Flipped off

There's nothing like getting flipped off to get Tennessee's football players fired up. That may be why they've enjoyed so much success on the road in recent years. Hostile fans seem to bring out the best in the Vols.

Consider:

Tennessee outclassed 10th-ranked Alabama 21-7 in 1999. An 18-point underdog Vol squad stunned No. 2 Florida 34-32 in 2001. Tennessee shocked No. 6 Miami 10-6 in 2003, knocked off No. 3 Georgia 19-14 in 2004 and surprised No. 4 LSU 30-27 in 2005. All of these huge wins occurred on the road, which bodes well for the Big Orange heading into Saturday night's game at No. 10 Georgia.

"You want to win each and every game," senior linebacker Marvin Mitchell noted this week. "We've just been a lot more successful on the road."

Vol fans have been wondering for years why that should be the case. When asked, most Tennessee players merely shrug and mumble a variation of the answer senior tackle Arron Sears gave recently: "I have no idea why that is. I have no idea at all."

Senior guard David Ligon has an answer, however, and it makes a lot of sense. The Vols feed off the venom of the opposing crowd.

"It's the hostile environment," Ligon said. "In the human world, you go somewhere else and you expect to be treated nicely: ‘Oh, welcome to our city, blah, blah, blah. It's nice to have you here.'"

The Vols don't get that kind of welcome when they show up in Gainesville, Athens, Tuscaloosa, Baton Rouge or Auburn. As the team bus inches toward the rival stadium they routinely are showered with verbal abuse, obscene gestures and sometimes rocks. These actions are meant to intimidate. Instead, they motivate.

"When we see that first person wearing a Georgia hat or Florida colors, and you see that middle finger fly up, you know you're not in Knoxville anymore," Ligon deadpanned. "People are yelling and screaming at you, LSU fans are breaking windows on buses and things like that. It gets you ready to go."

Prior to a road game, the visitors' locker room closely approximates a battlefield bunker. This creates a close-knit "bunker" mentality.

"You realize it's every person in that locker room versus the rest of that town," Ligon said. "When your back is against the wall, you're going to fight your way out. You can't be nice to those people."

Once Tennessee's players take the field – invariably greeted by a chorus of boos and catcalls – they feel even closer to one another.

"There's 60 guys versus 90,000," Ligon said, "so you've got to get your mind right, hunker down and fight."


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