Perhaps that will happen Saturday night. It happened once before ... 11 years earlier to the day, in fact. Oddly enough, that time also involved a Vol middle linebacker and team captain missing an Auburn game.
The Vols were without the services of team leader Al Wilson as they faced the Tigers in Jordan-Haire Stadium on Oct. 3, 1998. His injured ankle kept him from patrolling the playing field but it didn't stop him from pacing the sidelines - encouraging, exhorting and rallying his teammates.
Like the 2009 team, Tennessee was not a potent offensive unit in the early stages of '98. The Vols managed just nine first downs that day, compared to Auburn's 16. They ran just 50 plays, compared to Auburn's 71. They kept the ball for just 26:43, compared to Auburn's 33:17. But, with Wilson providing motivation and inspiration along the sidelines, Tennessee somehow prevailed 17-9.
Nick Reveiz is not a fiery guy like Al Wilson. But maybe - just maybe - Reveiz can will the Vols to victory on Oct. 3, 2009 the way Wilson did on Oct. 3, 1998. He vows to be with his teammates in spirit, if not body.
"The way I'm looking at it is that nothing changes," he said this week. "I won't be able to participate in practice in the physical sense, but I'll be there mentally. I'll be helping people out. I'll be in meetings every single day.... Nothing's going to change."
Wilson was devastated when he had to miss the 1998 Auburn game but he was back in action a week later. Reveiz has no such consolation. He will not play again this season. Thus, watching Tennessee play Auburn this Saturday will be far more difficult for him than it was for Al Wilson 11 years earlier.
Still, Reveiz' attitude is remarkable.
"I think this is a time for me to be strong for my team and be strong for others," he said. "I'm not going to take this event and influence people negatively."
He hopes to be an especially positive influence on Savion Frazier, the Vol most likely to fill his middle linebacker role Saturday night.
"I think I can help Savion a whole lot; this is his first time playing Mike (middle linebacker)," Reveiz said. "I'm so happy for Savion. This is his third year, and he's been working extremely hard. He deserves this chance. I'm fully confident that he'll do an exceptional job and we're not going to miss a beat. He's going to do great."
Frazier had better do great because he's replacing a guy who ranks third on the team in stops (27) and second in tackles for loss (4.5). Still, statistics don't begin to reveal the value of a quality middle linebacker in Tennessee's scheme.
"A lot has to do with mental things," Reveiz said. "You think of the middle linebacker as a big guy that makes big plays but, really, one of the biggest challenges in this defense as a middle linebacker is lining people up, getting the right calls in, making sure everyone knows what they're supposed to do and going from there. Savion is going to have a challenge ahead of him but he's going to do a great job. It's just a big mental challenge."
Reveiz faces a big challenge Saturday, as well. He must set aside his personal tragedy and try to provide an emotional lift for his teammates - much as Al Wilson did 11 years ago.
Asked earlier this week if he has thought about missing Saturday's game, Reveiz sighed, paused, fought back tears and finally answered in a voice cracking with emotion: "I've thought about it a little bit. I'm just trying to take it a day at a time. Actually, I try to NOT think about it."
Although he admitted that he "broke down a couple of times" during Monday's practice, Reveiz shows signs that his dogged determination gradually is returning.
"It's just another mountain to climb," he said. "I've been through a lot, and this is probably the biggest one I've been through - to get this far and then have a setback. I'm just trusting in God, and He's really given me a peace about fighting and coming back stronger."