Tennessee’s 2022 football season will not be remembered by one game and it certainly won’t be remembered by the Columbia Collapse that occurred on Saturday night or the circumstances that may have led up to the disastrous ending to a College Football Playoff run.
In another article, we can dive into NIL and what NIL disagreements may have led to a lack of team chemistry as the Vols tried to take another step towards the College Football Playoff. Ranked at No. 5, the Vols had a darn good shot. That’s gone now.
So is Hendon Hooker’s season, the Tennessee quarterback announced via Twitter that was done for the season after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament when he crumpled to the turf in the second half. There were tears and emotional reactions that easily made one think that Hooker was seriously injured. However, the fact that Hooker dropped the ball was about all I needed to see. He cares too much about this team and its success to loose grip of the ball unless he was in serious pain. Hooker has taken harder hits and fumbled. However, the innate knowledge that something was seriously wrong caused him to lay the ball on the ground. That was a really, really bad sign.
Hooker doesn’t know and, in the aftermath of an injury with rehab on the docket, he probably doesn’t care, but he’ll be one of the most beloved Tennessee players in history. That’s pretty impressive considering he just started a little more than season’s worth of games for UT.
His injury at South Carolina will fade into history. His wins against Florida and Alabama won’t. His impact as a Vol never will forgotten. How many prospects will sign up to be a Vol because of how he helped raise Tennessee from a program with no direction to a program that attained a perch on the national stage? More than the Vols can ever count.
It’s hard to imagine just a day after his injury and the Columbia Collapse, but Hooker will be part of an elite few former Tennessee players that walk into a room and there’s a feeling of greatness. Peyton Manning and Condredge Holloway immediately come to mind. Hooker is in that stratosphere.
This Tennessee football team should also be remembered in the same way. No, they might not be endeared quite as much as the 1998 Vols, who won a championship when they weren’t supposed to. Short of that, give me a more beloved team in Tennessee history as long as the Vols beat Vanderbilt and play well in their bowl game, which will likely be this year’s Sugar Bowl.
That parallel shouldn’t be lost. The 1985 Sugar Vols overcame a lack of talent to reach one of the most grand sporting events in the nation. The similarities are as commonplace as a beaded necklace on Bourbon Street.
No, the Vols aren’t going to win a national title. Hooker isn’t going to win a Heisman Trophy, but teams like the 2022 Vols don’t come around often. Take a day or two to lament the loss, but celebrate what these Vols have done. They’ll go down in history.