Next in a series from Road to CFB of first-hand game day experiences at stadiums across the country:
Tennessee football game day is a rite of passage. Neyland Stadium should be a staple on any sports fan's bucket list and that's something I got to check off this year.
Tennessee 38, Bowling Green 6
"Brett, I cannot believe you made your first trip to Neyland on a Thursday night against Bowling Green."
The amount of times I've been told my game choice sucked is significant. But hear me out, this one mattered. For one, I'm a third-generation BGSU grad. Also, I locked this in when it was still on Saturday.
What a beautiful day it is when Volunteer football is being played on Rocky Top. A Tennessee game day– regardless of the day of week– is matched by few and beaten by even fewer. We began our game day downtown at Market Square, a collection of local eateries and hole-in-the-wall shops and bars. I'd personally recommend a burger from Stock & Barrel (and one of their Tennessee whiskeys).
Parking's free around Market Square for the whole day if you: a) get there early and b) don't mind getting some exercise in. A mile and a quarter walk to Neyland Stadium sends you right past tailgaiters and through campus. It's well worth the walk to sightsee.
A few places in the country have Sailgaiting. Baylor, Washington, and Tennessee are the ones I'm aware of, though others may exist. Despite my best attempts, I didn't get to sailgate. But seeing the boats on the Tennessee River with partiers and fans is delightful. Other traditional tailgaters flood the streets around campus. After all, this is the SEC we're talking.
Get to campus early because the band walk-in is one of the finest in the country with one of the most iconic fight songs.
Tennessee Football Game Day: Neyland Stadium
Plenty of college football stadiums are revered, but a select few are truly hallowed ground; Neyland Stadium is hallowed ground. It's a historic stadium with few changes made since its final expansion in 1996. For my entire life, this stadium's more or less looked the same.
That's not an indictment – the simplistic look, gigantic scale, and historic charm makes Neyland Stadium great.
Like many old stadiums (it broke ground in 1921), the concourses are like dungeons: dark, cramped, winding. But there's just something different about being at Neyland.
This game was special for a number reasons, but it was really special because I shared the day with my dad. Growing up, he went with his dad to a game in Knoxville (a Cleveland Browns scrimmage) and we continued the tradition.
Tennessee Football Game Day: The Atmosphere
The Tennessee fans were beyond accommodating. Southern hospitality was at its finest that day– likely because what kind of threat did BG pose to them?– and we were greeted with plenty of "Welcome to Rocky Top" and smiles. Fans make or break a game day and Vol fans absolutely made this one.
The fight song Rocky Top is my favorite in the country. Good thing, because it's played to death. I mentioned making sure you catch the band walk pregame and I mean it. They wind their way down through campus and under the UNIVERSITY OF TENNESSEE bridge right into Neyland. It's spectacular and thousands of fans participate. Maybe even tens of thousands.
I can imagine what the atmosphere for a Tennessee football game day against a Florida or Alabama is like. Against Bowling Green, it was excited (to begin, the excitement died down when the Vols took control). Against a big time SEC rival, this place must go nuts.
The student section is pretty intimidating given its size. The orange poms are a staple and they can get rowdy. Yes, I did see what happened against Ole Miss last year.
The one thing that doesn't seem like a big deal until you're there is the PA system was having difficulties. Not having a PA announcer is bizarre and creates dead air in between plays. Not ideal for Week 1.
Tennessee beat up on the little guy 38-6. What more is there to say?
In all seriousness, the score didn't accurately paint the photo. The Falcons really hung in there and it was a 14-6 game at halftime. In fact, this was just 28-6 going well into the final quarter.
Game Day Grades
Stadium: A. Sometimes an old and musty stadium is good for the soul. The history is in the walls of this place. I love it.
Tradition: A+. Almost nowhere has as much history and tradition as Tennessee. Rocky Top, Running Through the T, Smokey their dog mascot, the checkered end zones, I love it all.
Atmosphere: C. I have to put my wide-eyed amazement down for this one. It was an 8:00 p.m. Thursday night kickoff against Bowling Green. I'd be lying if I said it was an amazing atmosphere. The PA system not working really didn't help, either. Against a big-time rival with a primetime Saturday kickoff I'm sure turns the tables.
Tailgating: A. Any place that Sailgates gets an A from me.
Fans: A. They're passionate, friendly, and dedicated. Tennessee provided some of the best fan experiences I've had along the journey and they're definitely the kindest. Now, if I walked in on the Third Saturday In October wearing the wrong colors, maybe it's a different story.
Extracurriculars: B-. Knoxville is a cool college town with a quaint but really nice downtown area. Great Smokey Mountain National Park is nearby, but Knoxville is pretty far removed from places. It's a three hour drive from Nashville and Atlanta, and four hours from Charlotte. If you aren't in a position to drive in reasonable, you'll have a heck of a time getting here. The drive, however, is well worth it.
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