March 27, 2010
The book of Tennessee basketball history is being rewritten this year. After a resilient season, the Vols continue to exceed expectations and have ascended to the next echelon of college basketball--the Elite Eight.
"We had to rally late to beat Ohio State, a great basketball team, to get to the Elite Eight--somewhere we've never been before," voice of the Vols Bob Kesling said. "This is one of those games everyone will be telling their grandchildren about--this is a part of history."
And he's right. The history doesn't stop at the hardwood. It extends into the stands and into the souls of the Big Orange faithful who made the trek to St. Louis. The copious crowd of Vols fans in attendance at the Edward Jones Dome Friday night was just as much a part of that history.
Richard `Sully' Sullivan led a large contingent of Tennessee students into the facility, bellowing cheers all the way.
"This really gives me chills," Sullivan said. "After all this team has been through, to think that we can make it this far--to be a part of this makes me feel like I'm on cloud nine. It's pretty amazing."
The Tennessee team wasn't the only group overcoming obstacles to make it to St. Louis. After UT student Stacia Booker overslept and missed the student bus, she and Roxanne Buckles were left to blaze their own trail to the Show Me State.
"The original plan was to rent a car, but we weren't old enough," Buckles said. "So we were stuck and didn't know what to do--we had already paid to go.
"So we talked to our parents and they got us plane tickets. Then we flew from Knoxville to Charlotte, but our flight there had a two-hour delay."
After the delayed flight, the pair made it to St. Louis as the Vols were tipping off with Ohio State.
"We got here about halftime," Booker said. "I was so surprised by all the Orange here. It was amazing. I was so scared we weren't going to make it. Once we got here I wanted to cry."
That was a sentiment shared by Don Talbott of Maryville, Tenn., and his cousin Steve Plumlee. Talbott (1983) and Plumlee (1990) are both Tennessee alums and have seen Tennessee play in the Sweet 16 a combined five times.
"I've been a fan all my life and this unbelievable--it's one of the best times I've ever had," Talbott said.
Plumlee has seen all three of Bruce Pearl's Sweet Sixteen games with the Vols. For him, this was an opportunity too good to pass up.
"Those back home need to come--this is a great experience," Plumlee said. "This has never happened before. Nashville and Memphis are only a few hours away."
But not all the Vols in attendance Friday had to travel very far. Dan Afflick is from St. Louis and brought his son Tyler to his first Tennessee game Friday. He couldn't have picked a better game to be his son's first.
"The atmosphere was awesome and it was amazing to see the cheerleaders and the band," Tyler Afflick said. "This is my first Tennessee basketball game. I will definitely be wearing Orange again on Sunday."
That Orange was visible Friday night--perhaps the most dominant color in the dome. That's the observation Judy Brown of Knoxville, Tenn., made.
"It is so amazing to be a part of all this Orange," Brown said. "I'm speechless. This is exhilarating."
But none of these Big Orange faithful had a view of the game like Justin George. The Memphis, Tenn., native and 2004 graduate of Tennessee was, perhaps, the furthest Vol from the court.
""Section 427, row HH, seat 18. This IS the best seat in the house. "I was in the building and saw our guys win a game to make it to the Elite Eight. With all the history Tennessee has, I will be able to say that." And for as long as Tennessee keeps winning, George and the rest of the Rocky Top Rowdies can keep rewriting the Tennessee basketball history books together.