Wiedmer: Dreaming of an orange Christmas? (with video)

Wiedmer: Dreaming of an orange Christmas? (with video)

December 6th, 2012 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Three-year-old Tessa Hudson talks to a Tennessee orange Santa Wednesday at Hamilton Place Mall.

Photo by Angela Lewis/Times Free Press.

Somewhere, possibly curled up in a fetal position, former Tennessee football coach Derek Dooley is probably screaming, "There really is a Big Orange Santa? Really? Now you tell you me.

"If only I'd known that last year I could have asked for a 9-3 season, nothing greedy, just something to calm the Big Orange Nation. Instead, I must have gotten Crimson Santa. No wonder all those Bama fans call Saban 'Saint Nick.'"

There were no Alabama football fans to be found on the first floor of Hamilton Place Mall on Wednesday night. At least none anywhere near the general vicinity of Big Orange Santa, who was making his second and final stop of the holiday season before returning to the North Pole.

"This is a great turnout," said Catharine Wells, the mall's group marketing director, as she surveyed a respectable line of orange-clad families. "We've done this for several years now and it's always been a big hit."

Amazingly, the first child up was reportedly 8-year-old Peyton -- you can't make this stuff up! -- Bowers. Her father supposedly chose the name for obvious reasons, but her mother liked it because of a television character.

Regardless, from that point on, a steady stream of young ones waited for their brief moment alone with the Jolly One, seemingly emboldened by his orangeness.

For instance, after asking Santa for a Minnie Mouse doll, 3-year-old Tessa Hudson shook the orange and white pompoms the mall gave each of the first 50 kids and shouted "Go Vols!"

Said her mom, Meghan, who graduated from UT in 2002 and earned her masters there two years later, "We've brainwashed her well."

When she and husband Paul were asked if they requested anything UT related from Santa, Meghan replied: "A new coach. A good coach."

Told that might become Louisville coach Charlie Strong, she said, "As long as he's a winning coach, we're happy."

Despite being adorably dressed in a pale orange jumper and white turtleneck, 7-month-old Lucia Perry preferred to suck her left thumb rather than surrender details about what she cooed to Santa.

Her parents, Glenn and Jessica, both wore UT-themed shirts and said they try to go to at least one game a year in Neyland Stadium. Their wish list from Santa also included a new Vols football coach.

"A winning coach," Glenn said. "We'll leave it at that."

The Watson brothers weren't leaving anything unsaid, however. Having come to sit on Santa's lap with their 3-year-old twin sisters Reese and Avery, 11-year-old Justin and 9-year-old Aaron have bled orange since they were born.

"I think Dooley's going to get a lump of coal for Christmas," said Justin.

"I still want [Jon] Gruden," countered Aaron.

Santa wouldn't say who he wants. He did declare he liked, "Winning seasons, but I don't lose sleep over losses."

He also lamented having to travel so far from his home to watch first-rate football.

"We don't have a team at the North Pole," he said. "It's too cold. Even the [Green Bay] Packers won't play up there."

Wells said that Hamilton Place has conducted an unofficial survey on its Facebook page to determine if any other school might be worthy of its own Santa night.

Not surprisingly, "Alabama came in second," she said, "but well behind the Vols."

No family appeared to be more behind the Vols than the Wilson clan -- father Jeff, mother Rhonda, 7-year-old Cody and 6-year-old Luke.

Though Rhonda wore neutral black -- unless you wish to recall Lane Kiffin's Halloween-inspired jerseys in 2009 -- the Wilson males all wore orange.

Befitting young boys, the sons spent most of their time with Santa discussing the merits of battleships, Lego dragons and Skylander games.

Jeff, however, had a different wish list.

"Daddy asked for a national championship and Jon Gruden," he grinned.

Cody and Luke had one question for Santa that didn't involve gifts, however.

"Is Rudolph real?" they asked.

"Of course he is," replied Santa.

Too bad UT Santa wouldn't come clean about whether or not Rudolph's nose turns orange when he guides his boss through the Tennessee sky on Christmas Eve.