MIAMI - OK, so I'll eat some crow now.
I might even have it served with some orange sherbet and a can of Slice.
Tennessee won Saturday where I didn't think they could. They once again came into the state of Florida as underdogs and they once again came away with a victory.
Sure they benefited from all those Miami turnovers and penalties, but they came away with a victory because they had heart and because they had Phillip Fulmer.
And you know what? I will not eat crow regarding those two subject matters.
In the weeks following that Georgia debacle, the paranoid Vol nation reached its peak of paranoia. All around campus, people would ask me if this team had any heart ... if they cared at all.
People would ask me if Fulmer was on his way out ... and if Spurrier was on his way in.
How ridiculous. How absurd.
I laughed it off then and I'll laugh it off even more now.
Look it up if you must. I never once said Fulmer's job should be in jeopardy and I never once said this team had no heart, no leadership, no pride.
Start with the head coach.
Can someone please tell me what exactly Mike Hamilton would have said at this "fire Phil Fulmer" press conference?
"Ladies and gentleman, we appreciate all that coach Fulmer has done for this football program. But here at Tennessee we strive to be No. 1 at everything - at least in the field of athletics. And Phillip's career winning percentage, which has plummeted to No. 2 in the country in recent years, is simply unacceptable."
Oh yeah, seems reasonable to me.
Let's go ahead and call for John Chavis' head while we're at it.
Now I don't want to come off as some puppet for the athletic department. If you've read any of my columns this year, you know better than that. From week to week, I simply call 'em like I see 'em.
And what I saw this weekend was a UT coaching staff that easily outcoached its counterparts from almighty Miami. What I saw was a team with seven names on ESPN's recent list of the country's top 100 college players lose to a team that had just one on that list.
I saw a gutsy head coach ridiculed for being too conservative who shocked everyone by going for it on fourth-and-goal right before halftime. And then I saw embattled Randy Sanders, UT fans' public enemy No. 1, draw up a masterful play that had Jabari Davis fake a leap into the end zone, only to have Derrick Tinsley score on an end-around run to the right side.
"We had gotten down there," Fulmer said, "and I felt like it was really important to make a statement to our football team that we were down here to win."
And win they did.
Don't look now, but that's four straight victories in the once-dreaded state of Florida.
Two underdog wins at the Swamp, an underdog win that broke up the nation's longest home win streak and a dominating bowl win over Michigan.
Now should Tennessee's offensive brains be that creative more often? Absolutely.
Is there still a lot left to be desired with this unit? No doubt.
Even against a very fine defense, 170 yards and 10 points usually isn't going to cut it. The Vols still can't produce many yards up the middle and the receivers still drop way too many passes.
But did you really curse this offense after the game and talk about how horrible they were? They put together a few lengthy drives, dominated the time of possession battle, committed no turnovers and were fairly disciplined.
And I don't even need to mention the defense. The Hurricanes failed to score a touchdown at home for the first time in nearly 20 years.
Oh, and please no more questions about this team's character.
The team's lack of leadership last year was well-documented. And rightly so.
After the embarrassing loss to Alabama, one injured player told me off-the-record that he talked to several players after the game and was stunned by all the apathy.
There's been no such talk this year.
This group has a solid group of captains who don't deal well with apathy.
OK, so the team didn't seem all that concerned after their uninspiring effort against Duke.
They talked about the Devils like they were Oklahoma dressed up in blue - and I called them out for it.
But maybe we shouldn't have been so critical. The Dukies lost to NC State by seven the week before coming to Knoxville and they plastered a hot Georgia Tech team, 41-17, a week after.
So just take a minute and think things over.
This team has fought through a rather dismal stretch and might just be going to the SEC Championship Game next month. And judging from the effort displayed Saturday, it's not exactly the time to question's this team's heart.
So calm down, people. Take a deep breath and put it all in perspective.
Fulmer's job isn't in jeopardy.
And neither is the life of this program.
Put speculation to rest
Published: Mon Nov 10, 2003 | Modified: Sat Aug 06, 2005 05:35 p.m.