Fulmer is fired up for the Alabama Game, as am I:http://tinyurl.com/y45rqy
3:30 PM 10/21/06, Neyland Stadium! I'll be there, and afterwards I'll be having a huge steak and a few glasses of wine in celebration of our having moved another step towards an SEC championship. I have to believe Florida will lose another SEC game, while we will not.
Young players get history lesson from Fulmer
By DREW EDWARDS, firstname.lastname@example.org
October 17, 2006
All Josh McNeil wanted Sunday night was bite to eat.
What he got was yet another impromptu history lesson on the Tennessee-Alabama rivalry.
A fellow diner stopped Tennessee's redshirt freshman center and let him know just how important Saturday's home game (3:30 p.m., TV: WVLT) against the Crimson Tide is.
"There was some guy who was like, 'This is it. If you don't beat Alabama, your season's down the drain,' " McNeil said. "I was like, I hope it's not that bad."
If the No. 7 Vols (5-1, 1-1 SEC) should lose to Alabama (5-2, 2-2) it wouldn't be the end of the world.
It would only feel like it.
While other games against division rivals like Georgia and Florida loom a little bit larger on UT's schedule for fans, you'd be hard pressed to find one that means more to Tennessee's coaching staff.
UT coach Phillip Fulmer grew up a few short miles from the Alabama border in Winchester.
As a player, he went 3-1 against the Tide, including a 41-14 upset victory over then-No. 2 Alabama in 1969.
And then there are the 15 seasons as a head coach and 13 seasons as an assistant coach he's spent around the rivalry.
"Tennessee-Alabama is a special football game," Fulmer said. "This day and age with the BCS, every game's important, but I think it's important for our players to realize the guys on both sides that have worn the orange white of Tennessee forever look at this third Saturday in October as being special."
Offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe's history with the rivalry is a little more unique.
The Birmingham, Ala., native graduated from Alabama before he married into a Tennessee family.
"I got their perspective on what they thought of the Tennessee-Alabama game. That was the huge game for all the Tennessee people," Cutcliffe said. "It's got great class. There's a lot of things that created the intensity of the Tennessee-Alabama rivalry."
Sometimes the challenge is letting the players know just how much history is involved.
Haywood Harris, a former sports information director who is the athletic department's historian, gives a presentation about UT history for players before the season.
Alabama, which Tennessee first played in 1901 and every year since 1928 except for 1943, is certainly part of it, but that's not where the Tide lesson stops.
Beginning during last week's open date, Fulmer has been giving his players a refresher course.
"Coach Fulmer's addressed that all week last week and this week, making sure they understand it," Cutcliffe said. "He's done a great job with it. He's been around it a long, long time and played in it. The older players do maybe as good a job as we would do, telling the young players what this game's like."
The lessons have stuck, sophomore defensive tackle Walter Fisher said.
"It's more history in this game than I ever even knew of," he said. "It dates back to when the schools pretty much first started, I guess."
He's even seen a different side of Fulmer this week, too.
"A way different side," he said. "Monday we went full pads. We haven't did that since I've been here. It's been intense."
Senior offensive tackle Arron Sears, one of four Alabama natives on UT's roster, knows that.
"Alabama and Florida are the two biggies," "But Alabama has some hate blood around."
In high school, McNeil always caught the game on television from his home in Collins, Miss.
This weekend, he'll take his first snaps on the third Saturday in October.
And if his experience is anything like senior guard David Ligon's, his eyes will open wider on Saturday.
"Especially when you're a freshman, that first time you're on the field down on the sideline. Everything comes out," he said. "You realize how big this rivalry is."
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