Tickets to spare

Tickets to spare

TAMPA – Tennessee did not come close to selling its 12,000 ticket allotment to the Outback Bowl but athletic director Mike Hamilton said the trip to Tampa is still worth it, despite a likely deficit.

``The way I look at it,'' Hamilton said, ``it's a reward for the team and the coaches for a hard season's work. It comes at an expense, but to play on New Year's Day, you can't put a value on it.''

Tennessee sold between 8,500 and 9,000 tickets. The allotment was 12,000 – instead of 11,000 – because that is the agreement with the Outback if it takes the SEC Championship game runner-up.

Tennessee donated 2,500 to the Outback Bowl to be used by the United Way. The SEC underwrites up to 3,000 of the unsold tickets. That means UT is responsible for 500 to 1,000 tickets at $65 each. UT's 1,000 club-level seats at $140 each sold out quickly, Hamilton said.

Hamilton said the day UT got the Outback Bowl bid he was confident UT fans would purchase the allotment, based on Tennessee having about 50,000 fans at the Georgia Dome for the SEC title game. He felt that support would carry over.

But history suggests teams that lose the SEC title game don't travel that well to a bowl game. That was true of UT's appearance in the 2001 Florida Citrus Bowl after losing the SEC title game to LSU.

``I'm a believer that losing the SEC championship game is a factor,'' Hamilton said.

He also pointed to three other reasons: UT making a repeat appearance in the Outback Bowl, fans buying better tickets than were provided to UT directly through the Outback Bowl and distance. Several SEC teams are playing within a comfortable driving distance to bowl games. Tampa is almost 600 miles from Knoxville.

And at bowl games, UT provides each player who makes the trip with six tickets (at $65 each) as well as purchasing some 400 to 450 tickets for the band. While the UT band has about 300 members, two or three tickets must be purchased for tuba and trombone players.

While UT didn't sell its allotment, Hamilton is confident the Vols will be well represented in the stands.

``We'll see more than 9,000 Tennessee fans,'' he said.

HEFNEY TALKS ABOUT DISAPPOINTING SEASON

A year ago in Tampa, Jonathan Hefney said his goals for 2007 were to lead the team in tackles, interceptions, punt returns and receiving.

He knew the receiving part was a major reach. But the other goals were attainable, considering he led the team in punt returns and interceptions last season and was second in tackles.

But Hefney had a disappointing senior season. He has just one interception and got benched as a punt returner. He is third in tackles, but he's missed more than his share of stops.

So what happened?

``I don't know,'' Hefney said. ``Everything doesn't go the way you planned it. I struggled in the first game (against California) but I rebounded pretty good to where I'm, what, third on the team in tackles and I'll pass (academically ineligible) Rico McCoy in this game.''

But moving ahead of McCoy in tackles based on the Outback Bowl should be of little consolation to Hefney.

Hefney addressed several reasons why he wasn't all that productive.

``I think I put too much pressure on myself,'' Hefney said.

Hefney was surrounded by several youthful defensive backs, which coaches said distracted him from handling his assignments because he was trying to cover for other guys' mistakes.

Hefney didn't use that as an excuse.

``Eric Berry sure don't play like a freshman, and he has all the confidence in the world,'' Hefney said.

Hefney also had a toe injury that he said bothered him the first month of the season.

Before this season, defensive coordinator John Chavis said Hefney was UT's best safety since Dale Carter some 15 years ago. Hefney said he didn't know Chavis said that.

``If I'd known that, maybe it would have made me play a whole lot better,'' Hefney said.

Hefney admits he was upset when he got benched as a punt returner in favor of true freshman Dennis Rogan, but he said he accepted it.

``I understood it because I wasn't making no plays back there,'' Hefney said. ``I wasn't getting up the field. I understood it a lot. If I get a chance to pay at the next level, I want to prove I can return punts.''

Does Hefney really believe he can play in the NFL?

``I think I can,'' he said. ``It's been my dream since I was a kid.''

Hefney has no doubt Berry can play in the NFL.

``He's gonna be a great one,'' Hefney said. ``We always joke around, `You ain't gonna stay all four years.' If he keeps on playing like he's playing, you probably won't see him but for three years - that's how good he his. I compare him to my cousin, Ko Simpson at South Carolina.''

Simpson redshirted as a freshman at South Carolina, then turned pro after his sophomore season.

EXTRA POINTS: Offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe said Erik Ainge hurt his right shoulder in the opener against Cal, affecting his ability to throw downfield. Cutcliffe said he was surprised some opponents didn't pick up sooner on UT having to rely on the short passing game. … After watching Texas' pass rush dismantle Arizona State's quarterbacks, Ainge said he has a greater appreciation of his protection. Ainge was sacked an NCAA-low three times on 476 pass attempts and UT allowed four sacks on 491 attempts. … Cutcliffe vowed to make tight ends a bigger part of the offense. His proof: Two tight ends were invited to a media day luncheon. … Chris Brown has caught 71 passes in the past two years under Cutcliffe after catching 20 the previous two seasons. … Cutcliffe said he is 10-10ths toward completing his staff. UT's Kurt Roper and Matt Luke are expected to join Cutcliffe at Duke with Roper getting a raise to about $300,000 as offensive coordinator. Mike McIntyre and Marion Hobby – both on Cutcliffe's staff at Ole Miss – are also expected to be hired. Cutcliffe said he will make the announcements shortly after the Outback Bowl.

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