KNOXVILLE -- Jonathan Crompton and Wes Brown were talking about their final night inside Neyland Stadium a few days ago, a couple of Tennessee seniors looking ahead to their last home football game against Vanderbilt.
As their conversation wound down, Brown said, "I've done everything except score a touchdown."
With 25 seconds to go in the Vols' 31-16 victory over the Commodores on Saturday night, Brown still hadn't scored a touchdown.
But then something amazing happened, something that should happen to every player everywhere during his final home game.
At that moment, Vanderbilt quarterback MacKenzi Adams was about to be sacked by UT's Chris Walker when he decided to attempt a pass before hitting the ground. Standing a few feet away, Brown saw the ball flutter out of the quarterback's hand, seemingly headed for the turf.
"I just put my hand down and came up with it," Brown said later. "Not used to intercepting a ball and running with it."
Not with knees like cole slaw. Not with swift and strong Commodores running back Warren Norman in the general area. Not with 25 yards standing between Brown and the end zone.
After all, as Volunteers linebacker Rico McCoy noted, "He's an old man with those knees."
But Brown grabbed the ball and started to run, chugging toward the goal, chugging toward the best finish any slow, limping defensive end could ever hope to dream.
So he ran and ran and ran, carrying Norman on his back for 8 or so yards. Then he dove into the end zone, Norman still holding tight.
"Everybody was saying, 'Man, that might be the ugliest thing I've ever seen,'" Brown said. "But I couldn't write a better ending for us."
Not every senior night ends the way it should. Sometimes the team doesn't win. Sometimes the senior doesn't play well, overcome by emotion.
But the Vols seniors all played well against the Commodores. There was running back Montario Hardesty's career-best 171 rushing yards, and there was Brown. But there was also McCoy logging 15 tackles. And Crompton throwing for two touchdowns, which gives him a preposterous 25 on the year.
"This just shows if you want something bad enough you can make it happen," said first-year coach Lane Kiffin, who hasn't always seemed so fond of these seniors. "I'm so glad for Jonathan and his family to have an end like this. They've been through a lot. Rico came up huge. This is a special night."
You could argue that it's been a special season. Thanks to this victory over Vanderbilt, Tennessee is 6-5 and bowl-eligible heading into Saturday's game at Kentucky, which stunned Georgia in Athens on Saturday.
Beating Vandy also gave the Vols their fourth straight home victory after home losses to UCLA and Auburn early on.
Moreover, a winning season sets the tone for all the Kiffin seasons to follow, even if it wasn't a championship season.
But it should conclude as a 7-5 regular season, given the annual unofficial forfeit they figure to pick up against Kentucky, which would be the Vols' 25th straight in the series. Rumor has it that UT is even considering wearing silver pants and helmets to honor the occasion.
That should earn a respectable bowl bid (Chick-fil-A, perhaps) and an extra month of practice. It should help recruiting, not that Kiffin appears to need much in that department.
What it won't do is remove the "work in progress" label in 2010 unless junior defensive back Eric Berry returns to run through the "T" as a senior, which is about as probable as Kiffin spending Christmas with Florida coach Urban Meyer.
No, the Vols may take a few baby steps backward before they take giant steps forward in 2011.
But that doesn't mean this season wasn't important or that these seniors weren't crucial to its success.
Said Crompton said before walking off the Neyland postgame podium a final time: "Going out there with the guys that I love being with and playing ball, it was a good night and a great way to finish here."
It was the way all senior nights should end for the home team.
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...