A LETTER TO ROCKY TOP
Dear Rocky Top,
What are you doing??? I write this as a huge Tennessee football fan, and it pains me that this needs to be done. Growing up in Pittsburgh I was always a Pitt fan but loved Tennessee too. Over the years I went to many Pitt games and became more of a fringe Vol fan. And at times I was a hammerhead fan; I was the idiot running my mouth to the opposing team’s fans. I was the moron going nose to nose with Notre Dame fans, Syracuse fans, Miami fans, WVU fans and, of course, Penn State fans. It wasn’t all bad, I was definitely welcoming to a lot of the opposing fans, but I had my hammerhead moments too. Then something happened. On November 12, 2016, I went to the Pitt-Clemson game in Clemson, SC. That day changed me as a fan. I’ve always loved college football. I love the atmosphere, the traditions, the stadiums, the chants, the different offenses. I can watch college football from noon until midnight. The atmosphere at Clemson was like nothing I’d ever seen before. Everything about what I wanted as a Pitt fan was right there in front of me and it was then I knew I’d never get that as a Pitt fan. But what changed me was how the Clemson fans were. We tailgated a stone’s throw away from Tiger Stadium. Every Clemson fan we encountered said something along the lines of “welcome to Clemson. Hope everyone is treating you right. If they’re not, let us know and we’ll take care of it.” We were stunned! These people were greeting us as if we just walked into their homes, not a tailgate at their stadium. After a few hours of this I finally asked someone why they’re like this and they said years ago Clemson got a reputation as a bad fanbase. Someone took exception to that, whether it was fans, the athletic department, the university, I don’t remember. But they got the fanbase to buy into not acting that way. And seriously, probably 99% of the fanbase bought into it. Of the group I was with we encountered exactly 1 person who said something negative, and I was told he turned around and apologized for doing it. Pitt won the game and there were some questionable calls by the refs against Clemson. The fans booed the refs relentlessly. You know what they didn’t do? They didn’t throw things on the field. They didn’t throw things at the Pitt players and coaches. They acted with class even though they felt they got a raw deal on some calls. After that game, we said to each other there’s no way they’re still going to be nice to us. Our mentality was Pitt just beat the #2 team in the country, in their stadium and may have just knocked them out of the playoffs. They’re not going to be so nice now, right? Nope, wrong, not even close. They were classy! “Congratulations, guys. Great game. Good luck the rest of the season.” WHAT!!!!!!! This was from many Clemson fans as we were walking from the very last row of the stadium out to the parking lot. We actually huddled in the parking lot and said if the situation was reversed, and Clemson came in and knocked Pitt off as a #2 ranked team we would be screaming for them to get the bleep out of our city! It really made me sit back and think about what kind of fan I was, and what kind of fan I want to be. Clemson fans showed me I can be passionate about my team without being hateful toward the other team and their fans. I’ll boo the other team and the questionable calls from the refs, but I’m there to root for my team. Nobody on my team is going to be wondering if I’m up in the stands taking care of business with the other team’s fans. They’re not wondering if I’m out in the parking lot getting all liquored up starting fights with WVU fans. But the experience at Clemson made me realize I want more from my college football team, which made me stop being a Pitt fan and “enter the fan transfer portal” as I’ve put it to some people. I finally decided to go all in with Tennessee. Great atmosphere, great history, and they’re a team I’ve always liked over the years, even before Peyton Manning played there. Fast forward to September 11, 2021, my first time ever rooting against Pitt as I went to Knoxville for the Pitt game. Great atmosphere, great people, great experience even though the Vols lost. I’ve always been proud to be a Tennessee fan. (I said it’s great to be a Tennessee Vol!) But last night I was embarrassed. I don’t care if it was against Lane Kiffin. I don’t care if the refs were blowing calls left and right. I don’t care if Ole Miss players were, probably, faking injuries to slow Tennessee’s momentum. I don’t care if Tennessee lost the game. There is absolutely NO excuse to throw things on the field. NONE! I’ve been to some heartbreaking games as a Pitt, Pirates, Penguins and Steelers fan. I’ve never thrown anything onto the field. It’s low class. And, amazingly, I’ve seen on social media that there are many Tennessee fans JUSTIFYING this behavior! Absurd. Tennessee’s administration has done a lot of work to bring the Vols back to what I know as a winning program. There were tons of recruits in the house last night, and even more watching the game on TV. That’s a terrible look for the university and Vol Nation. But now the administration needs to step in and do something about this. And the fans need to do something about this. I understand there’s a decade and a half of frustration built up. I get in the SEC it “just means more”. Tennessee fans, check yourselves. Boo Lane Kiffin, boo the refs, boo whatever you want. You paid your money and are allowed to boo. But you are NOT allowed to throw things onto the field. There were people in the closer rows who got hit with some of those things being thrown. You’re hitting your own fans with the garbage you’re throwing. You’ve got to do better, Vol fans, got to do better! And yes, I know it wasn’t all of the fans. More than likely it was 5-10% of the fans in the stadium. But as we know, those 5-10% put a negative light on the rest of us Vol fans. That was unacceptable in so many ways. That’s the first time I can remember being embarrassed as a Vol fan, and I hope it’s the last. I remember a Pitt-WVU game where some WVU fans were acting like morons. A friend, who I tailgated with, stood up and my first thought was, “ok, we’re gonna rumble”. He calmly walked over to the WVU fans and said “hey guys, cheer for your team, boo our team. But there’s no need for the other nonsense. I’m going to cheer for Pitt. Don’t be so nasty with what you’re doing.” That hit me because I saw me in what the WVU fans were doing. Vol fans, take this advice to heart, PLEASE! Cheer for your team, boo the other team. Scream your heads off but do it with class. When you act classless then the whole fanbase looks classless. And last night’s nonsense was classless! We’re better than this, Rocky Top, we’re better than this.