Stadium Bucket List: University of Tennessee Volunteers Break The Streak At Neyland!

I’m experiencing some technical difficulties with the recent server move, so a few pictures are blank below.  Hoping to have it resolved shortly.  Sorry, everyone!

If you’ve followed my stadium posts in the past, you’ve seen my categories divided up amongst professional sports like the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL.  I do love college sports, but I went to culinary school many moons ago, not a traditional university.  I love college basketball most, and adopted Duke as my team 25 years ago.  When people call me a front-runner, my best friend David likes to point out that I’ve been a Pistons fan even longer than that and endured some pretty hellacious dry spells (Darko Milicic, anyone?).

Given all that, I don’t have my “own” team to root for when it comes to college football.  Sure, I follow Duke football, but they barely had a program the past two decades.  That means I’ve never actually been to a college football game.  Boy, did I pick a great one to start with, and literally less than a week after getting to visit Dodgers Stadium right before Vin Scully retired.

I was invited to attend the Tennessee/Florida tilt last weekend by friends/colleagues.  I was excited to attend, though a bit torn since it meant an extra day away from the family.  I showed up in Knoxville (what a great town) and had a few days to watch the buzz build.  People were streaming into the city and the mood was electric as the week wore on.

Football is like religion in Tennessee and it seems EVERYONE is a Vols fan.  Couple that with the fact that they hadn’t beaten their rivals, the Florida Gators, in 11 years, and this was a big day.  Heck, ESPN Game Day was broadcasting live from the campus (I only caught the tail end of the show, huge crowds).

Tennessee

We were supposed to meet up before the game to tailgate a bit with some folks.  I walked from my hotel through campus and got to see the tunnel of folks lining up for “Vol Walk”, where the fans cheer on the players and coaches as they enter the stadium.  All of this was pretty cool for a kid who attended culinary school.

University of Tennessee Volunteers

Vol Walk At Neyland Stadium

University of Tennessee Volunteers

Pretty Much The Best Tailgate TV I’ve Ever Seen

 

University of Tennessee Volunteers

Need A Light?

Did I mention that Neyland Stadium, where Tennessee plays their home games, is one of the biggest in the country with 102,455 seats?  That’s more than twice as big as Yankee Stadium, and something like 5 Madison Square Garden’s full of Knicks fans.

University of Tennessee Volunteers

Hanging With Dana And Paul At Neyland Stadium

University of Tennessee Volunteers

Jonathan, Dana, Paul And I In The Shadow Of The Massive Stadium

University of Tennessee Volunteers

Neyland Stadium

Game time saw the temperatures at 93 degrees and about 2,000% humidity.  We walked in to the stadium and I started to get my first glimpse of how they handle 100,000 screaming fans.  For starters, I was a bit surprised there are no metal detectors.  It would certainly be tough to try to screen that many fans.  Instead, they have a fairy strict policy forbidding most bags.

University of Tennessee Volunteers

University of Tennessee Volunteers

We quickly made our way into the stadium and up the ramp, surrounded by thousands of fans.  The concourses are narrow but the fans make the best of it, queuing up in snake-like lines at the concession stands.  Unlike at the Dodgers game, you won’t find Vegan Nachos or Wagyu Beef Hamburgers with Gouda cheese.  You’ll find pretzels, pizza, peanuts, soda and water.  There’s a Dunkin Donuts, a Moe’s Southwest Grill, and not much else.  No matter, you’re here to watch football.  And cheer ridiculously loud.

University of Tennessee Volunteers

The fans are passionate.  Before this huge game, they check a website (CheckerNeyland.com) to see if they’re in a white or orange section and dress accordingly so that they can be part of one of the biggest human checkerboard pictures (has to be the biggest, right?).  We were in a white section, though far enough under the stands above us that we weren’t in the picture.  That turned out to be a blessing.  There were easily hundreds of fans sitting/laying down in the shade of the concourse trying to take a break from the sun and heat.

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There’s plenty of pomp and circumstance leading up to game time.  The band does some pretty awesome routines (I can’t imagine how miserable it is in a long-sleeve band uniform holding a large drum) and the fans gave the team a huge ovation.  One of the friends I attended the game with is a UT grad, so Dana was able to give us the scoop on all things UT football.  Still not sure I learned all the words to “Rocky Top”.

University of Tennessee Volunteers

If you’re really into marching bands or a big UT fan, here’s a video I took of the pregame performance:

There was a lot of excitement leading up the game.  It’s a long winless streak but Tennessee has a good team this year.  They underperformed in their first couple of games, but they’d certainly be ready to play Florida.  Uh, not really.

The first half was a complete flop.  The offense just couldn’t get in gear and the defense was a step slow.  Heading into the half it was 21-3.  I decided to do some exploring and walked all the concourses of the stadium, taking pictures and video from various places.  The stadium had gotten quieter but was still fairly packed.

University of Tennessee Volunteers

University of Tennessee Volunteers

University of Tennessee Volunteers

University of Tennessee Volunteers

img_2711University of Tennessee Volunteers

University of Tennessee

University of Tennessee

It was ugly.  A friend of mine who knew I was at the game Tweeted a disturbing reality:

screen-shot-2016-09-30-at-3-40-29-pm

 

The second half started out with two busted drives, and then it happened.  Tennessee scored a touchdown, the fans got excited.  All of a sudden, instead of Florida winning 21-3, Tennessee was winning 28-21.  When they took the lead, the roar was louder than any I’d heard except for one (the only time I’ve ever heard a louder roar was when Jeter hit a walk-off in his final at-bat).  The concourses were virtually empty with 102,000 people intently watching the game.

University of Tennessee Volunteers

University of Tennessee Volunteers

That second half is an absolute blur of noise, high fives, insane cheers, and elation.  The passion of those fans as the team came from behind was almost unimaginable.

University of Tennessee Volunteers

It’s my second favorite sports experience ever, next to that truly special night in the Bronx.

University of Tennessee Volunteers

In the end, my ears were ringing but I left the stadium with 102,000 other ecstatic fans.  I loved my first college football game and I suspect it won’t be my last.  I’m now a bit of a closet Volunteers fan.  I’ll be rooting for them the rest of the season and I’m thrilled to have been a part of the day 102,455 fans got to see Tennessee stomp on the Gator chomp.  You can’t go to a Tennessee game and neglect to sing Rocky Top, so here it is:

University of Tennessee Volunteers

Here’s my updated list, with a College Football section added in.

Sports fans, what does your list look like?

MLB:

NFL:

  • Giants Stadium (Giants and Jets)
  • FedEx Field (Washington Redskins)
  • Qwest Field (Seattle Seahawks)
  • M&T Bank Stadium (Baltimore Ravens)
  • Soldier Field (Chicago Bears)
  • Candlestick Park (San Francisco 49ers)

NBA:

  • Air Canada Centre (Toronto Raptors)
  • Pepsi Center (Denver Nuggets)
  • Madison Square Garden (New York Knicks)
  • Brendan Byrne/Continental Airlines Arena (New Jersey Nets)
  • Verizon/MCI Center (Washington Wizards)
  • United Center (Chicago Bulls)

NHL:

  • Pepsi Center (Colorado Avalanche)
  • Madison Square Garden (New York Rangers)
  • Verizon/MCI Center (Washington Capitals)
  • HP Pavilion (San Jose Sharks)

College Football:

  • Neyland Stadium (University Of Tennessee Volunteers)

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