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This item appeared in The Times & Free Press on Wednesday, December 29, 1999.
   

[Times & Free Press: Raynoch Is Seeking 'Revenge']

Raynoch Is Seeking 'Revenge'

By SAM WOOLWINE
Executive Sports Editor

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Raynoch Thompson does not have a short memory.

It has been two years since Nebraska took his Tennessee football team to the proverbial woodshed, and not only has he not forgotten, he has not forgiven.

Forget all that stuff about the holiday season being the time to turn the other cheek, do unto others as you would have them do to you, or love your neighbor as yourself.

Raynoch, in Sunday's game against Nebraska, will be more likely to try to turn somebody else's cheek. He will attempt to do unto others as Nebraska did to Tennessee in 1998. Lastly, he gets an A in geography. He realizes Nebraska is no neighbor of Tennessee's.

Thompson is angry. This is a grudge he has been carrying for two years. It gnaws at his soul, it gnaws at his stomach -- although as he looks through those eyes of passion, it appears he has no soul, and his cut waist reveals little stomach.

The ire was stirred because of one half -- actually it was just one quarter -- when Nebraska turned what had been a close Orange Bowl in the first half into a rout in the third quarter.

The Cornhuskers added 21 points to the scoreboard in that quarter and won 41-17 after leading in the first half by a touchdown and a field goal. Thompson could not have been blamed. He led the Vols with 11 tackles.

"I was mad, I was angry, I was frustrated," he said Tuesday. "I have never been embarrassed that way on a football field before. I have never had a worse feeling than I had after that game. I've been carrying it around in the back of my mind, and I can't get it out of there."

His linebackers coach, John Chavis, isn't sure how that will affect Thompson Sunday.

"Sometimes you just need to let go of things," Chavis said. "I can't hold onto things like that. You don't forget, but you don't let it consume you. You remember, then let it go."

Asking Raynoch to do that is akin to asking him to tackle gently, Chavis not to be intense, Travis Henry not to run hard.

The pain from that defeat is, in some ways, as bad as those injuries Thompson has played through in his career, a career that has critics mentioning him in the same breath with Vols linebacker greats of the past. Players such as Paul Naumoff, Steve Kiner, Jack Reynolds, Keith DeLong and Al Wilson.

Thompson is no Wilson when it comes to releasing his emotions, but it is obvious this game is taking him to a level with which he is not completely familiar.

"This is about revenge," he said. "This is about getting even. Yes, I want revenge. This is about waiting two years for that chance and it's here."

Of course, much has been written about how Tennessee took that loss and used it to build upon the following year. It became a learning experience, and the Vols learned well, well enough to win a national championship.

Deon Grant, who wasn't a starter then, understands Thompson, but he isn't looking for Raynoch to verbalize his feelings as Wilson was accustomed to doing.

"Everybody on the team that saw it on film said that. It's a fact," Grant said. "It's the most embarrassing thing, I mean, that could happen on a football field. No question about it. You don't lay down. I think some may have."

Listening to Thompson, one gets the idea that while most of his teammates may have been thinking about another bowl game, this was the one he wanted all along.

OK, that might be a stretch.

Thompson may have been able to forget, maybe even forgive, if Tennessee were playing in New Orleans.

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