HOOVER, Ala — On Nov. 27, Tennessee coach Derek Dooley called a calamitous 10-7 loss at Kentucky, "A really hard ending to a really hard season."
Both Kentucky and Tennessee finished the season 5-7 and ineligible for bowl games. The difference? Kentucky tore down its goal posts in celebration of a season-ending win over UT that snapped a 26-game losing streak to the hated Vols.
"I remember old ladies and old men in their 70s saying thank you because they'd never seen anything like that before," Kentucky defensive end Collins Ukwu said Wednesday at SEC Media Days.
Arguably, no one had ever seen a win like that before, either. With Kentucky coach Joker Phillips' job potentially hanging in the balance, the Wildcats beat the Vols with 15 passing yards, 217 total yards, 10 first downs and four third-down conversions. Matt Roark, a Wildcat wide receiver turned quarterback for the day, was the hero.
Back in Knoxville, Dooley was the goat. As much as Kentucky's win over Tennessee cooled Phillips' hot seat, it turned up the flame under Dooley's.
When the UT coach steps to the podium for today's final session of SEC Media Days, the lingering effects will be felt. Just as media members asked Phillips about the win on Wednesday, they will ask Dooley about the loss today.
Remembering back to the game, Kentucky center Matt Smith, a Bluegrass State native, described the redemption that came with the streak-snapping win. He said it lifted "such a burden" off the program.
The Vols were playing for a bowl bid. The Wildcats had the nation's longest losing streak to a single opponent darkening the sky over Commonwealth Stadium. The Vols were trying to avoid back-to-back losing seasons for the first time 1910-11.
And with all that, Kentucky won the day.
"We had the whole state behind us," Smith said.
Tennessee and Kentucky will meet again in the 2012 season finale. This time at Neyland Stadium on Nov. 27.
Both coaches' seats may still be warm, but the streak won't be the storyline. Instead, the Wildcats are hoping a rivalry is brewing.
"The more hyped the game, the better," Ukwu said.
Here Come The Vols: Two days and thousands of interviews later, Tennessee is ready to take center stage at the Wynfrey Hotel.
In his third appearance at the league's public relations circus, Dooley will face hundreds of media members and countless questions related to his job security this morning. He'll step up to the podium at 9:40 a.m. (TV: ESPNU) after meeting with Knoxville-based media outlets early in the morning.
Quarterback Tyler Bray, linebacker Herman Lathers and offensive lineman Ja'Wuan James will represent the Vols. Like Dooley, all three will run the gauntlet of interviews with print, online, television and radio reporters from national and local media outlets for nearly three hours.
Dooley's time in the main media ballroom will begin immediately following Alabama's time on the clock.
Watching Bray: Bray will speak to the media as a member of three national award watch lists. The junior added the Davey O'Brien National Quarterback of the Year Award to his collection of preseason accolades.
Bray, who was left off all three of the preseason All-SEC coaches' teams, has been named to the Manning Award Watch and Maxwell Award watch lists. He's one of 34 quarterbacks on the Davey O'Brien watch list.
Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee basketball. Follow him at http://twitter.com/BFQuinn