed (to speak) out of the goodness of his heart. This shrewd person is doing it to benefit recruiting. PERIOD. Don't for a second think differently, or you are a fool...So, on behalf of the vast number of TN fans, thank you for doing your part in helping Saban and the hated AL program. I can only hope that people are not dumb enough to support your event."
Oh, the hate is strong in the you...yes, I can feel the anger flowing through you, Vol Nation...good...good!
A few ditties from the comments section of Adams' article help to flesh out the hate as well:
"A long time Vol fan here: It wouldn't make any difference if we had won the National Championship three years in a row I would not like Satan Saban speaking at the dinner or Knute Rockne. Both of them are doing it for recruiting purposes. John Adams has been stealing from KNS for a long time and they don't fire him."
"Jerk.....and SAban....! Bama fans can support him all they want...because they don't care about morals that much...As long as they win they would kiss a rattle snake on the mouth...! I'm so glad Kiffin got gone and now we have a man who gets it in Tennessee...! J. A. Why don't you and Peston jump on the plan with the snake charmer and head back back to loserrrrville....!"
"I'll bet Pat (Summit) never was invited to speak in Bridgeport, Conn... I'll bet Steve Jobs was never asked to speak at a MicroSoft company picnic... I don't remember Castro ever being invited to speak at the DC Press Club... Hiltler probably never spoke at the South London Ladies Garden Club....I could go on...."
In the interest of fairness, here's one more quote from a reasonable Vol fan, proving once against that even a blind squirrel stumbles upon the occasional acorn:
"The difference in me and you is I respect my competition while you fear yours. To understand and learn from your competition is one of the best ways to win in the end. Thanks for the suggestion and, if free, I may head down that way. Trust me though, Coach Saban doesn't need to speak at a small gathering in Athens, TN to boost his recruiting, his presence on the field is working just fine for him."
Even amongst the Hill People, there is a voice of reason. Go figure. But I digress.
To top the increasing level of Vol angst, the Saban speaking event has quadrupled the ticket sales of last year's Athens soirée, at which Phil Fulmer and the 1998 National Championship team were the guests of honor. At last count, Saban's ticket sales were nearing 1,000 sold. In pre-sale, at that. The Big Orange version of the event yielded a mere 276 tickets sold...total. No further elaboration necessary.
It is understandable for the Vols to hate that which Bama has built. Many Bama fans can remember harboring those same feelings of loathing during the UT streak of the 90's, Peyton Manning directing the Vol band during that god-awful hillbilly rip they call a fight song, Fat Phil's best Jethro Bodine "double-naught spy" impression with the NCAA. Those are awful memories that should be burned with fire, sealed in a lead box, buried in a concrete sarcophagus and sunken into the depths of the Gulf of Mexico.
But why all the hatin', UT?
After all, in Preston's first year as president of the Athens Chamber, he recruited none other than the Ole Ball Coach, Steve Spurrier, to serve as the keynote speaker. Spurrier was in his second year at South Carolina, a divisional rival of the Volunteers. For the love of God, Spurrier gave the Vols more spankings as coach of Florida than Brent Musburger in a sorority sponsored S&M party. Surely the OBC would curry some loathing from a rival fan base, yes?
No. The vitriol towards Spurrier was kept well in check, neither soliciting the level of hatred expressed towards Saban, nor warranting any coverage amongst the UT beat writers. Maybe it's because Spurrier was a native son, born and raised in Tennessee. Could be the reason for the lack of hate, but I somehow doubt that had much to do with it.
See, the Third Saturday rivalry is one that has legs. It seethes with hatred, a long bubbling pool of molten magma behind an emotional caldera, just waiting for that one explosive moment. In other words, that Rocky Block moment (i.e. BigDaddyVol's YouTube gold in the wake of Cody's block). Even when one team or another is in the midst of an impressive streak, there is no tolerance, no sympathy, no forgiveness. One team may be down for a while, but ultimately, the hatred keeps the Third Saturday alive.
So do the Vols have a point? Is there something wrong with a coach leveraging every advantage he can use, even in the backyard of a traditional rival? Or is this just "business as usual" for Saban and many other coaches who reach deep into enemy territory to extract their secret weapons? Is the indignation rippling through the Vol Nation justified? Or is it yet another case of the WhyYouHatin'-itis?
What do y'all think? Let's talk...