Garrett Sanders, Correspondent
Knoxville has always had a special place in my heart. I have always considered it to be my home away from home. The memories that I have cherished representing the colors of orange and white in the Volunteer state will remain a part of who I am today. However, on Saturday, December 21, 2019, I managed to do the unthinkable.
To understand where all of this is coming from, we need to take a trip back to October of 2004 when I was eight years old and in the second grade. It was a Friday morning and I was riding on a bus on the way to Valley Elementary School in my hometown of Pelham, Ala. It was a typical bus ride. However, what happened right before I got off the bus had a very significant role in what took place up to as of right now.
My bus driver, Sony Chapman, had stopped me right before I was getting off the bus. Genuinely curious, he asked what I was doing that weekend. At that time, my grandparents were living in Knoxville, and it just happened to be so that I was going up there for the weekend for a visit.
“I’m going to Knoxville this weekend!” I said excitedly. Mr. Chapman had a big grin on his face and said, “Really? I am too!” I then proceeded to ask why. He explained that he was going to the Alabama vs. Tennessee game. Before I could get anything out, the homeroom bell rang and it was time for class. I dashed out of the bus and got to class in the nick of time.
As the day went on, I eagerly anticipated the final bell to ring to be dismissed from class and make the four-hour trip up to Tennessee. Finally, the school day ended and I loaded up my luggage and rode up I-59 North.
It was rather late at night when my sister and I finally arrived, but of course, it was all excitement from there. My grandmother eagerly came out and bear-hugged me and was very jubilant to see me and my sister. We ended up chatting and visiting for a couple of hours catching up on what was going on with family. By then, it was late and I headed off to bed.
The next morning, I woke up to a delightful smell of cinnamon rolls being made. I got up, got dressed, and headed downstairs to eat a huge buffet breakfast that my grandfather prepared.
As I was eating, the television happened to be on. During the telecast, three simple words were uttered out. Alabama. Tennessee. Game. It then hit me, Mr. Chapman was going to be at the game. Being eight years old and not knowing any better, I asked my grandfather if we could go to the game. To my very surprise up to this day, my grandfather grabbed his Tennessee cap, jacket, and car keys, and said, “Let’s go!”
Before we went to the stadium, my grandfather said that we needed to get our picture taken in front of the stadium main entrance. Thinking nothing of it, I agreed. As for the game, something about the atmosphere of the Tennessee fan-base in Neyland Stadium stuck with me. Whether it be the Running through the T, the song “Rocky Top”, or the orange and white checkerboards, it was an experience like no other.
Ultimately, Tennessee ended up winning the game 17-13, but what happened after the game would change my life forever.
My grandfather and I arrived home, but then my grandfather informed me that he was going to Walgreens to get the pictures we took in front of the stadium developed. Oh, how times have certainly changed. Afterward, he came back, sat down, turned his face, and looked eye to eye at me.
“Garrett, all my life, it has been my dream to take your father and your uncle to Tennessee Football games in every single SEC Football stadium and have the memories of it to pass on for generations of this family. But being the father I was, family came first before anything else. Now that I am retired, I am free to do that. I want to experience this with you. You just have to promise me one thing.”
That promise? To be a Vol For Life.
Ever since that day, I have committed myself to be a Tennessee Vol., even living in Alabama and experiencing the good, bad, and ugly years of Tennessee Football. With that, my grandfather and I have been to every single SEC Football Stadium and the Rose Bowl as well.
With that all being said, fast forward to Saturday, December 21, 2019, the Jacksonville State Gamecocks, my alma mater, was going up to Knoxville. I managed to have tickets to the game and had a choice to make. Stick with pride and loyalty to the team I have represented throughout 16 years of my life, or be loyal to the school that has given me nothing but opportunity, and has built me into the writer I am to be in my future career.
While it may have been conflicting, the choice was clear and obvious to me. While I will always be a Vol For Life, on Saturday, December 21, I stayed Cocky.
Needless to say, it ended up being a very special moment that I will never forget.