The mighty Clay Travis returns to the Muertospin to show off the Big Orange fruits of his labor. Read the excerpt, then buy "On Rocky Top", then chat with him down below.
Suggested discussion topics:
• Tennessee women
• John "Thunder" Thornton
• Lane Kiffin
• Layla Kiffin
• Death panels
Soon the team is gathered in metal folding chairs in front of a dry-erase board. Kickoff for the South Carolina Gamecocks, the eighth game of the season, is approaching, and the mood is somber. The Tennessee Volunteers are 3-5, 1-3 in the SEC, coming off a twenty-point home loss to bitter rival Alabama. Suddenly Vols senior linebacker Ellix Wilson breaks the pre-game silence by standing and screaming, "It's my fucking senior year and I'm tired of this shit! Tired of it, man."
Wilson is a 5'10 fifth-year senior from Memphis who is starting at middle linebacker for the Vols. He's also the younger brother of a member of the 1998 national championship team, wide receiver Cedrick Wilson.
Beside me, UT defensive end Robert Ayers sits alone in his locker, clad in full uniform, reading passages aloud from his white-covered Bible. Ellix Wilson's voice fades and silence holds for a few minutes. Then Vols sophomore Eric Berry stands.
"When I say Killas, y'all say Killas and then when I say Trained Assassins, y'all say Trained Assassins and then when I say, Want Some, y'all say, Gone Get Some."
Then Berry starts, "Killas!"
"Killas!" the team replies in unison.
"Trained assassins!" Berry chants.
"Want some," Berry leads.
"Gone get some!"
"Let's go bang a mother-fucker, man!" Berry screams in conclusion.
The cheer seems to get the team fired up. I'm kind of fired up. Of course I have no idea what it means. In fact, I've never felt whiter in my life. Later student manager Andrew Haag will confess, "I don't know what he was saying either but he's Eric Berry. He's so cool, he can do anything and it's cool."
Ellix Wilson stands up in the center of his teammates, and wearing his number 35 jersey in the road white uniform, he begins an emotional tirade that makes Bobby Knight seem monotone.
"Coach Clawson, get our mother fucking playmakers the ball," he begins, the whites of eyes large as he slaps himself in the chest with his hands. "I'm fuckin' sick of this shit. We got too many fuckin' good players at wide receiver and too many good running backs to do this shit! We all been talking about it. If they playing 10 yards off G. Jones why we running one yard passes? Let's get our playmakers the ball, coach, and fucking score!"
He picks up his chair and slams it down.
"This shit is worse than 5-6," he screams, spinning around and looking at all of his teammates. "This shit ain't Tennessee! We ain't lost but two damn players off last year's team!" He begins to cry. "I cry every night about losing. You may not see me cry, but I'm tired of fucking losing. This shit ain't Tennessee." He begins to cry harder now, tears streaming down his checks, slams his metal chair down again on the floor, and the echo carries across the silent locker room. Now he speaks once more, slower, choking on his tears. Each word declines in volume until the last, which is barely audible. "Man, I'm just tired of losing, this shit ain't cool."
No one touches Wilson. No one speaks to him. Coach Fulmer finally breaks the silence. "Everybody feels the same thing," he says, "Hell, it ain't Tennessee. Hell, it ain't us. I don't give a crap about what happens to me and my coaches. Well, I care, but I want y'all to have a good time, win. You've worked too hard not to. You're good, damn kids. We're going to win and we're going to play Tennessee football!"
Now Fulmer pivots and scans his team. He angrily defends himself against his critics. "These bastards get mad at me when I don't go for it on 4th and 1 from the 40. We've won a lot of games playing field position and I'm not gonna stop."
The players are nodding their heads.
"Everyone out but the players and coaches while we read the Maxims," Fulmer says.
The student managers, medical staff and I filter out of the locker room and stand in the South Carolina night. The buzz is all about Ellix's speech. "That's the best player speech, I've ever seen," says one manager. Another pipes up with a sarcastic aside, "Rico (McCoy) gave a pretty bad-ass speech at Florida…that turned out well." One of the women on the training staff says, "Ellix scared me."
With the fire coming out of the locker room I see no way this team can lose. I contemplate turning on my cell phone and telling everyone I know to bet their house on Tennessee's football team. Phil Fulmer may be able to lead this team to a bowl game yet.
The team bursts through the doors and the front line of the team stands just outside the locker room on a small concrete platform. From here they are visible to some of the fans in the South Carolina stadium and the Gamecock faithful begin to rain down abuse on the players. But the team doesn't notice. Arian Foster in the front ranks of the team bobs his head and begins to dance. The rest of the team is bouncing now too, on the toes of their cleats, a roiling mass of yelping and pad-slamming, a fiery beast of a team, angrier than they have been all season.
The team files across a concrete walkway to a covered access area. The covering tarp only extends about 10 yards. Several of the players bang on the ceiling and the covering billows in response to their punches. The players and nearby fans are yelling as the team waits to enter the field. Then, suddenly, the team shoots onto the grass into the building roar, a crescendo of hate descends upon them.
"Bring it motherfuckers, bring it!" screams Arian Foster, waving his arms above his head in the direction of the crowd.
At kickoff the entire sideline is jumping and shouting with more enthusiasm and adrenaline than I've seen this year. It seems impossible that Tennessee could lose this ballgame.
By halftime, it is 21-0 South Carolina.