Tennessee

Vols channel history, excitement on Senior Day

The best days of seniority are the ones when you know you have work to do. Tennessee Football hasn’t had a senior day like this since 2007, when the Vols came back 24-9 to beat the Vanderbilt Commodores 25-24 and win the SEC East.

Since then, the only Senior Days that mattered have been bowl game winning days, and let’s face it. That’s hardly a requirement for unfinished business. UT played such games in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2014. The goal is always to play for something bigger.

On Saturday, Tennessee football played for something bigger. They still have a shot at making the college football playoffs, and to their credit, that’s exactly how they played. In fact, that’s a big departure from what previous Senior Days have been for her.

During the Peyton Manning years, the Vols sometimes struggled on Senior Day as the Vanderbilt Commodores always gave them trouble. In 1997 they were No. 3 and in the national championship race and had to beat a terrible Vandy team to win the East. They only won 17-10.

Seven years later, they nearly lost to the Kentucky Wildcats after winning the East in a vile performance. As we mentioned, they nearly cost themselves the East when they had to come back to beat Vandy in 2007.

There’s no SEC East in play at the moment, but style points are in play and Josh Heupel made sure to deliver those. The Vols enjoyed Hendon Hooker’s final game at Neyland Stadium by scoring 66 points, the most in the Heupel era, and gaining over 700 yards of offense.

Hooker then drew from history and pulled a 1997 Manning, climbing the ladder and leading the Pride of the Southland Band. When Manning did, the sense of unfinished business was clear as they had to pack to Atlanta to face the Auburn Tigers in next week’s SEC championship game.

However, this is intentional. They want Seniors’ Day to be a celebration of what seniors have done for the program, with an understanding that there is more to come. Unlike 1997, however, this time this celebration was met with a show.

Hooker didn’t owe Vol fans anything when they went into the game. Everyone was grateful for what they had already done for the program, taking them from a dormant SEC to a championship contender. However, he wasn’t resting on his laurels.

Unlike previous years, this edition of Senior Day was a little bittersweet because the Vols lost to the Georgia Bulldogs the week before. UGA won the SEC East later that night, so this is a seniors’ day with no SEC championship in play.

At the same time, football still has a lot to offer in Tennessee and they didn’t let themselves get distracted by what’s to come or the emotions. They put on one of the best Senior Day performances in years and it was an afternoon to remember.

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