Score: South Carolina Gamecocks 21 Tennessee Volunteers 23, 10/19/13, Noon
Weather: High ’60s; Ticket Price: $55, Face $70; Attendance: 95,736
“Rocking Rocky Top” by Tree
Neyland Stadium is on campus in the middle of Knoxville. It is the fourth largest college stadium in the U.S., but it doesn’t feel like it. It feels pretty intimate if that is possible. I was sitting in the end zone. With the video scoreboard on the opposite side, I did not miss any action and was glad I paid a little more for the seat. I was hoping to only spend $40 for my ticket since the game was not a sellout. However, the scalper offered me this seat and it looked pretty good. It was a $70 face and he told me paid $50. Of course, I didn’t believe it but I wasn’t up for a long negotiation. When I got to my seat, the guy sitting there told me he sold the ticket for $30. Wow, a scalper lied to me – shocking! The seat was worth it though and I could practically touch the trademark checkerboard end zone.
Neyland is nice stadium with slightly above average concession. I got a chips and chili bowl which was deliciously fresh. It was basically an upgraded Frito pie. My souvenir cup was $7 but came with one free refill. Not as nice as the unlimited soda at South Florida games, but still a pretty good deal. The bathrooms were well designed with plenty of urinals and a low wait time.
The Tennessee program is loaded with traditions with multiple national championships but it has been awhile since they have won one. The fans are vocal and involved in the game the entire time. There is a Vol walk a couple of hours before the game and the team runs through the “T” formed by the band before the game. Of course, Rocky Top is seemingly sung at every big play and it was not long before I found myself joining in. On big plays, they have a gesture of “fist up”. I am not sure where that came from, but it is unusual enough that I found it enjoyable as well. While officially the Volunteers, Tennessee has a dog mascot called “Smokey” who leads the team out. He also sprints across the end zone with his handler whenever Tennessee scores. It made my day to see that Bluetick Coonhound running around the field.
I drove to Knoxville after spending the night with my son in Blacksburg. It was an absolutely beautiful drive with the fall foliage in full splendor. A trip in mid to late October will not disappoint. I regretted not doing any driving/parking research prior to the game, but the signage on the road into Knoxville got me into the city easily enough. If you want to drive on the Peyton Manning pass or on Phil Fulmer way, get their early. The streets get closed down a few hours before the game for the Vol walk. I managed to find a pay lot for only $5 and walked a few blocks over to the stadium. A post game visit to the Vols website highlighted an extensive game day guide which would have pointed out several other parking options. None, however, were lower than my $5 lot on Cumberland.
With South Carolina coming in at no. 11 and Tennessee unranked and sporting a .500 record, I feared the home team might be blown out. The Volunteers were up to the task and gave me perhaps the best game of the year. While the Gamecocks dominated the stats, the plucky Volunteers would not give up, delivering big plays when they were needed. Early in the game, they benefited from SC having a d-back disqualified for leading with his head on a tackle of a defenseless player. As a former DB, I hate that rule because it puts the defender at a real disadvantage. In addition, I have seen this call blown several times this year. In this instance, the player did lead with his head so the call was a good one. Football karma got the Vols back by having a long pass ruled out of bounds later in the game. From everything we saw on the video board, that was a bad call. It went to the booth and was reviewed but the original call held. I and about 95,000 other Tennessee fans could not fathom how that call was made. The game was a back and forth affair from that point on especially since the Tennessee coaching staff realized that running at SC’s All-American DE Jadeveon Clowney was futile. SC finally went ahead in the third quarter. The Vol defense then knocked out the SC starting QB and that was the end of the Gamecock offense. After the fourth consecutive three-and-outs, Tennessee got the ball back to make on last drive. Keyed by an incredible one-handed, diving catch from true freshman, Marquez North, Tennessee kicked the winning score as time expired. The stadium went berserk and Rocky Top was blaring. In general, it was a hard fought and exciting game.
From my seat I could see all the Tennessee high school recruits for the upcoming year. It appeared that each recruit was assigned a “hostess”. All of whom wore the same outfits. In most cases, the recruits appeared to be there with their parents or coach so it seemed to be fairly harmless. Nonetheless, I made a mental note that if I had a daughter or granddaughter that would be the last job I would want her to do on campus.
Tennessee colors are Creamsicle orange and the color is worn everywhere. I even saw several pairs of orange women’s cowboy boots being sported. The color is a bit unfortunate because the color isn’t very flattering on most folks. As my wife would say, the sisters are really the only ones who can pull off orange ensembles. And please, young ladies of Tennessee, not even a SI model could look good in those awful orange and white checkerboard overalls. Sartorial challenges aside, I had a fantastic time at Tennessee. This is a must-see stadium