April 20, 1997 And you thought losing to Florida was unbearable?

By Sam Venable News-Sentinel Columnist

Knoxville, my hometown: 

* No matter if the University of Tennessee football team goes undefeated this season and wins the national championship. 

No matter if quarterback Peyton Manning handily captures the Heisman Trophy. 

No matter if Phillip Fulmer is named Coach of the Year. 

No matter anything. 

It's still going to be an autumn of shock and sadness for thousands of former UT students and out-of-town fans when they hit Knoxville on a crisp Saturday morning and head for Sam & Andy's for a Vol Burger before the game. 

(I wish this column were being delivered by voice instead of the printed word. That way, you could hear the proper name of this 51-year-old campus institution. Only Yankees and English professors refer to it in three separate, distinct words: ''Sam-and-Andy's.'' The chosen ones, warshed in Big Orange blood, know the actual name is a singular phrase that flows as easily across the tongue as draft beer: ''Sammanandies.'' A small point, for sure. But one that must be made here in the waning days of this establishment.) 

After Tuesday, April 29, this Cumberland Avenue hangout for current students, former students, business types, professionals, blue collars, white collars and no collars will cease to exist. The Captain family, which has overseen the operation since Sam and Andy Captain came over from the old country and opened the doors in 1946, say the rent's too high and they can't afford to buy the property. 

Close Sam and Andy's? Unthinkable. Some would argue the school might as well bulldoze Neyland Stadium and turn it into a lacrosse field. 

Such disruption along The Strip is not welcome. Those of us who grew up in Knoxville still miss Ellis & Ernest Drug Store, even though it's been gone 30 years. The loss of Sam and Andy's won't be any easier to swallow. 

Even if you don't visit more than once a year, there is comfort in knowing places like Sam and Andy's still exist. It's like a favorite coat or sweater in the back closet -- familiar, never changing, always available. 

Misery loves company, though, so do this: Send me your favorite Sam and Andy's story and we shall all suffer together. 

Drop me a line in care of this newspaper, P.O. Box 59038, Knoxville, TN 37950-9038. Or, if you're a cybernerd, e-mail me at venob@knoxnews.com. 

Tarry not. I'll need them by the end of this week. I'll use the best ones next Tuesday, April 29 -- a date destined to become one of the saddest ever on the UT calendar. 

Jake Booze, Knoxville: 1968 was a great year to be an aspiring young musician but a lousy year to be a UT student. The Vietnam War was raging, and those of us with low draft lottery numbers felt as if we were walking around with a scarlet ''A.'' I had met two other musicians, one a rather clean-cut fellow, and the other a ''hippie type.'' We were playing our first real gig together. 

Russell (the clean-cut one) and I were walking up The Strip when he decided his artistic juices would flow better after a plate of spaghetti from Sam & Andy's. We sat in the corner booth, and I watched in awe as he dumped an entire bottle of Tabasco and half a jar of red pepper flakes onto his sauce. He ate every bite and finished the sauce with his spoon. He didn't even break a sweat. 

We went to the gig, received an enthusiastic ovation, and for reasons that are not really important, eventually went our separate ways. That clean-cut guy was Russell Smith, who went on to be the lead singer for the Amazing Rhythm Aces and is still active in country music today. I recently asked a friend how Russell was doing and he said, ''Fine -- except for that ulcer.'' 

 Copyright (c) 1997, The Knoxville News-Sentinel Co. All Rights Reserved.