For publication/September 15, 2021/print edition/Jackson Times-Voice

…a commentary on the status of modern day football

What I, as a Tennessee fan, think of Alabama’s Henry To'o To’o 

It was the early seventies and only “certain” college football games ever made it to air. For the most part, college football was a game heard over radio airwaves unless you were among the fortunate few with season tickets who happened to live within easy traveling distance of your favorite college team.

The Third Saturday in October had special significance in the state of Tennessee. It was once significant in Alabama, though it may not be these days as it hasn’t been competitive recently.

The Third Saturday in October is the date of the annual game between Alabama and Tennessee in college football. For years, the two teams were among the elite in the Southeastern Conference. One of the two still is. 

No other team had beaten Alabama, the conference bully in football, as many times as had Tennessee when I was a lad. The two teams regularly finished toward the top of conference play and had since the conference began in 1933.

For close to 70 seasons, the Volunteers were a force with which to reckon in SEC football. Tennessee’s competitiveness has waned since it fired Phillip Fulmer in 2002. It is a mere shadow of the program it once was.

The annual games between the two teams, even when I was a young child, were televised close to annually. Only the biggest games made it to air. 

I was anxiously awaiting the spectacle with my dad in our living room in 1974. The announcers were giving viewers the lineups. 

In the old days, when being announced, the camera would focus on the player. The announcer would tell us the player’s name, position, class, and then hometown. Afterward, the camera would pan down the line to the next player to elicit this same information.

The camera had come to rest on the quarterback for Tennessee. The announcer said, “Pat Ryan, Quarterback, Sophomore, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.” 

I don’t recollect why Condredge “The Artful Dodger” Holloway wasn’t starting that day. Perhaps he was injured. My definitive recollection (which could be wrong) was that Ryan started the game in ‘74. 

Pat Ryan was no dog. Ryan played 14-seasons in the NFL. Ryan is currently a color analyst on the Vol Radio Network and a home builder in Knoxville.

Anyway, my dad looked me in the eye and said, “Fletcher, you have to have a lot of pride to wear the Orange, son.” I had recently turned six (6) years old. That memory has stuck with me through the years. I remember it like it happened yesterday.

Were my father and I to gather to watch this year’s game, and were he to say something similar to either my children, granddaughter, or me, I would quietly dissent. It doesn’t require pride to wear the colors of any team in FBS, power-five football anymore. You might be in a different jersey the next week, month, or year.

If you don’t like the colors of the university to which you “commit,” you can just enter the portal and play for the opponent. You don’t have to sit out a season or two. You are immediately eligible.

Alabama’s great coach, Paul Bryant, a.k.a. “The Bear,” once said “In order to have a winner, the team must have a feeling of unity; every player must put the team first-ahead of personal glory.” This must sound like a bunch of malarkey to today’s kids.

I can remember when a player’s pledging to play for a team was called a “commitment,” because that is what it was. We are going to have to search for something else to call it. There is no such thing as “commitment” anymore.

Henry To'o To’o signed with Tennessee out of high school. To'o To’o played in 2020’s version of the Alabama/Tennessee series, the Third Saturday in October, for the Volunteers. He will be playing in the 2021 version of the game too. He is a starting linebacker for Alabama’s Crimson Tide.

How did he get to Tuscaloosa? How did he find his way to the top of the Crimson Tide depth-chart before many of us even learned to either spell or pronounce, “To'o To’o?” 

By the way, not that it matters to the orange-contingent any longer, but it is pronounced “Toe-uh, Toe-uh.” Good luck pronouncing or spelling it you bunch of in-bred, Alabama, red-neck scumbags. 

I’m sorry, that wasn’t very nice. Pardon me.

Was To'o To’o putting his teammates first when he moved allegiances? Was he helping us have a winner, or adding to our feelings of unity, when he put himself and his own personal glory over that of the team to which he had once made a “commitment?”

It is hitting football at the high school ranks too. How many of you know the story of the quarterback from the western end of Kentucky? 

We aren’t going to name the young man. We don’t hold up high school children to public censure or scrutiny at this newspaper. Besides, I am not sure it is a reflection on the kid as much as a statement about where we are as a society.

Anyway, as the story goes, the kid played his Friday night game, led his team to victory, then announced in the post-game locker room he had played his last game in that uniform. This kid told his now “former” teammates he had reclassified, and was directed by the university to report immediately to its varsity roster. 

He informed the room he had hired a sports agent. He told them he had signed a six-figure NIL (Name, Image, and Likeness) endorsement deal.

The rumors circulating are that his deal was worth in the quarter to half million range. We realize we have given the intrepid high school fan enough information to zero-in on the subject of the story. 

Hey, it is Kentucky, how may former 22’s are committed to FBS, power-fives in the first place? Still, you will have to dig to get his name. We won’t provide it.

In reality, we aren’t trashing the kid. It would be hard for us to imagine a family well enough off financially to turn down a quarter-million dollars. Pay me a quarter million dollars and I will rewrite this entire editorial.

Never said I wasn’t for sale. Just never said I would sellout cheaply.

Back to the point, while we aren’t chastising the kid, we do chastise a society which has fostered an environment predestined to put kids at these cross-roads. A kid should get to play high school football without having to be burdened with either accepting or declining enough money to re-constitute his family’s life-prospects.

The person who said there is no “I” in “team” hasn’t learned how new-age spelling works. If you ask To'o To’o, or the high school kid from the above anecdote, there is one-Heck of an “I” in “team,” or at least a “me” if you aren’t averse to borrowing a couple letters out of sequence.

When I went to UT in the late 80’s, early 90’s, the common lament was we needed to recruit more in-state, high school prospects. The thinking was an in-state kid already understood what it meant to play for the Volunteers, knew what it meant to put on that Orange uniform. 

An in-state kid won’t quit in the fourth quarter of The Third Saturday in October when the breaks started going against him. Does it even matter anymore? Are there any kids, regardless of location or affiliation with any university, who even care? 

How am I supposed to cheer for this crap? Why should I even watch? I don’t know; maybe Henry To'o To’o can share that bit of information with me? 

This is Fletcher Long and you can take this for whatever you find it worth but THAT’S THE LONG VERSION!




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