Tide vs. Vols is always tense
By Michael Casagrande
Special to the Ledger-Enquirer
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Through the first half of the season, the 2010 Tennessee football team likely won’t make the list of the program’s finest.
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At 2-4, the Vols have yet to claim an SEC win.
The Derek Dooley reclamation project still can turn a corner and provide Tennessee with something to remember this fall. A win over Alabama tonight in Neyland Stadium would do the trick.
No, this rivalry isn’t going anywhere, even if a kooky calendar forced the game back to the fourth Saturday in October. Anytime the crimson meets orange — regardless of records or momentum — the tension rises.
Being the overwhelming visiting favorite doesn’t appear to have taken any edge away from the No. 8 Tide, who enter 6-1, 3-1 in the SEC.
The handful of Alabama players with Tennessee ties have even more on the line tonight.
Wide receiver Marquis Maze committed to the Volunteers before Nick Saban blew into Tuscaloosa and changed everything for the Birmingham product. The reigning SEC Special Teams Player of the Week lives with no regrets from his change of heart.
“Yeah, I feel pretty good,” he said. “Can’t complain. I won a national championship.”
Alabama starters Barrett Jones and Dont’a Hightower grew up in the Volunteer State and hear plenty from both sides about the importance placed on this game. Jones is from Memphis and is a product of a Crimson Tide family. His father, Rex, played basketball in Tuscaloosa, but Hightower hails from Lewisburg, halfway between Nashville and the Alabama state line in the middle of the state.
Still, he didn’t itch to run through the “T.”
“I never really had a big interest in going to the University of Tennessee,” Hightower said. “They were trying to recruit me at linebacker, but at the time I was trying to play a little offense. They told me I could play offense, but Tennessee was kind of known for telling you that you could come here to play this position, but, once you get there, you’re stuck there.”
Most Alabama players echoed Saban’s “throw out the record” statement when it comes to rivalry games.
Look no further than last season.
Tennessee wasn’t setting the world on fire midway through the brief Lane Kiffin era, but the Vols came into Bryant-Denny Stadium and held the Tide without a touchdown and came a Terrence Cody armpit away from knocking Alabama’s national championship plan off course in a 12-10 Tide victory.
A year before that, the Tide handed down a 29-9 beating in Neyland Stadium that left quite an impression on then-freshman defensive end Marcell Dareus.
“I can remember it being so loud that I couldn’t talk to the person next to me,” he said. “I had to get right to Rolando’s (McClain) ear so I could hear the play. It’s just so loud. The fans are overwhelming. They have some great fans, just like we have great fans. Man, they give it their all, just like they’re on the field. It’s pretty crazy and a real good environment to go play in. I like it when fans act like that. It’s more fun for me.”