Soccer on Rocky Top! On the way to the CFB Tennessee football game

Next in a Road to CFB series of first-hand matchday experiences at stadiums across the country:

Tennessee football game day is a rite of passage. Neyland Stadium should be a must on any sports fan’s bucket list and it’s something I have to tick off this year.

Tennessee 38, Bowling Green 6

“Brett, I can’t believe you made your first trip to Neyland on a Thursday night against Bowling Green.”

The number of times I’ve been told my game choice sucks is significant. But listen to me, this one mattered. For one thing, I’m a third-generation BGSU graduate. Also, I locked this when it was still Saturday.

What a great day it is when volunteer football is played on Rocky Top. A game day in Tennessee — any day of the week — is matched by few and beaten by even fewer. We started our game day downtown at Market Square, a collection of local restaurants and hole-in-the-wall shops and bars. I would personally recommend a burger from Stock & Barrel (and one of their Tennessee whiskeys).

Parking is free around Market Square for the whole day if you: a) arrive early and b) don’t mind exercising. A mile and a quarter walk to Neyland Stadium sends you just past the spats and across campus. Well worth the walk for sightseeing.

A few places in the country have Sailgaiting. Baylor, Washington and Tennessee are the ones I know of, although there may be others. Despite my best attempts, I was unable to access the sailgate. But seeing the boats on the Tennessee River with revelers and fans is a delight. Other traditional tailgates flood the streets around campus. After all, this is the SEC we’re talking about.

Arrive on campus early as the drop-in band is one of the best in the country with one of the most iconic fight songs.

Tennessee Football Game Day: Neyland Stadium

Many college football stadiums are revered, but a few are truly hallowed grounds; The Neyland Stadium is hallowed ground. It’s a historic stadium with few changes since its final expansion in 1996. Throughout my life, this stadium has been more or less the same.

It’s not an indictment – the simplistic look, gigantic scale and historic charm make Neyland Stadium great.

Like many old stadiums (it was inaugurated in 1921), the halls look like dungeons: dark, cramped, winding. But there’s just something different about being at Neyland.

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This game was special for many 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 scrum) and we continued the tradition.

Tennessee Football Game Day: The Vibe

Tennessee fans were more than accommodating. Southern hospitality was at its best that day – probably because what kind of threat did BG pose to them? – and we were greeted with lots of “Welcome to Rocky Top” and smiles. Fans make or break a game day and Vol fans absolutely made this one.

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The Rocky Top fight song is my favorite in the country. It’s a good thing, because it’s played to death. I mentioned making sure you attend the band march before the game and I really mean it. They wind through campus and under the UNIVERSITY OF TENNESSEE Bridge to Neyland. It’s spectacular and thousands of fans participate. Maybe even tens of thousands.

I can imagine what the atmosphere is like at a Tennessee football game against a player from Florida or Alabama. Against Bowling Green, it was over-excited (for starters, the excitement died down when the Vols took control). Against a big rival in the SEC, this place has got to go crazy.

The student section is quite intimidating considering its size. Orange pom poms are a staple and they can get rowdy. Yes, I saw what happened against Ole Miss last year.

The only thing that doesn’t seem like a big deal until you’re there is that the sound system was struggling. Not having a PA announcer is weird and creates dead air between rooms. Not ideal for week 1.

The game

Tennessee beat the little guy 38-6. What more can be said?

Seriously, the score didn’t accurately paint the picture. The Falcons really hung on and it was a 14-6 game at halftime. In fact, it was only 28-6 going into the last quarter.

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Game Day Notes

Stadium: A. Sometimes a musty old stadium is good for the soul. History is within the walls of this place. I love it.

Tradition: A+. Hardly anywhere has as much history and tradition as Tennessee. Rocky Top, Running Through the T, Smokey their dog mascot, checkered end zones, 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 would be lying if I said it was an amazing atmosphere. The not really working sound system didn’t help either. Against a big rival with a prime time Saturday kick off, I’m sure it turns the tables.

Tailgating:A. Any place Sailgates gets an A from me.

Fans: A. They are passionate, friendly and dedicated. Tennessee has provided some of the best fan experiences I’ve had along the trip and it’s definitely the kindest. Now, if I walked in on the third Saturday of October wearing the wrong colors, maybe that’s a different story.

Extracurricular activities:B-. Knoxville is a cool college town with a quaint but really nice downtown. Great Smokey Mountain National Park is nearby, but Knoxville is quite a distance from the scene. It’s a three-hour drive from Nashville and Atlanta, and four hours from Charlotte. If you are unable to drive sensibly, you will have a very hard time getting here. However, the journey is worth it.


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