Parker: Just hold on, Vol Nation

It'll be hard to poke fun anymore at the Tennessee crowd aiming to beat the traffic by leaving Neyland Stadium with a quarter still to play.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Green-stained athletic tape rests on the locker room floor. The shower drain welcomes in water brushed with streaks of blood, sand and sweat.

“How’d he get behind me?”

“Why’d I go onto the field?”

“How’d I let him beat me to the pylon?”

A million questions rang through the minds of Tennessee’s travel roster Saturday night. They’re not going away anytime soon.

Pull up the NIKE pants, pull down the NIKE Dri-Fit, zip up the NIKE jacket. Towel off left side of your face from the condensed ice pack. Pull down the headphones blaring with Drake soothing, “just hold on, we’re going home.”

Who’s next? Arkansas? Quiz on King Lear on Monday morning. Have to get better coming out of backpedal with coach Willie this week. Studying the social disorders for Tuesday’s lesson.

Coaches put suits back on with emotions climaxing in their heads. Pain for their players. Furious anger over what’s been taught 1,006 times being done wrong when it counts. The wife seeing Vols “fans” demanding her husband gets a pink slip. If Jake McGee had five catches, what’s Hunter Henry going to do?

That close to giving some hope after 10 — now 11 — years of heartache and heartbreak.

Big Orange Country’s greatest strength becomes its own worst enemy after crushing defeats.

What gets 265,914 mostly orange-clad fans at games in Nashville and Knoxville after 47 losses in 7 years also supplies a pipeline of negativity when BOC knows it must deal with 365 days of jorts-wearing finger pointers.

Those that made the trek from their Volunteer State homes develop eye redness of anger with every orange, blue and green decal they see on the drive home. Even a stop to grab a pecan log and Arnold Palmer for the road twists the knife.

“I’m enjoying my day,” the denim-based lady at the gas station boasts. “Lots of sad faces coming through here. The SUV of girls we seen yesterday wasn’t so happy today after that game.”

A local friend leaning up against a foldout table weighed down by pecan sandies asks which game.

“The Gators game!” she grinned. “They whooped ‘em by 1 point! Debit or credit?”

Team 119 is its own roster, its own staff. Nevertheless it’s forced to deal with the mistakes of previous years.

Cameron Sutton had nothing to do with Jon Hefney’s fumbled punt a decade ago.

Joshua Dobbs didn’t force Justin Worley to lead Alton Howard too much in a game-sealing interception.

Emmanuel Moseley wasn’t hopping on the back of Prentiss Waggner to make him too slow to catch Trey Burton on an 80-yard house call.

These are all the burdens of coach Butch Jones and the 105-man.

Four numbers will long stick in the heads of those involved: 28-27 and 10-9. Six quarters of those contests were owned by the Orange & White. The column that matters most doesn’t show up in the media guide.

Prior to the last two meetings, Tennessee hadn’t played the Gators to inside of 10 points since 2006. The average margin of defeat of those nine losses: 15.3 points.

Give people hope, then snatch it away and the horns come out. The questions arise: “When will brick-by-brick turn into win-after win?” Or, “Is Butch the man for the job?”

Butch Jones is the fourth coach in the 11-game streak to lose to Florida. Are Vols fans really in a hurry to search for No. 5?

“It’s hard to do these things alone. Just hold on. We’re going home.”

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