Why I love Rocky Top!

Titus on VOL WALKOriginally posted at College Football, Rootedness and the Gospel

I love the color orange.  But, let me be clear, not just any tint of orange, Tennessee Orange ( PMS 151, CMYK: 0/50/100/0, HEX: #f77f00).  I’m well aware that to most outside of the state of Tennessee this color is horrific.  But this unique color, symbolic of fall in East Tennessee, is a glorious sight to me.  It’s the color of my beloved Vols!

The Sugar Bowl of 1986 sealed my love for the Big Orange. When the underdog Volunteers toppled the Miami Hurricanes under Coach Johnny Majors, I was hooked.  As a kid, I mimicked Carl Pickens, Reggie Cobb, and Chuck Webb in my backyard.  I worried like everyone else about who would replace Andy Kelly and then Heath Shuler.  Thankfully, the greatest QB ever, #16, donned the orange and white.

Each year, I joke with my wife about getting me a blue tick hound for Christmas –kinda joke.  There is nothing like hearing the words, “It’s Football Time in Tennessee!” There is nothing like seeing the Vols run through the ‘T’ as “Rocky Top” blares.  There is nothing like hearing over 102,000 crazy fans scream at the top of their lungs on 3rd and short. And every time the Vols score a touchdown, I still hear John Ward declare, “Give. Him. Six!”. 

And yet, what happens between those checkerboards isn’t the only reason I pull for Tennessee.  I want them to win every game they play.  But, being a Volunteer fan isn’t all about what ends up on the scoreboard in Neyland overlooking the Tennessee River.  (If that were there case, I would have abandoned them at some point over the last 10 years.  It’s been rough to say the least.)

Like most of us who were raised in the south, our rootedness is displayed in our commitment to our home state’s college football team.  This is the very reason I cannot, for the life of me, understand why someone born and raised in Tennessee would pull for Alabama.  It’s also why I think the SEC is superior to all other conferences.  Every Saturday, from The Grove in Mississippi to the Vol Navy on the Tennessee River in Knoxville, there is a wonderful display of diversity with one thing in common – a glorious display of Southern Hospitality.

While there is the real opportunity for our passion for college football to become skewed idolatry, there is also the opportunity for use to enjoy it as a good gift from God.  For me, being a Tennessee fan is more about my identity as a Tennessean, which I believe is something I should celebrate.  After all, we are all from somewhere. The Bible is at pains to describe the cultural identity of Jesus. Why? Being a Nazarene, backwoods Galilean, born in the line of David was crucial to His mission. In his cultural identity, we are made privy to His glory as the Messiah.

There are aspects of our own cultural identity that we once embraced that we must repent of as followers of Jesus. However, in Christ we should be able to see and enjoy the good in who we were and where we are from. For instance, in my own life, I’ve come to realize that there is a racism tied to my past that must be repented of for the sake of the gospel. But, I’ve also realized that the southern hospitality I enjoyed every Sunday afternoon in my grandmother’s kitchen is to be used in my own home for the sake of the gospel.

There is more to me than being a Tennessean.  I pray that others understand that, while I bleed Orange, my only hope is the blood of Jesus.  And yet, as college football begins, I’m excited. I’m excited to gather with my family and friends on Saturdays and remember in the glow of that glorious Orange that, by God’s grace, Rocky Top will always be Home Sweet Home to me.

(My friend and fellow pastor David Prince has also written a great article explaining how such fandom can be redeemed by the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Does sports fandom help or hurt our walk with Jesus? )

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