The Expatriate Vol
Sitting in Peet’s, iPad working with wireless, morning coffee and pastry ready for consumption – it was a typical Sunday morning for Steven Sully, sitting across from his wife who preferred a tactile newspaper over the magical electronic version, ready to catch up on news from ‘back home’. That news often started with the goings and comings of Tennessee football.
For Steven, this time of year was always filled with nostalgia, bringing thoughts of a childhood in Upper East Tennessee’s snowy winters of a half century ago. Portland, Oregon was a long way away, in time and space, but the magic of the internet brought the two places closer, almost together to where, in an odd way, the two were indistinguishable. With a little imagination, Steven could see everyone in Peet’s that morning knowing the latest news from Knoxville. After all, it was on the iPad screen for anyone to read. Perhaps they would want to hear the stream of WDVX on his iPad, too. The southern mountain music could be audible to everybody enjoying their morning coffee or tea. They could listen to East Tennessee, right there. Steven’s imagination got pretty vivid sometimes. Why anyone would want to do that was another question.
It was a great paradox how someone had wanted to get away from his hometown and region, and start his own life on his own terms, thousands of miles away, and be perfectly happy about having done that, and at the same time have a yearning to be connected with his region of origin. There were thousands of people with the exact same storyline, thought Steven. At least he hoped so – he hated to think that he had some kind of unique neurosis.
It was the miracle of radio that transported the eight year old Steven to other parts of the United States. At night, especially those cold, clear winter ones in the East Tennessee mountains, Steven visited New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Rochester, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Fort Wayne, Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis. On those deliciously rare occasions, he inhabited Montreal, Toronto, Minneapolis, and even Salt Lake City. He lived in these places so often, he had adopted multiple personalities – a New Yorker, a Bostonian, a Philadelphian – that could be called up for duty on a moment’s notice. From listening to the news and sports from these not-so imaginary places, he could make almost anybody in his small hometown believe that he was visiting from out of town. He knew the names of their streets, politicians, radio and television personalities, and sports heroes.
Thus, it was no wonder that when Steven graduated from UT, he would be off to one of those magical places, to make a living doing whatever it was that could allow him to live where radio waves were transmitted transcontinentally.
In the 1970s, when Steven was a student at UT, sirens sang from the Rocky Mountains and the Great Northwest. One of the most visible sports heroes of that time was Bill Walton, center of the powerhouse Portland Trail Blazers. Walton epitomized the emerging cult figure of a free-thinking, individualistic, professional athlete. Long, bushy red hair, kept out of his face with a Hendrix-like printed headband. His beard made him look like he was equally at home in the forest as he was on the hardwoods of the NBA. Walton was Steven’s symbol of escape to rebirth. In a few years after graduation, Steven was reborn with a job in downtown Portland, and two Trail Blazer season tickets that he used nearly weekly at the Coliseum in the Rose Quarter area of Portland.
Throughout the 1980s and the first part of the 1990s, Steven barely noticed Tennessee Vols football. He’d grown up watching the likes of Steve Kiner and Jack Reynolds, Bubba Wyche and Bobby Majors. He’d attended college with Condredge Holloway and Stanley Morgan, Jimmy Streater and Alan Duncan. But after he left East Tennessee for adulthood, Steven didn’t see a Tennessee game in person. There were other things to do, other things to think about. And, anyway, it was nearly impossible to follow the Vols with any sense of dedication without access to local media. Sure, there was the occasional televised game broadcast nationally – the 1986 Sugar Bowl still rings in his consciousness when recalling the most satisfying sporting contests ever witnessed on television. But the ability to live Tennessee football was gone. That is, until the age of the internet dawned on Steven’s life during the fall of 1997.
Peyton Manning had already become a national star on the college football scene when Steven listened to his first John Ward “Give Him Six” through his computer during an October 1997 game. CBS-TV was allowing Steven to watch the young quarterback from his Portland living room against the Alabamas, Floridas, and Georgias. There was the sports tavern with the satellite dish for the lesser opponents. All of a sudden, Tennessee football was in Stephen’s life once again, for better or for worse. But it was the internet that allowed him to really get back in touch with the day-to-day details that brought more meaning to each game than just a weekly spectacle of orange shirts running around on a football field.
Now, Steven could read detailed accounts of each game, with information far beyond that given by the box score in The Oregonian. He could read reports from Knoxville writers during the week before each game. And, he could listen to radio sports talk shows from WHBQ Memphis, WJOX Birmingham, and WNOX Knoxville. It was as if he was in Tennessee once again, enjoying the sports team of his youth. It was as if everyone in Portland was reading and listing to the same thing as he was! After all, they could, if so inclined!
The fact that they weren’t, and didn’t, didn’t matter. He was a boy again, transporting himself to anywhere he wanted, this time through the miracle of the internet. During his Oregon autumns, his personal transport was over three thousand miles southeastward, to Knoxville.
“Steven, you ready?” said Jeannie.
Steven hadn’t realized that an entire half hour had been spent in a daydreaming daze of recollection on how he’d come to live in Portland and how he frequently goes back to East Tennessee anytime he wants, by means of a keystroke or push of an app button. But, he did realize that when he wanted to know how things were shaping up during practices for the upcoming Music City Bowl against the North Carolina Tar Heels, he would join the Vol Nation online as a full-fledged member, even if it was in absentia, as an expatriate Vol.