Posted: 8:00 a.m. Friday, June 7, 2013
By Will Shelton
From 1989 through 2007, you knew what you were doing for New Year's. Tennessee went bowling 18 of those 19 years (2005 as the exception), and 15 of those 18 years Tennessee played in a traditional January 1 game. If the Vols didn't play on the first day of the new year, it felt like the season was a disaster. These days January 1 seems like a goal for years down the road.
Look at this run during that 19 year stretch: Cotton, Sugar, Fiesta, Hall of Fame, Citrus, Gator, Citrus, Citrus, Orange, Fiesta, Fiesta, Cotton, Citrus, Peach, Peach, Cotton, n/a, Outback, Outback. How many programs would kill for that? If you said, "Tennessee, Present Day", you're right!
Part of the glory of that run is due to the conference we play in. It's good to be king, and the SEC has been in the business of sending two teams to the BCS and three others to play the second best team from three other leagues (ACC in the Chick-Fil-A, Big 12 in the Cotton, Big 10 in the Capital One). It's the reason even Butch's first team could entertain the idea of January 1 in the Gator Bowl, because if two make the BCS again all you have to be is the seventh best team in the league to get there.
And part of it was the destinations made for a nice getaway. If you didn't get Florida on January 1, you got Dallas or Phoenix or New Orleans (sadly, we missed out on Shreveport). If one was so inclined, you could just assume a little winter vacation each year and let the Vols pick the destination.
What we learned for almost 20 years was to expect a Happy Holiday. If you grew up in my household, Tennessee playing in a good bowl game was like an extension on Christmas. Even after you'd opened all your presents and thought your joy had peaked, there was still a big football game to be played just seven days later as an epilogue to your Christmas break. And what we've learned recently is that even when you think you're disappointed by being in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, it's still exponentially better come the last week of December than being in no bowl at all.
The year that unfolds before Butch Jones is very similar to the one that unfolded before Derek Dooley in 2010. I think the fanbase is unified in believing six wins and a bowl appearance - any bowl appearance - would be a good year in 2013. And as we said around this time three years ago, you don't want to make a habit out of the Music City or Liberty Bowls, but as an in-state trip it's not so bad every once in a while. Our previous appearance in Nashville is tainted by the end of the game, but it was a great environment and an easy trip for thousands of Vol fans over the holidays. I would imagine the Music City Bowl would be happy to see Tennessee again this year, and I would imagine the feeling would be mutual. We need to see them on the field, but considering talent and competition, there's a chance a 5-7 year could be a decent accomplishment for this team. But no one will celebrate 5-7. You need six wins and the holiday trip. It's the first and biggest on-field goal for Butch Jones.
If Butch is the man for the job, a day will come when January 1 and Tennessee Football are together again. It was always the best way to start the new year, no matter how late you'd stayed up the night before, and I look forward to extending my Christmases again in the future.