By Steve Williams
When it comes to being a fan of the Tennessee Volunteers, Jim Tritt doesn’t mind going the extra mile. He proved that recently.
Fired up over the success of this season’s basketball team, Tritt began planning a road trip to St. Louis five days before the SEC tournament championship game was to be played.
Jim wasn’t overconfident. He just wanted to be there if the Vols were, so he could hopefully witness UT’s first tourney title since 1979.
It didn’t matter who the opponent would be. The fact that it turned out to be rival Kentucky just made it that much better.
Being a friend of Jim’s, I was among those to receive a group text message on Tuesday, March 6, at 7:14 a.m.
“Fan’s who can car pool Saturday night!! I can do it solo 8 to 9 hours drive and sleep N rest area’s?”
My first thought was just how many miles is it to St. Louis anyway? I googled for the answer – it’s 485 miles from Knoxville to Nashville to St. Louis. So that would be 970 miles on the road for a two-hour game in a span of 18 hours. Plus there would be the cost for a ticket.
Jim surely would find some other Big Orange fans he knows to fill up the rental car.
But late in the week he hadn’t found any takers. I made a couple of calls to fans I thought might be interested. They too said no thank you.
When I called Jim the day before the game, he said he was still going and would be leaving sometime that night after he got off work. He would be going solo.
His love and passion for the Vols is that great.
Tritt, 61, makes his living behind a wheel. In fact, last Thursday marked his 33rd anniversary as a delivery man for UPS. Extra driving seems to be no problem for him, as he’s also a motor sports fan and often travels on weekends to watch NASCAR races.
His all-time favorite sports’ trip memory is having taken the late, great Tennessee coach Ray Mears to a race at Talladega in 1998.
My last text message to Tritt on the eve of the SEC tourney finals was: “Go Vols! … Have a safe trip.”
When I got up the next morning, I saw where Jim had replied:
“Well I’m 60 miles away from St Louis you can sense the spirit on the road Illinois cars with license plate saying UK hoops.”
Another text sent later:
“I’m getting Goosebumps just thinking about all the spirit that’s going to be on that court today and hopefully I can get there early enough to yell at the (Kentucky) team …”
Jim paid a scalper $60 for a ticket.
Inside the Scottrade Center Arena that afternoon, he texted that the “Ushers are laid-back and people moved down as the game progressed.”
But Tritt later told me he never sat down. He stood during the game at the top of one of the aisles and watched. He could have moved down to a lower seat, but he didn’t want to be in the middle of all that Big Blue. He also was too nervous to sit.
Jim estimated the crowd being 90 percent UK fans with Tennessee Orange scattered here and there.
The Vols, as you probably remember, got off to a bad start, fell behind by 17 points in the first half, then put together a gallant comeback and went ahead a time or two before losing 77-72.
Tritt experienced the classic “long ride home” that all fans face after a disappointing loss.
Added to that, most all of the UK and UT fans were heading south and east after the game, causing the traffic flow to slow down at times. “And I was very tired,” added Tritt.
Jim was almost back to Knox County but had to pull over one more time at a rest stop near Kingston.
Last week, I ran into another longtime UPS driver who was on lunch break and said he knew Jim.
He was unaware of Jim’s trip, but when I told him about it, he said he could see Jim doing that.
And he added: “I’d have to be a pretty big fan to do that.”