As I talked to a friend of mine on the phone late Saturday night into early Sunday morning and we both tried to laugh to keep from crying, I remarked how perfectly Tennessee's 63-38 loss to South Carolina fit into what has truly been a banner year for pain in Knoxville. The Vols have somehow found a way to go from the penthouse to the poorhouse in basketball, baseball and football in 2022, all in spectacular fashion.
First came the basketball team that won 15 of its last 17 games entering the NCAA Tournament, including winning the SEC Tournament for the first time since 1979. Kennedy Chandler, Josiah-Jordan James and Santiago Vescovi seemed like they might finally be the group to get Tennessee to its first Final Four. And then of course the Vols drew 11-seed Michigan in the second round of the NCAA Tournament and shot 2-18 from three in a 76-68 loss that ended what once looked like it could be a dream season.
But right as basketball season ended, the Tennessee baseball team embarked on the ass-kicking tour of a lifetime, shattering just about every college baseball record on the books. The Vols beat the hell out of every team they played and shit-talked them while they did it. It was some of the most fun I've ever had watching sports.
UT went 57-9 and won the SEC regular season title before steamrolling through the SEC Tournament and Knoxville Regional, once again seeming like a team of destiny. Then a slightly-above-average Notre Dame team came to town and took two of three in the Knoxville Super Regional to send the prohibitive title favorites packing and allow the haters to rejoice once again.
But then, it was finally football season.
Tennessee went on the road and found a way to beat Pittsburgh in overtime. It took down Florida for just the second time since 2004. It went to Baton Rouge and absolutely demolished LSU. And then the Vols did what nobody would have dreamed of before the season and finally got over the hump against Alabama.
Even with a loss at Georgia, all Tennessee needed to do was finish off Missouri, South Carolina and Vanderbilt and it would have been in the College Football Playoff.
And we see how that turned out.
So yeah, this one feels about right. Just add it to the list.
I used to believe the pain was always building towards something that would make it all worth it. Maybe one day there would be a different ending for the Vols. And if the last eight months haven't proven that isn't true, I don't know what could.
I promise I will never believe it's going to be different again. No matter how good it seems, something terrible is going to happen at the time when it can inflict maximum pain and suffering. Maybe University of Tennessee athletics become manageable to follow once you truly accept and internalize that.