TUSCALOOSA, Ala. I'm not going to ask you to close your eyes, but just think for a minute.
Think about what you'd feel like right now if Tennessee had not beaten Alabama Saturday.
The Vols would've been 4-3, losers of three in a row. They would be looking at a winless October.
And a meaningless November.
Once ranked 7th in the country, they would have been firmly entrenched in the "others receiving votes" category.
They would have lost for the second straight year to their arch-rival - one that is getting a good laugh out of an Alabama lawyer's attempt to place UT in the "others receiving NCAA probation" category.
And oh yeah, they would have lost to an arch-rival that has lost six times this year - one that's already firmly entrenched in that NCAA probation category.
Just think about it.
Think about it, because it was inches away from happening.
Coaches and players like to say football is a game of inches. Sportswriters like to say that's an annoying cliche.
Well, chalk one up for the football guys after this one.
Because this one was a game of inches. And it's as simple as that.
Again, just think about it.
Up 3-0 late in the first half against UT and its listless-looking offense, 'Bama had it first-and-goal at the 2-yard line after Tennessee's first goal-line stand was negated by a third-down pass interference call.
The Tide still couldn't get it in from that short of a distance and were forced to try a short field goal that was blocked by the leaping Jason Allen.
What happens if Alabama can gain two little yards in three tries? What happens if Allen leaps an inch or two lower?
Yes, it was still fairly early. But who knows what a more significant lead does to the confidence of the Crimson Tide offense.
Instead, they were rather stagnant for the rest of regulation. And the confident Tennessee defense was rather stifling.
Move ahead to the end of the fourth quarter.
What happens if Alabama can gain two little yards in three tries again.
The Tide had it first-and-2. Two more yards and they could've run out the clock. Two more yards and the Vols would've been history.
UT created history, instead.
After 'Bama tailback Shaud Williams was stopped maybe two inches short of a first down, timeout-less Tennessee drove 86 yards in 97 seconds and forced an overtime session for the ages.
And let's not pretend it wasn't decided by inches, either.
UT needed a touchdown to stay alive in the second OT and James Banks came through by catching a tipped ball for a touchdown again. What happens if he isn't in just the right place at just the right time?
And what happens in the fifth-and-deciding overtime if Casey Clausen dives for the end zone a half-second earlier and doesn't get that extra few inches he needs for a first down at the 1?
What happens a few minutes later if 'Bama can gain one little yard in three tries. Just three feet. Just a few dozen inches.
Incredible. It was like that all night.
Inches were deciding everything. A few more here and there and a few less here and there and the Vols might've been staring down an all-expense-paid trip to Nashville for the holidays.
But you won't be hearing any Music City Bowl talk anymore.
And with the Vols still very much alive for the SEC East title, you probably won't be hearing as much fire-all-the-coaches talk, either.
You probably won't be hearing as much cynicism from your friends and fellow students about the football team as you have over the last few weeks.
Isn't it funny how that works?
They're used to measure small things.
They determine the size of your television. The size of your waist. The size of your copy machine paper.
Every once in awhile, though, they determine something a whole lot bigger.
In one epic game - throughout one gloriously long night - they determined the fate of an entire football season.
Game truly a matter of inches
Published: Mon Oct 27, 2003 | Modified: Sat Aug 06, 2005 05:31 p.m.