There Is Nothing Else Like It.

The game day experience in Knoxville is unparalleled by any other team in the country. From the atmosphere to the traditions, it’s all phenomenal. The Vol Walk, Saluting the Hill, Running Through the T, well over 100,000 fans going crazy and singing Rocky Top, the Pride of the Southland Band, tailgating, the first-rate ladies, and most importantly of all watching some great football being played.

Montario Hardesty (2) had 18 carries for 160 yards and a touchdown.

Montario Hardesty (2) had 18 carries for 160 yards and a touchdown.

This is my story from the (hopefully) historical day that marks the official beginning of the Lane Kiffin Era for Tennessee football. This is going to be a bias filled and emotionally driven post so leave your haterade at the door because you’ve been warned. If you want a good review and objective opinions on Tennessee’s season opener against Western Kentucky you’re not going to find it here, but Ghost wrote a great piece over at 3SIB that you can check out by clicking here.

As many of you know I just moved to Knoxville in April and though I’ve been a life long Tennessee fan, growing up in the midwest means that I hadn’t been to a game in Neyland Stadium in a decade.  So with all of the hype coming into the game for everyone else of the Big Orange Nation with it being the first game for the new coaching staff and the highly-anticipated young players, you can pile on top of that the excitement I had because this was the first time in my life that I was going to be attending a Tennessee home game while at an age that I could truly appreciate the experience. I was pumped.

I had gotten back home to Knoxville late on Friday night with the intent of going to sleep and waking up early to get to campus. Well I ended up talking to Bryan for a little while and didn’t get to bed quite as early as I would have liked, but it turned out to not matter. When I tried to go to sleep it was no easy thing. I was so excited I couldn’t temper my energy. It was like if you were to tell a kid that he would get to go to Disney World the next morning for the first time in his life and then expect him to actually go to sleep that night. The task of falling asleep was a challenge enough but then once I had reached some sort of sleeping state it didn’t last long. I got maybe two hours of sleep that night.

My dreams that night looked something like this:

So when I woke up I realized that trying to get my self to fall back to sleep was going to be just as difficult as it was to do the first time around. I ended up getting up and pacing around for a while, still unable to tame the excitement that I was feeling, recognizing the fact that it was still ludicrously early in the morning and it wouldn’t make sense for me to leave yet so I thought that I would find a way to pass some time instead. I hopped online and printed off a schedule of events and my proof of purchase for my ticket so that I would be able to pick it up at will call after buying it online, it said I only needed a photo ID, but I figured better safe than sorry and I was just trying to waste time anyhow. I also looked up the parking map for the game to see if I could get an idea on where to park. Well this killed a grand total of about 20 minutes.

Realizing that I was only driving myself crazy by sitting at home and waiting to leave, I decided I would go ahead and set off for campus with the thought that I would at least be getting myself a good parking spot. This turned out to be a great idea. I ended up parking in the same group of spots that I do when I go to run on the UT track, which isn’t a bad walk at all to the stadium and is about the closest you can get without having a permit or paying around 20 bucks. On my way out the door I had grabbed my Maple Street Press preseason magazine thinking that I would spend some of the time reading it while just sitting in my car waiting for the will call to open. This turned out not to be as great of an idea. With all of the excitement pumping through me I don’t know how I expected myself to focus the slightest bit of attention on such a daunting task like reading. I ended up tossing the magazine back into my passenger seat and grabbed my iPod instead.

I listened to a three-song playlist over and over again. The three songs were two different versions of rocky top and the song from the video below.

At that point I had figured “if you can’t fight it, feed it.” So instead of trying to contain my excitement and take my mind off of the day I had in front of me, I went ahead and got myself as amped for it as possible. After a little while the people that I’d parked next to had gotten out of their car and were just kind of hanging out and dressed in Tennessee attire so I decided to get out and talk to them. They were a nice couple from the Atlanta area. Nate gave me a cold Coors Light (the mountains were blue) and we had a good time talking about the new coaching staff, the expectations of the young players, and of course Eric Berry.

A little after eight o’clock they went off to look around in the Tennessee Traditions store, which is just around the corner from where we were but I decided to stay at the car. I’m glad I did because just a few minutes later a SUV with Georgia tags pulled up behind my car. After a little bit a woman got out of the passenger side, who told me good morning and after I had told her good morning back a man got out of the drivers seat who I was 99% sure was Eric Berry’s dad. That remaining 1% evaporated as soon as two twin boys who looked just like Eric Berry himself got out of the back seats. I was then immediately sure this was Eric Berry’s family. I didn’t say anything, which I’m not sure if I’m glad about or not. I figured that they already knew they were Eric Berry’s family and they didn’t need me to tell them that, so I just told them to “have a good one” as they walked off toward the stadium.

Eric Berry was ready for the game.

Eric Berry was ready for the game.

Shortly after this the couple from before had returned and told me that they were about to walk over to Gate 21 to pick up their tickets at will call. I told them that I needed to do the same and they said I should just head over there with them. On the walk across campus Nate told me about his two-year-old daughter named Peyton (Yes! Ten points!) and his dog named Manning (Ten more points!) If I had been unsure before, I definitely knew at this point that these were people I could get along with. I told them all about how I had just moved to Knoxville in April but that I had been a Tennessee fan my whole life, being the son of a UT grad.

At about this point we had arrived to Gate 21 and got in our separate lines based on the first letter of our last names to pick up our tickets. Well I gave the person my ID and they flipped through a few files, and then a few more. He asked me my last name multiple times and then went to go get someone who I assume was some sort of supervisor. They asked me my last name a few more times. I finally pulled the what-I-thought-was-pointless-to-print-off proof of purchase sheet and somehow with that they were able to locate my tickets. It was a nervous couple of minutes for sure when I thought they had lost them. My newly made friends had waited for me and on the walk back they discussed how hard it was to live among Georgia fans as a Vol and we all ended up walking over to The Strip to grab some breakfast.

By the time we got back to our parking spots I had already swapped a few text messages with my uncle (Bryan’s dad) and decided to meet up with them. I bid the other two farewell and after telling Nate that I was going to try to make it to the Tennessee at Georgia game in 2010 and saying that we’d have to meet up if I did end up going down there, I got his phone number and email address, knowing that my dad wouldn’t be able to sleep as well that night if he found out that I had missed the opportunity to network myself. “You never know when you’re going to meet someone and it will have paid off someday to keep them as an acquaintance.” See, Dad, I really was listening to you all those years; aren’t you proud?

After I had called Uncle David to see where he was, I walked off in the direction of Thompson Bowling Arena. I got there and went through the first set of doors I found that were unlocked. It was a lucky choice, because I saw my Aunt and Uncle within about five seconds of walking through the doors. We had a good time as David’s friend showed us down through the arena and we got to walk around on the court and take a few pictures. It was about time for the Vol Walk though so I headed off toward the stadium and upon arrival made the mental note that next time around I should probably get there a little earlier. The crowd was so large lining the Vol Walk that I could kind of, almost, barely see a corner of what might have been part of the Vol Walk through a small gap in some trees.

I decided to stay and watch what I could see though and snapped a few distant pictures of the coaches and players as they went by. When they had all passed and the crowd had cleared I had already been texting with Oskie from 3SIB who said he was in the parking lot across the street from Gate 21. I crossed Peyton Manning Pass (the street) and found Oskie. We hung out and talked for a little bit and I got to meet some of his family while I told him about how excited I had been for approximately the previous 12 hours. Oskie then got a hold of Ghost who came down to meet up with us and was disappointed because he wanted to be there as a fan but was there covering the game, so instead of wearing his Big Orange colors with pride, he was in a nice blue, button-up shirt.

Needing to get up to the press box, Ghost departed and I left shortly after that to meet back up with Uncle David and Aunt Sue. I met up with them at the Neyland Parking Garage. We went from there to Gate 10 and up the massive ramp to get into the stadium. At the top is where I got my Lane Kiffin Bobblehead.

Kiffin bobblehead

I ended up getting to sit with David and Sue at the South end of the stadium, straight up from the middle of the end zone. We were sitting under the overhang from the upper deck of the stadium, so we were in the shade the whole time as well which was nice. The pregame was awesome with the Pride of the Southland band but when it really got to me was when the team ran through the T. No other tradition in football compares to that one. No words I find to put down right here will do any sort of justice for the surge of emotion that was pounding through me. And the game itself was just as sensational.

After the first quarter the game was still tied at zero which made me nervous. Tennessee had already had two possessions, both of which resulted in turnovers and were currently on their third drive of the game. But I was worried for nothing. Less than two minutes into the second quarter Bryce Brown ran into the endzone for the first points of the game. About a minutes and a half -of game time- after that Luke Stocker had caught a Jonathan Crompton pass for the second score of the game. Then Quintin Hancock caught one. Then Brandon Warren caught one. And next thing I knew we were up 28 to nothing at half time. We went on to score five more touchdowns in the game and four of our nine total touchdowns were scored by true Freshman.

Bryce Brown (11) had 11 carries for 104 yards and a touchdown.

Bryce Brown (11) had 11 carries for 104 yards and a touchdown.

All in all it was a great day. I’d rank it as one of the best in my life. I was going to provide some interesting statistics from the game at the end of this but this is already about 2100 words long so I’ll just do that in a separate post. But I will leave you with these two videos and a poll at the end for your entertainment:

3 Responses

  1. Great hanging out with you, Weller! Looking forward to Round 2 this week – Volstothewall will be up there, too.

  2. Excellent! I’ll definitely meet up with you guys!

  3. You’re livin’ your dream, buddy! This is what it’s all about. Savor every minute as I know you will!

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