Note: Legends of Lindsey Nelson members in this story will be referenced by first names only. There are 11 original members: Matt, Jack, Nate, Christian, Kyle, Jordan, Jackson, Jake, Luke, Colin and Dakota.
The interviewees, Matt, Jack and Nate, are three core leaders in a group that wishes to remain relatively anonymous, hence the first-name basis.
The date was March 13, 2021.
The high that Saturday was 60 degrees, and sunlight dappled between the trees in Mount Castle Park just a few steps from the University of Tennessee campus.
Across Lake Avenue and tucked away from the park, several fraternity brothers hunched over their beers.
The chosen watering hole that afternoon? Cool Beans Bar and Grill, a frequent haunt for UT students and alumni alike.
The famed building sits near Knoxville’s Cumberland Avenue, otherwise known as “The Strip,” and it has become known for spawning some of the best — and worst — ideas in Tennessee fan lore.
This might be one of the better ones.
How the Legends were born
Bored, the brothers nursed their drinks. Their chapter of Delta Tau Delta had been kicked off campus the previous fall, and their beloved Vols basketball team had lost to Oregon State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Only one question remained: “What are we going to do now?”
After a quick scroll through the Internet, the brothers mounted an alcohol-fueled trek across campus to Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
Tony Vitello’s Baseball Vols were playing against UNC Greensboro that day, and Tennessee was already 12-3 in 2021.
Of course, the 2020 season was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That meant game attendance would be limited for 2021 to allow for social distancing.
But those protocols don’t help much when the abuse is strictly verbal.
Upon arrival, the fraternity brothers began hurling loud insults at the Spartans’ players.
They called the batters names, yelled from right field toward the opposing dugout, and ultimately created a noise that reverberated off the outfield walls, all while knowing their actions could warrant dismissal from stadium workers.
“We were pretty rowdy,” said Jack. “I probably thought we were gonna get kicked out.”
Instead the opposite happened: “They loved us!”
“We were getting unexpected positive feedback from the crowd,” added Matt, who first coined the term “Legends of Lindsey Nelson.”
“Guys were coming up to us, ushers were coming up to us, telling us they loved it,” continued Matt. “So we said, ‘Let’s do it again.’”
And they did.
The fuel to continue didn’t just stem from fan appreciation, though.
Sure, the love was great, and beer helped, and a smaller motivation stemmed from betting as the group desired to increase the money line for each game.
The Legends’ greatest motivation, though? Opposing players’ reactions, which ranged far and wide in their first stadium appearance.
“The first baseman, he liked us,” said Matt.
The Spartans’ right fielder was a different story.
“He hated us,” said Nate. “Kept flicking us off. That kind of triggered a fire in front of us.”
Undefeated, unrelenting, unbelievable
Now, that fire has raged through seven other home games, and it’s been matched in the Vols’ success.
With the Legends of Lindsey Nelson in attendance, the Vols are undefeated.
“Make sure to put that on record,” insisted Nate via Zoom.
The most recent example of that success came on Tuesday night, as Tennessee beat Eastern Kentucky 10-1.
For the sake of their bets, Jack offered a plea to the team: “You guys can win, but maybe not by that much.”
Still, the Vols’ victory over the Colonels should give fourth-ranked Tennessee some confidence for this weekend, as the team prepares to host No. 9 Florida. The Gators were ranked No. 1 in preseason polls, and it will be Tennessee’s first Top-10 matchup since 2004.
Moreover, the two teams have split the last 10 meetings. Tennessee won the series with two wins in Gainesville in 2019.
After that, the slate doesn’t get any easier. Following a mid-week battle against Western Carolina, the Vols will play host to a Vanderbilt team that was ranked No. 1 in the nation before a 14-2 loss to Georgia last night in Nashville.
That loss will undoubtedly bring Tim Corbin’s team down a couple notches, putting the Vols and Commodores even closer in ranking. Such a blow should also give the Commodores some extra motivation when they come to Knoxville next weekend, so Tennessee will need all the help it can get.
In UT-Vandy history, the Vols’ last game against the Commodores came in the final matchup of a three-game series in 2019. That day, Vitello’s team went toe-to-toe with a battle-tested Vandy team that went on to win its second College World Series title in five seasons.
So Tennessee deserves a little swagger, too. But so do its student-led fans, whose approach lives up to the old adage of hating to lose more than loving to win.
“We don’t cheer for the team,” said Matt, “as much as we cheer against the other team.”
That kind of sportsmanship might not fly at a soccer game for 4-year-olds, but it’s done just fine for SEC baseball.
The group’s fandom doesn’t stop at the gates of UT’s home field, either, although the approach is certainly more relaxed when the Vols are on the road.
“We watch the away games,” said Matt. “We may not lose our voices like here, though.”
But when those voices are full-throated and the insults are flying, when the Vols are jacking homers and piling on runs at home?
Well, even a COVID-19-era Lindsey Nelson Stadium can become a concrete asylum.
These brothers have created such an environment, and they aren’t alone.
Other fraternity members have joined since the group’s establishment, and the effort has been boosted by a Twitter account created at the end of that first night.
Now, what was once a random adventure to a baseball game has since transformed into a Tennessee campus phenomenon.
Lines to get in are longer. T-shirts have been printed. Theme nights are commonplace, as evidenced by the denim-filled cover photo.
Of course, the larger crowd is also due to the fact that Vitello’s 2021 Vols are really good.
They’re currently ranked No. 4 in the nation in three out of five major college baseball publications, and they hold a 7-2 record in a conference that boasts five of the country’s top 10 teams.
But, according to Matt, Nate and Jack, the record and attendance credit should be split down the middle.
Offered Matt on the record: “I think that Tennessee plays well because they have a good coach and they’re talented. But the other team plays bad because of us.”
Added Nate for attendance: “They come for the game, but they stay for us.”
Summarized Jack on both: “(Tennessee) is good regardless. They played well last year before the season got cut off, but I think we made it more fun, and more people have decided to come.”
“When we first went, there was no line, there was nothing,” said Jack. “Now it seems like people really want to be there.”
And Vitello has noticed.
Tennessee’s fourth-year coach gave the Legends team-issued Nike jerseys for a game, and players have interacted with the group’s Twitter account.
Tennessee baseball’s official account has also gotten involved, responding to the Legends’ account on a few occasions.
Across the UT campus and online, the Legends of Lindsey Nelson have become relatively famous. One Knoxville TV station even did a feature on them, as did Fox Sports Knoxville. And then there’s the piece you’re reading right now. So there’s been some buzz.
But nothing could compare to the hysteria that LSU coach Paul Mainieri incited — even if he did so accidentally.
Morgan and Mainieri driven to messaging and madness
On March 18, No. 9 Tennessee beat No. 14 LSU 9-8.
That Friday night game was an 11-inning affair, and the Vols parlayed the effort into two walk-off wins on Sunday to sweep the Tigers for the first time since 2008, second time in program history.
Throughout the series, one could detect a constant chirping from the right-field bleachers. That noise came from the Legends, out in full force that weekend to defend home turf against the Tigers.
The group also went on the offensive. Members fired insults at Mainieri, freshman first baseman Tre’ Morgan and other players in purple and gold.
Given his position, Morgan was a prime target in the field and at the plate. And one of his reactions will stick with one core Legends member for a while.
“I think my favorite moment ever came when Tre’ Morgan struck out for the third time in a row, went into the dugout, and slammed his bat into the rack multiple times,” Matt said.
But Morgan, like other opponents the Vols have faced, messaged the Legends on Twitter after the series.
He told them that they had given him his first true test as a college player, and that he would be better the rest of the season because of it.
Mainieri’s reaction was less cordial, albeit more beneficial.
Four days after the final game of the series, LSU’s championship-caliber coach made an appearance on ESPN Baton Rouge’s 104.5 FM program Off The Bench to air his grievances.
“It was an extremely hostile environment,” Mainieri said. “Nasty fans, nasty. They were into Tre’ Morgan’s head. I mean, they were on him from the moment he walked out on that field. It was a difficult situation.
“The umpires, there were a lot of calls that went against us and they were having to deal with that. The other team was not handling things with a lot of class, quite frankly. It was an environment that those kids were in for the very first time and it was very difficult.”
The difference, of course, is that Morgan, an 18-year-old freshman, thanked the Legends for the test.
The 63-year-old Mainieri, meanwhile, offered a more sour, baseball-tinted version of what an Oklahoma football player wrote about Neyland Stadium.
Of course, the Legends of Lindsey Nelson clapped back via Twitter — but only after they had gained 700 new followers from Mainieri’s widespread rant.
For reference, said Matt, they only gained 100-200 followers after each of their other appearances at Tennessee home games.
So the group made sure to thank Mainieri for the buzz.
“He blew us up,” said Matt. “We owe him a lot of credit. He gave us a lot of publicity. I think he’s an idiot because he did the opposite of what he wanted. He tried to shut us down, and he completely did the opposite.
“In Paul’s case, you’ve got to think if you’re Tre’ Morgan, you’ve got to take a lot of offense to that. I mean, he had like eight hits through the next two games, and he’s telling national media that we were in his head the moment he stepped on the field. It’s kind of a big slap in the face if you’re one of his players.”
Following the gratitude and insight on Morgan, Matt snuck in one final blow: “It’s not like a Hall of Fame coach like (Mainieri) to fall off, but it happens.”
Mused Jack: “I think it’s time for Paul to retire.”
Florida, Vanderbilt and future potential
Whether LSU’s coach follows that advice or not, it’s obvious that the Legends of Lindsey Nelson have done their job well so far.
In tailgated fashion, they’ll look to continue that in the next two weekends when Tennessee hosts the Gators and Commodores with the Western Carolina matchup in-between.
When asked how far they think these Vols can ultimately go, the Legends’ answer was immediate: “Omaha.”
As different voices uttered that one word, the group members made sure to knock on any nearby tables or coasters to prevent any jinxing.
And the Vols could get to the College World Series, which would mark their first appearance since 2005.
They have the talent, they have the swagger, and they certainly have opponents flummoxed with the home-field fan distractions.
But for now, the Legends are playing it safe by looking only to the next two weekends, both of which are massive.
So if you happen to walk by Lindsey Nelson Stadium anytime soon, don’t be surprised if you hear yelling, banging and maybe even some crying.
Because those sounds are just another day at the office for the Legends of Lindsey Nelson.
Well, the yelling and banging are.
The crying might be coming from Baton Rouge, at least if you ask the group that caused it.