Tomorrow at noon, the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga Mocs will take the field at Neyland Stadium. I couldn’t be more excited! If you know me, and if you are reading this, you know me – then you know that I am an extremely proud graduate of UTC. I frequently refer to it as the best university in the south. This isn’t really a thing people say, but one might say that I bleed blue and gold. So I am excited because I get to watch my alma mater play in the town where I now live. But I am most excited because, you might have noticed, but this isn’t exactly the “Year of the Volunteer”. UTK (and yes, it does need the K for specification) isn’t off to a great start, losing two straight home games against less than stellar opposing teams. Tennessee fans are experiencing emotions ranging from heavy depression to flat out mad. It’s all very exciting.
Now, I am aware of some obvious things. UTK is a lot bigger than UTC. UTK plays in a much different division/conference/world of college football than UTC. I get it, UTK plays in the “best conference in college football”. And no, UTC isn’t having a stellar year – they dropped their last game to arch-nemesis Jacksonville State. But, as you may have heard, it feels like ’58 around Knoxville. (If you have somehow missed it, that is the last year that UTC came to Knoxville and beat the Vols.) As a recent UTC video pointed out, that was the same year Eisenhower was president, who famously said “What counts is not necessarily the size of the dog in the fight – it is the size of the fight in the dog.” If there is one thing I know about the always scrappy Mocs, it is that they are full of fight. So here’s the deal. Vols are bad. Mocs are okay. Vols are down and out. Mocs are fired up. In the words of Lloyd Christmas, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance!”
With all this in mind, there are some things I need to get off my chest. The past three years living in Knoxville have been full of internal conflict for me. You see, while at UTC, I developed a passion for the Mocs, and some pretty intense negative feelings about the Vols. A lot of it stemmed from the fact that some of my fellow students would skip a home UTC game to watch the mediocre Vols on TV. It frustrated me so much it led me to write this post some years ago, 3 Reasons You Should Cheer For The Mocs (Or Whatever Small to Medium Sized, Non-SEC School Where You Are A Student). A key principle for me is the idea that you should be all in, where you are, where ever you are. Whatever you are doing is the best thing you could be doing. Instead of wishing you were at a different school because “the games aren’t as fun” – go to the games and MAKE them fun! This is a key principle that made me a proud Rossview Hawk in high school, and a proud Moc in college.
That principle has given me trouble after moving to Knoxville. You see, I moved here along with all of my Moc pride, and all of my Vol disdain. And I have to admit, there is something really fun about being the contrarian – going against the grain in a city where everybody bleeds orange, and #VFL is a real thing. Especially in these years where the football program is less than stellar, there is something wickedly fun about taking little jabs at the hometown team. But that also goes against the very principles that turned me into a Moc fan. I should point out, I didn’t come to that realization on my own. My loving, sweet, UTK graduated wife, who just wanted to be able to wholeheartedly give me a high five at a football game when the Vols scored one of their rare touchdowns (I’m sorry, it’s just so easy) – was pretty quick to point out this inconsistency in my ethics.
To further confuse things, this past basketball season, UTK had an amazingly fun program that was really hard not to root for. The team had a great energy. The coach is a stand up guy who spends time giving back to the community, even volunteering at the organization where JoBeth works. They pulled at my heart strings. And I’m here to say, I have tasted the sweet, orange, forbidden fruit. I have sung that annoyingly catchy fight song, not even replacing the words “rocky top” with “mocky top.” I have not one, but two articles of clothing with UTK logos on them, and what’s worse, I wear them. I have cheered enthusiastically at an Admiral Schofield slam dunk, and I have experienced real disappointment as I watched them lose in the NCAA tournament. It hurts a little to write this, but it feels good to get it off of my chest.
So where does this leave me? I am still processing what it might look like to live in Knoxville and actually root for the University of Tennessee-Knoxville (it definitely won’t look like me dropping the extremely necessary K or Knoxville on the name as to avoid confusion with the other scrappy but prestigious University of Tennessee down in Chattanooga, I can tell you that). I really do think there is something good and right about rooting where you live. At least to some degree. And if you are a student at a school, the command is simple – root where you live, all in, all the time. As for me, an extremely proud graduate of the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, I will always be a Moc. I am coming to grips with the fact that rooting for the Mocs and being a proud UTC grad doesn’t HAVE to be mutually exclusive with supporting the hometown team of the town where I live (which at this point in time happens to be the Vols).
This weekend is different. This weekend is no time for ethics or principles. This weekend is no time to be the middle of the road, peacemaker that I can tend to be. the situation is much too serious for that. The stakes are much too high. The Mocs are storming Rocky Top. They are rolling into Neyland Stadium with one goal, and one goal only – take down the beloved Volunteers. I would say it is a classic David v. Goliath showdown, but calling UTK Goliath gives them way too much credit. I like to think of it as a championship, heavy weight fight between two brothers, much like the movie “Warrior.” And yes, UTC is the little brother. And it is tired of getting knocked down and pushed around by its bigger (but not that successful) older brother. It is not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog. And the Mocs are ready to fight.
I live in Knoxville. I’m willing to support the Vols. But I love the Mocs. This weekend it is all about that blue and gold. If you live in Chattanooga, if you graduated from UTC, if you are a student now at UTC, I hope you will join me. It is time to embrace the ethos of our beloved mascot Scrappy, because it’s going to take a lot of heart, and a lot of grit. But I can feel it. It feels like ’58.