The volunteer state deserves a second look, I said it
by Greg Sullivan
Living in Knoxville, you hear it from two angles. To the North it’s the Bluegrass State and to the east it’s Tobacco Road North Carolina, if a state were to claim to be the college basketball capital of the world it would be one of those two, you would think.
Of course, I would know next to nothing about living in Knoxville.
But after watching Vanderbilt shoot the Georgia Bulldogs out of the Music City Saturday afternoon, as was expected, the Volunteer State was just beginning to flex it's muscle, and that night from a Franklin, Tennessee Ruby Tuesday I watched first hand the public-educated remainder of the state get in on the college basketball act as they geared up for a match-up that had been circled on the country's entire basketball loving population's calendars, to my knowledge, for about a week.
Not quite a big deal to some folks, that is until Duke and a team here and there went down, helping the University of Tennessee slither their way up recently to number two in the national polls before they were set to square off at top-ranked Memphis Saturday night.
Here's another observation, people in Memphis and people in Knoxville have precious little in common with one another. Because there is a vast expanse of land between the Smoky Mountains and the Mississippi River, and seeing that Tennessee is a pan handle without a pan (until it annexes Arkansas in a future column), the only thing these two Tennessee cities really have in common is they mail their state taxes to the same building.
I entered the Ruby Tuesday in Franklin with the hopes of seeing citizens of these two disparate municipalities clash humorously. It didn't happen.
Instead, I had unwittingly entered a Tennesseefest. I'm not sure if the Memphis fans were holed up in some other place in Tennessee's answer to Lawrenceville or if they were just quiet or in the bathroom when the game was going bad late.
Or maybe someone who is more familiar with the state to the north could fill me in on how far west Volunteer country extends. I know all too well it spills a little into Northwest Georgia, or at least it did during the Ray Goff-era of Georgia football.
This much was clear, though, after the game Saturday, Memphis and Tennessee, who wound up winning the game, are both good teams. Two of the best in the land, and with Vanderbilt thrown into the mix and some of the good smaller schools, the state could definitely make the claim this year to be the best college basketball state in the nation.
Not to say Kentucky and North Carolina are slipping, it's just that it looks like they have company at the top, at least for the foreseeable future, because this doesn't appear to be a fluke or to have happened overnight.
On a slightly different but related note, I had to endure hearing a Tennessee fan sing "Rocky Top" from across the bar Saturday night after their big win. I could have done without that but I know I brought it upon myself just by showing up. For the record, it was his singing that was bad, not so much the song. Despite the minor setback, I don't have the tales of obnoxious fans I was expecting and half-hoping for to provide my column with some juice. It seems some of the Tennessee people may have been uncharacteristically shy, being hours away from Knoxville. Hey, but maybe they were just being classy? Who's to say?
Here's the thing that I did get that I expected. Few, if anyone, at the Ruby Tuesday looked like someone you would expect to have gone somewhere to watch a basketball team (don't ask how I know this), but when a team is about to grab the number one ranking it's time to start expecting the bandwagoners. Yes, folks Peyton Manning did end up getting tickets for the game. But who could blame him? Besides, he's too busy of a person to get the label bandwagoner.
Last observation, not related to college basketball: You can't get sweet tea at the Alley Cat in East Nashville or the Mojo Grill on Nashville's west side. But on the contrary, if you were at the KFC in Ringgold, Ga. just across the state line from Chattanooga this past Sunday night, you could not have had an unsweetened tea if you wanted one. Of course, they did have sweet tea.
You may have heard this and that on the issue, and you may think its a waste of taxpayer money for public officials to spend tax-funded time discussing novelty bills such as making it a law for Georgia restaurants to serve sweet tea.
I propose a national law that sweet and unsweetened tea be served at every restaurant in America because in this writer's constant struggle to make himself a healthier person while doing as little work as possible having options on tea would be good for me, and the national embracing of sweet tea can preserve the South’s cultural heritage. Or maybe none of us should ever stray from home? Or I could just start ordering waters or drink one glass of sweet tea instead of the usual four back when I still drank the stuff. Hey, I just write the news and they haven't stopped me from writing a column yet, not that it's been easy.