Nov. 22, 2009
BY DREW EDWARDS
Going untouched into the end zone would have been too easy. Too perfect. Too Hollywood.
Besides, it wouldn't have suited Wes Brown at all.
So on the final play of his career in Neyland Stadium, Brown grabbed Mackenzi Adams' hurried pass around those Bill Walton knees of his and took off running. Vanderbilt running back Warren Norman didn't take long to catch him.
But he never did tackle him.
Brown didn't glide into the end zone. He dragged Norman for a good 6 yards. Then he dove. Then he was at the bottom of a pile, sandwiched between the end zone turf and his teammates.
"I just sprinted out there from the sidelines," senior guard Cory Sullins said. "I was ready to go. I thought we were going to get an excessive celebration penalty, but I didn't really care. It was the best thing ever, and it couldn't happen to a better guy. To end senior night that way, it was amazing."
Plenty of seniors had their say in Saturday's 31-16 win over Vanderbilt in Tennessee's home finale Saturday night. Brown just provided the ultimate punctuation mark with his interception return for a touchdown.
A diehard Tennessee fan from a long line of Tennessee fans who grew up just across the state line in Athens, Ala., Brown has been through it all at Tennessee.
He was a key contributor at defensive end in 2007, when the Vols won the SEC East, and he started all 12 games last season when the Vols went 5-7.
Despite tipping the scales at 257 pounds, he offered to move to defensive tackle during spring practice to help fill a need, and he's started every game but one there this season. For perspective, Vandy's smallest starting defensive tackle Saturday had 33 pounds on Brown.
And of course there's those knees.
In April, Brown had arthroscopic surgery on both knees just four months after doctors repaired a torn meniscus in his right knee. He delayed that surgery last fall, despite the fact Tennessee was in the middle of a losing season.
"There are some days where he can't even practice, but he gives everything he has when he steps between those lines," said redshirt freshman offensive tackle Aaron Douglas. "All these seniors, they've all been there for me. Seeing guys like Wes and other guys like Rico (McCoy) playing hurt, we have numerous guys playing banged up. It inspires the rest of the team. It really sets the example for years to come."
That example was front and center Saturday night, and not just from Brown.
Quarterback Jonathan Crompton continued his resurgence by completing 20 of 34 passes for 221 yards and two touchdowns, including a key touchdown drive at the end of the first half to put the Vols up 14 points.
Tailback Montario Hardesty, finally healthy and in a starting role, rushed for 171 yards and a score, topping the 1,000-yard mark for the season in the process.
McCoy, nursing a knee injury himself, finished with 15 tackles. He also became the first Tennessee player to record 330 career tackles since Earnest Fields in 1991.
Defensive tackle Dan Williams, who bounced from the offensive line to defensive line and battled weight issues early in his career, added a sack and two tackles for a loss.
But Saturday's mountain-top moment came with only a few seconds left on the clock and Brown at the bottom of a pile.
"His ending here was perfect. He struggles day to day to even practice. He'll do it for a couple periods, and then he's an old man with those knees," McCoy said. "I'm more than happy for him. That's a great way to go out. He deserved it. He worked until he couldn't work no more. He definitely gave his all for Tennessee."
His teammates gave it all back, too.
Brown's journey to the bench seemed to take forever. Those teammates who didn't rush the field mobbed him before he even reached the sideline.
Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin, who called the play one of the most special moments he's been a part of on a football field, went wild as Brown crossed the goal line. As the mob subsided, he gave Brown a hug, as did the Vols' entire defensive staff.
Fellow senior Jacques McClendon, a huge smile on his face, told Brown the play had to be the ugliest touchdown in the history of football. He wasn't the only one.
They know that pretty suits Brown about as well as an Alabama jersey would.
"I felt him hop on my back, and I just didn't want to be denied," Brown said. "I wanted to score. For it go like that, man, God has blessed me. I can't ask for anything more."
It wasn't pretty. It was perfect.