The Vol Nation is Dante’s Mountain
We feel stranded. Stranded from our former selves.
It has been for what seems to be a very long time since Tennessee Vols football was a relevant entity on the national stage, or even the conference stage.
The last time the Vols found themselves in the SEC championship game was four very long years and three head coaches ago. That 2007 season was in some ways an outlier, sandwiched between the two losing campaigns of 2005 and 2008. That season also ended with Tennessee’s last bowl game victory. The last top ten finish was in 2001 when, as some argue, the Vol program began its very long decline toward the head coaching carousel of recent history. The last SEC championship was won in a previous century, a time before many who visit Neyland Stadium today were in grade school.
Today, the fanbase struggles within an endless cycle of irrational optimism, impatient anger, and a sloth-like indifference. There is a sense of imprisonment, as if stranded in Gehenna for years before release and redemption.
We are distanced from what was and what could have been, as if in a collective intermediate state, a state to be endured, punctuated with painful temporal punishment. We are somewhere in between the glory of past success and a future so amorphous that a final judgment could point us to either a renewal or an everlasting cycle of failure.
An orange-tinged twilight.
The hope is that we are standing on the precipice of something new. The problem is that it could go either way.
Until the new state of being is realized, we remain interminably stranded on Dante’s Mountain, an eternally temporary place of exile.
But, we are a hopeful lot, forever yearning for Virgil’s words as spoken to Dante:“This mountain’s of such sort that climbing it is hardest at the start;
but as we rise, the slope grows less unkind.
Therefore, when this slope seems to you so gentle
that climbing farther up will be as restful as traveling downstream by boat, you will be where this pathway ends, and there you can expect to put your weariness to rest.” (Purgatorio IV, 88-95)