By John Adams
Since my sense of directions is almost lethally deficient, I’m accustomed to asking strangers for help. My pleas for help invariably evoke effort, if not expertise. Even someone as directionally challenged as myself feels compelled to give it a shot, rather than admit, “Sorry, I can’t help you.”
That’s why I was so impressed with the blank look I got from a drugstore employee Sunday afternoon. “Where’s the stadium?” I asked in reference to the site of Tennessee’s season opener against Cal on Saturday evening. He was about to tell me where the Oakland Raiders play when I specified, “Cal’s stadium.” That’s when I got the blank look and a quick, unapologetic: “I don’t know.” As he answered, he was in Emeryville, close to Oakland and Berkeley, about 10 minutes from Cal’s Memorial Stadium. He might as well have been in Los Angeles. His answer was a small reminder of the battle for recognition fought by every college program in a pro market. The Raiders and A’s are just down the road. The Giants and 49ers are across the bay. That’s not meant to denigrate Cal’s status. Instead, it’s more of a tribute to what Jeff Tedford has accomplished in his five seasons as head coach. The Golden Bears have played in four bowls, and finished in the top 25 the last three years. That’s heady stuff for a program that won only four games in the three years prior to Tedford’s arrival.
The Golden Bears also have succeeded in carving out a niche for themselves in a crowded sports marketplace, averaging 64,318 fans per home game last season, an increase of 27,000 per game over 2002. In a pro-dominated landscape, you get a niche. In SEC hotbeds like Knoxville, Gainesville and Tuscaloosa you get total saturation. Imagine asking someone who worked 10 minutes from the UT campus for directions to Neyland Stadium. At the worst, you would get a close guess.
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