If you have two alma mater’s you sometimes have to make choices. If you donate, do you donate to both? Only to one? More to one than the other? The same is true for athletics. If the two teams do not directly compete, it may be easy to root for both. But does one take the edge from the other as being the one you really support? And just who do you support if they go head-to-head?
For many, these questions may not be relevant at all. I don’t know the numbers off the top of my head, but the vast majority of alumni do not make financial donations to their schools, at least in any given year. For those alumni who donate, however, the question must be addressed. A friend of mine who is a president of a major research university had an interesting take on donations. Although his institution receives more funds from undergraduate alumni donors than graduate alumni givers, he believes that it makes more sense for those who have completed graduate or professional school to donate to their graduate institution. The rationale? In large research universities, you are more likely to have one-on-one interaction with faculty (and hence a more meaningful experience) at your graduate institution than your undergraduate institution (at least if you attended a research institution as an undergraduate). I understand the rationale, at least in the abstract, but it is a complicated issue.
As for sports, another friend of mine who has since retired from academe once remarked that only your undergraduate alma mater mattered for intercollegiate athletics. His rationale was that by the time you got to graduate school, you should have matured out of the need to drape yourself in school colors and would also be so immersed in your undergraduate sports traditions by that point that your graduate institution should not really matter.
These things came to mind as my wife and I were talking about our winter holiday travel. We always take a trip during the holidays, typically to someplace warm and sunny. We had thought that perhaps this year we would go somewhere with colder weather. She is a native New Yorker and has been wanting to go to NYC for some time, but we haven’t had the opportunity. We have basically decided that if time (and the pandemic) allows, we will visit New York City prior to Christmas. Initially the idea was to see the sights, do some shopping, and take in a show. But then I realized something. Texas Tech will face Tennessee in the Jimmy V Classic on December 7th. It seems I will have the chance to test my loyalty to one or the other institution that night. It will not be the first time for me or either basketball team. Tech travelled to Knoxville on December 3, 1953, and beat the Volunteers at home 88-71. Obviously, I was not at that game! But I have been in attendance at two of the more recent matchups in other sports.
On December 18, 1996, I was a doctoral student at Texas Tech when the Tennessee Women’s basketball team came to town. The Lady Vols beat the Lady Raiders that night in a game that was not quite as close as the final score of 79-71 might suggest. It was in the old Lubbock Municipal Coliseum and the place was packed. I had been on campus for four months having arrived at Tech with two degrees from UT. I wore a Lady Vols t-shirt (to the frustration of my date who was not pleased with my choice of attire!) and was loudly in favor of the ladies in orange. It was a good game, and the Lady Vols would go on to win their second national title in a row that season. They beat the Lady Raiders the season before and would do so again in 2005 and 2009. They have not played each other since.
The two have played each other in baseball twice and have split the games. Texas Tech won the first game in March 2008, 7-3 (a game played in Houston). Tennessee had the win in February 2020, 6-2 (a game played in Round Rock, TX). I was not able to make either of these games. The two have also met on the gridiron twice, once in 1973 (a Gator Bowl appearance) and again in 1997. Tech took the first game 28-19 and Tennessee the second by a large margin (52-17). I was at the August 30, 1997, game and again rooted for the Vols. The photos I took at that time are the subject of today’s entry.
It was a fairly typical August Saturday in Knoxville: sunny, hot, and humid. I had flow into town the day before and the campus was already buzzing with the thought of new football season. The team walks from the Circle Park area of campus to Neyland Stadium prior to the game and it is generally a big show. The band plays, the spirit teams come through, and then the team. People line the streets. Its an amazing sight. The photos below start with the walk. Smokey, a Bluetick Coonhound, is one of the mascots for UT. The parade is lead by someone wearing a large (and undoubtedly hot) Smokey suit. I can’t imagine how hot, sweaty, and stinky it gets in that suit in the early season when it is hot out. Or to quote Red from The Shawshank Redemption, maybe I just don’t want to! Two photos of Smokey leading the parade come first. He is followed by the cheer squad in the third photo and the band in the fourth and fifth. The next two photos are of the crowd starting to disperse and enter the stadium. The stadium was sold out that day with the official attendance being 106,285. To put that in perspective, the population of the city of Lubbock at that time was around 191,000.
Most schools have a pre-game show and they tend to be pretty good. At the time, Tennessee’s was great, and it included the traditions of the band forming a “UT”, a “Power T”, and a “T” at the end through which the team would run onto the field. The photos below are of that show, starting with the general performance of the cheer squad, band, and flag team (the first four photos), to the UT (the fifth and sixth photos), the Power T (the seventh and eighth pics), and finally the T through which the team runs.
The first picture below is the only one I took during the actual game. Peyton Manning is under center for the first play from scrimmage for the game. The second is my brother John and his date at the game.
Next, we have two photos of the band during half time. They make the UT again, this time oriented differently. I can’t remember for certain, but I believe the theme of the half-time show was an homage to Tennessee music, hence the band forming a piano in the second photo.
Last is the post-game handshake.
Tennessee was ranked #5 in the nation going into the game and was the hands down favorite. They did not disappoint, winning the game easily. I was there with my brother and his date, and the same date I went to the Lady Raiders/Lady Vols game the prior December. I was again wearing a Vols t-shirt and in complete support of the Tennessee squad. She was not wearing orange that day and the fact that I was for the second time should have been an indication to us both that our hearts rested elsewhere…
So, who will I be supporting in December? As fate would have it, I have virtually stopped watching all collegiate sports, aside from the occasional game on television and when I take my family to a University of Memphis game here. Tennessee was a juggernaut in sports then, and its easy to support a winning program. But, over time, I have had the chance to put the institutions into perspective in terms of fit and how they impacted me. I am proud of UT and think highly of it. But today I only have two Tennessee baseball caps and that’s it (I actually have more things from the UTHSC here in Memphis than from my alma mater). On the other hand, my closet is full of Texas Tech items (including some two-toned sneakers complete with the Double T!). My loyalty to Tennessee is still there, but my heart is more for Tech. Should we be able to go, I will be wearing the Red and Black. So will my wife and two sons.
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