Commentary

A memory is a good thing to have

Originally Published: October 1, 2009
By Gregory Hardy | Special to Page 2

Here's why it's of consequence that my greatest tailgating tale happened during the 1994 college football season.

See, that was the period during which Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction" would grab pop culture by the neck and throw it in the mud. We still were a few months from "Royale with cheese," "Ezekiel 25:17" and Christopher Walken's gold-watch monologue being incorporated into the daily rotation of quotable movie lines. But we knew there was some weird movie on the horizon, where John Travolta had traded in his '70s polyester bell-bottoms for a chance to be the epitome of cool again.

We also would be introduced to Tarantino's signature visual flourish -- the framing of a shot as seen straight up from inside a car trunk.

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And whenever I think of my 1994 road trip to Knoxville, Tenn., I always think about how one of my life-changing sports-fan moments occurred with me adjusting my focus from that perspective.

Yes, I was stuffed in a car trunk. No, I was not looking up at Vincent and Jules. I was witness to several of my fraternity brothers trying to figure out how long my carcass was going to stay in there.

See, some of my Beta Theta Pi fraternity brothers and I had driven up from the University of Florida to see the No. 1-ranked Gators take on the No. 15 Volunteers.

The drive up through Tennessee's mountains was beautiful. But Saturday's nasty rain chased us and tens of thousands of other tailgaters into scrambling for a dry spot. My group set up shop in a campus parking garage. Add ice and bourbon, then count down until kickoff.

Well, to kill some time, I decided to catch up on my rest in the most convenient spot available: the trunk of our Ford Taurus.

I maintain that I was just resting my eyes, waiting for a second wind before a long night of screaming my brains out in the Florida section of the stands. My pals were under the impression -- again -- that I was a lightweight who couldn't hold my booze.

That's when I was told the immortal words that inform all my tailgating activity to this day:

"Greg, if you pass out ... we will sell your ticket."

This was not a threat. It was a promise.

"... and we're not going to give you however much we get for it."

And like an adrenaline injection into Uma Thurman's breastplate, that put me back on my feet.

My ticket and I thus marched to Neyland Stadium and saw a rollicking game.

Do you have any idea how sweet it is to attend the home opener of your rival ... and see your boys pitch a 31-0 shutout?

Phil Fulmer was starting his second full year as Vols coach. Over the next decade and a half, he more often than not would play the role of the orange-suited Gimp to Steve Spurrier's Zed, Ron Zook's Maynard and Urban Meyer's Bruce Willis with a samurai sword. But this marked one heck of a coming attraction.

The most glorious moment: Late in the game, it appeared Tennessee's offense finally scored a touchdown. But wait! Flag down! The referee tells us the call is against the Vols ... and the points come off the board, so the Florida contingent is going nuts.

Unfortunately for Vols Nation, someone in charge of the stadium fireworks had given the order to light off some rockets to celebrate the score. And the thing you have to remember about lighting a stadium's worth of fireworks is that once you give the order, you can't exactly turn it off.

So as the ref is marching off the yardage, he's accompanied by the "KA-BLOOM! KA-BLOOMBLOOMBLOOMBOOM!!! BA-BA-BOOM! KER-PACHEW!" of unintended consequences.

Afterward, I realized that if I were going to have future memorable tailgating moments, it would help if I did not overimbibe and lose my memory.

So take this advice, kids: If you have a tailgating friend who's borderline in the "still awake" department as kickoff approaches, the "we will sell your ticket" threat works every time.

Also: Avoid tailgaters who put mayonnaise on french fries.

Gregory Hardy writes the Sports Guesspert column for The State newspaper in Columbia, S.C. There's always a tailgate party at twitter.com/hardyvision.