- Who: Clay Travis
- What: "On Rocky Top"
- When: Noon-2 p.m. Sept. 11
- Where: Coachman Clothiers, Franklin Square
- Info: 865-690-5805
Clay Travis was living a dream, immersed in the sights and sounds of the University of Tennessee football program. He found himself sitting in the Vol locker room at the Rose Bowl just before the Tennessee-UCLA game Sept. 1, 2008.
"I feel strangely uncomfortable," he wrote. "I'm in the inner sanctum of UT football, a fan drowning in access. I can barely breathe. I close my eyes. My heart is pounding and my mouth is dry. I have been a Tennessee fan since birth. I'm in awe of my proximity to this season, to my team."
Given Travis's all-access pass inside the program, this book probably wouldn't have been authorized 10 years ago. There were prohibitions against players and staff doing a number of things, even players doing diaries during the season for the media. There were probably dissenting voices in this case, but this is obviously a new day.
Travis, a freelance sports journalist, was with the Vols the entirety of the 2008 season - from a sunlight-splashed Rose Bowl through a rainy November night in Neyland Stadium - in what would be the final 12 games of the Phillip Fulmer coaching era. He finishes up with the Orange and White game.
The book is a breathless sprint through 337 pages. In between, there is the inevitable conflict between Travis the journalist and Travis the fan. He definitely doesn't like losing.
He pens an insightful look at the ups and downs of a major college football program. He sees it, warts and all, for 12 games, except for a brief moment before the Alabama game when Fulmer unexpectedly asks Travis and a team videographer to leave the dressing room.
"This is the first time he's restricted my access to anything," Travis writes, "and there's no doubt in my mind he's reacting to the increasing pressure of a season that's rapidly falling apart."
The same thing happened at South Carolina a week later. Everybody left the dressing room before the players and coaches recited the "maxims" of Tennessee football.
After the Kentucky game, as Travis leaves a rainswept Neyland Stadium, poignant moments catch his attention.
"There was a day when it meant something to be from a particular part of the country," the Nashville native writes. "Fulmer's Tennessee was unique. Now that day has passed. The mercenary era of SEC football is here. It's time for younger men, men near my age, to lead a team through the T and into a new dawn of football. I'm sad about Coach Fulmer going, but the reality is that we don't live in Phil Fulmer and my dad's Tennessee anymore."
Taking a step or two further, he gets a quick jolt of Tennessee fan-dom from a passer-by who recognizes him.
"How do you think Lane Kiffin's going to do against Florida?" was the query.
"Somewhere, somehow, it's always football time in Tennessee," Travis thought.
Life goes on.
Tom Mattingly is a freelance contributor to the News Sentinel.