Football: Rocky (Top) Road Trip Running Diary

Before I delve into the trip, a little history. The Knoxville drive consisted of four of us UF students. I, Eric E., spear headed the trip by making reservations in the summer and volunteering my 1998 2-door Pontiac Grand-Am GT for the drive. My roommate Ruben, otherwise known as ‘The Rub', is comparable to ‘The Mike' from those ESPN commercials that is an over-the-top Boston sports fan.

Ruben is a cursed kind of guy in the fact that all of his favorite Gators and Miami Dolphins always turn out to be some sort of bust. Howard Lingard, Brian Crum and Antoine Sharp are just a few of his casualties. Needless to say, he's been trying to cut back on talking about his new obsessions, Andre Caldwell and Earl Everett. The other two in our trip, Louis and Danny, were long-time Gator fans from our old high school coming along for the ride.

We all had no idea what to expect heading up to Knoxville, but The Rub and I were 1-1 (1-0 SEC) when traveling with the team. Compiling an actual checklist that consisted of 1. Booze, 2. Tickets and 3. Sandwiches (in that order) we started our Game day Weekend a little early…

Friday Morning

6:30 a.m.- The Rub hasn't woken up this early since high school, but we called the UAA on Thursday and found out there were about 20 unclaimed student tickets for UT. With the ticket offices opening at 8:30 we decided to play it safe and get there a little early.

7:15- We get to the gate to see plenty of people in front of us including a guy who claimed he didn't sleep last night, a pick-up truck filled with a bunch of salty dog senior guys that were balding and the icing on the cake-- a group of about 6-8 sorority girls right in front of us.

7:20- There are around 30 people in front of us as I sit there disgusted reading the morning Alligator. Actual exchange heard from the girls: Girl A- "I wore a skirt to the last game and I was so drunk." Girl B- "Oh my god that's horrible." If these girls get tickets and we don't there might be an early morning mugging on campus.

The Rub with heretofore unidentified babes

7:23- Can't escape the girl talk as a tick is starting to develop. Not a sexist, but I have a firm belief on women and sports. They don't mix. Kind of like Flava- Flav and everyone else on the new Surreal Life on VH-1. Ruben and I decided that in order for girls to get any sort of ticket they should be subject to a simple run of the mill 20 question quiz. A Jim Harrick Jr. type quiz for any female student that wants to attend the game including questions like:

1. Name three guys from First Coast High School on the team.

2. Aside from UT, when was the last time the Gators went white on white?

3. Who is the coolest guy from this group- Fred Gibson, Sylvester Croom, Jared Lorenzen or Chad Jackson?

Answer 14 out of 20 ladies and the tickets are yours.

8:00- Apparently, saving a spot in line for friends who couldn't wake up is acceptable. If I had a guitar I'd definitely go "Honky Tonk Man" WWF style on everyone in front of me in line.

8:33- With two lines going the crowd is quickly thinning and we are next in line. The sorority girls looked back from one of the ticket stations and says they are all out. We were prepared to get the old Screech Powers ticket office gate slammed in the face, but we got two of the last 10 tickets left with about 50 people behind us in line.

On the Road- 2 p.m.

The drive to TN wasn't as bad as one would think. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the ‘We Bare All' signs were alive and well in Southern GA and they had their own Café Risqué. Free trucker shower anyone? We made it through Valdosta and Macon in good time reaching Atlanta in four hours at which point Ruben took over the driver's seat. His first time in downtown Atlanta, he had a hard time maneuvering the streets between the 30 lane highway and nauseating 790 am UGA talk. For the 10 minutes I heard you would think Georgia has been defeating opponents this year 72-0. Also described to the car how The Varsity restaurant has arguably the best chili-cheese dogs in the south.

Turns out that despite not having strong numbers in FL, the Arby's restaurant is thriving in the south. Every rest stop and exit in Georgia and Tennessee sported both an Arby's and a Hardee's to which I don't know the difference. When I've been on the road for an extended period of time, I can't help but think about getting five beef and cheddar sandwiches for five bucks. Not. I think we stopped counting at about 28 from Atlanta to Knoxville.

We finally checked in to our Comfort Inn around nine and had some AppleBee's for dinner where the host butchered The Rub's Hispanic last name from Moreno to Marino. The group decided we wanted to see how Knoxville looked before showing up there the next day and man was I surprised.

I expected a Gainesville or Athens type place, but ran into a shoddy downtown that revolved around the campus. Driving up and down Cumberland Ave. I never really figured out where the campus ended or started nor did I even when we left for good.

The "Four Horsemen"

Game Day

10:30 a.m- Woke up promptly at 10:30 to catch the start ESPN College Game Day live from East Lansing, Michigan. I guess the boys on the Game Day crew were looking for the dullest match up out there.

10:50- After a quick shower, pour myself my first, but not last Jim Beam and coke for the day prompting a bunch of John Daly jokes. We decide that Louie will be the designated driver to campus and we would head out at 12 to start tailgating.

11:15- Herbstreit goes with the Gators and Corso goes with the Volunteers. Can't argue with that.

12:23- Couple Jim Beam's later we are looking for parking and an old couple in Gator gear recommend a church parking lot to us. We get there to see plenty of blue shirts and flags and were quite satisfied with having a nice area to tailgate even though the church charged us 20 bucks.

Directly next to us were two cool Gator fans that drove down from D.C. for the game. We spent a couple hours just talking to them about their Gator experiences. The weather was beautiful, the beer cold, the Jim Beam flowing and best of all-- we had Chris Leak.

12:45- I look down the hill to see ‘The Rub' and Louie chatting it up with a huge group. One of them turned around and it turned out to be Skyler Thornton's family in town from LaGrange, GA.

I had a little bit of liquid courage in me so I went down the hill and got a chance to talk to his dad. Great humble guy who was very knowledgeable on the Gators. Told me he understood this was Fason's year to shine, but next year Skyler would be stepping up big time.

I really like Skyler's ability out of the backfield. Much like C-4 this year, Skyler is quick back that can really make an impact down the line. His dad was nice enough to offer us food and drinks from his tailgate, which was quite impressive, and I got introduced to his mom as well.

The 2-Bit's chant's were going and everyone was having a grand ole time. ‘The Rub' was lucky enough to take some pictures with some lovely Gator ladies as well.

2:13- The party kept on going when turn1200 from the website joined our parking lot. Him and his brother were also very cool guys who we talked to for along time about Gator football.

3:30- John, his crew and the four of us decide to head down to a bar called Calhoun's. Apparently it was down by the river and we took a back way through hills I think. When we finally made it down it was a nice site. Cool wooden bar down by the river where I got a chance to meet MajorGator.

After a couple rounds, we decided to head back to our site which on the way back, I fell down a hill and sprained my finger. I felt like the old lady from the "I'm falling and I can't get up commercials." or even Bobby Bowden on a normal day.

The finger, which is currently in a splint, was the last of my worries and Dr. Beam helped to numb the pain.

With only a couple hours left till game time, we watched Auburn handle LSU and prepared for the game.

Pre-game festivities at Neyland

Game Time

8:00 p.m. - Great atmosphere in Neyland. Don't even think we were sitting in our seats, but regardless, the place was bumping. Not sure if it made a difference, but the Gator section was definitely making some noise.

8:18- The Gators are on the board and it's early. Been in these shoes before when we went down to the Overtown Bowl against the Canes. UT quickly ties the score and before you know it Bubba catches a pass that takes us down to the one following the Hot Tamale interception in the 2nd quarter. ‘The Rub' is going Howard Dean on everyone in the stands.

9:37- At 7:25 of the 3rd, we drive 12 plays for 73 yards and come out scoreless. Between my hand and knowing that was crucial, I feel like the Warden from Shawshank Redemption when he realizes everything is coming down on him. All I needed was Morgan Freeman narrarating, "I'd like to think that the last thing that went through the Warden's head, other then that bullet, was the thought of how Andy Duphrane ever got the best of him."

9:39- Where's Robert Meachum? I thought he played, but I guess he must be behind the 8-ball with C.J.

9:40- My finger is officially the colors of LSU-- purple, yellow, and I think white.

9:55- Chad "I'm sorry Miss" Jackson scores on an 81-yard deep play. Joy is not the word as I didn't even see him cross into the end zone. I just sat down and put my head in my hands like when Chris Leak scored that rushing TD against South Carolina last year.

10:03- Trying not to think about how with 7:42 left in the fourth and down seven, we allow them to convert four 3rd down conversions and a fourth down conversion en route to an 11 play 80 yard drive.

At the end of the day, we're convinced that Wilhoit missing the extra point did more harm then good. Would you rather want Leak with the ball with three minutes tied, or our defense?

Wilhoit drills the kick and puts away the Gators. Great game overall and even better game for Chris Leak. Speaks volumes of what he will bring to the table as time goes on.

Till then, I hope you enjoyed the memories of my Rocky (Top) Road Trip, look for more of the same when I travel to Jacksonville for the Georgia game and Tallahassee for the Florida State game.

The real store before the refs bungled it all up...

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