Last Saturday, my better half surprised me with a gift bag. It contained two day-glow orange T-shirts, and an envelope with two tix to the University of Tennessee vs. UGA game that evening. I immediately broke into a big smile. It was Game Day in Knoxville, ESPN was in town, and we would be live for the party.
If you’re not from East Tennessee, the importance of UT Football is hard to describe. UT football is football in East Tennessee. Ask someone locally if they’re watching “the game on Sunday” any week during football season and they’ll look at you with confusion. “Bless your heart, you mean Saturday, right?” will probably be the response you’ll get.
UT’s football program is historically badass. By kickoff Neyland Stadium becomes the sixth largest city in the entire state. The stadium the Vols call home is named after Brigadier General Robert Neyland, a man so epically badass he fought in World War I, came home and won a few football championships, fought in World War II, then came back home and said, “fuck it, let’s win a few more titles while I feel like it.”
We started the day noticing an insane amount of people garbed in red and black downtown, compared to the usual smattering of orange and white you’ll see near campus. These were the Georgia fans, and they were met before game time with the southern hospitality Vol fans usually give outsiders.
They did not return the same, which would be indicative of how the night would go.
“Here’s to a good game, gents,” I said to a couple of Georgia fans at the Casual Pint. “We’ve got a true freshman starting at quarterback today, so it’d be appreciated if you’d go easy on him.”
The men smiled. “We’ll try to get the word out, but apologies in advance if the message doesn’t get through to the team.”
Younger Georgia fans weren’t as classy as the two men at the Casual Pint. As Dr. S. and I would take a stroll downtown, we ran across a pack of “Dawgs,” yelling “Go Dawgs,” barking as though they belonged on all fours in an animal shelter and acting like general fools.
During one spat of barking, a classy lady from the area replied back, “I could yell ‘Go Irish’ and it’d make as much sense as the filth spewing from your sewer.” This flew completely over the heads of the Georgia pack of fans.
Fortunately for everyone, outside the stadium, the Georgia fans enjoyed their fandom the way one enjoys hardcore pornography: quietly, and with great shame and embarrassment. They would get vocal inside Neyland with their filthy hate speech, but they didn’t desecrate the hallowed grounds of the Hill while the Dawgs stayed outside.
College football is replete with traditions, and UT is no exception. The first we took in was the “Vol Walk,” where the team makes its way from the field house to Neyland Stadium. Led by Smokey, the blue tick coon hound serving as team mascot, the players and coaches make their walk dressed in suits and ties, many slapping hands with fans cheering them on.
I noticed a good deal of the players wearing headphones or AirPods while they made the Vol Walk. Presumably they were listening to some form of music ready to hype them up for the game. I’m not sure what counts as “hype music” for kids these days, so I’ll say the majority of them were listening to Lou Bega’s “Mambo #5.” That’s still a thing, right?
The Pride of the Southland Band’s march to Neyland Stadium was the next event prior to kickoff. This is one of the best marching bands in the country. Entry into this band is about as competitive as getting onto the starting football roster. They practice twice as much as the team, and they take their job to whip the crowd into a frenzy seriously.
Pregame would continue in the stadium with the band forming the Power T and making their way to the Vols entrance at Neyland. When the Vols run the Power T with Smokey at the lead to the home sideline, it’s arguably as loud as being on an airstrip without ear protection.
Then came kickoff, and the only thing louder than the roar of the crowd was the incessant shit-talking of the Georgia fans. We were unfortunate enough to sit next to a block of them. One young man who kept his yapper running through the entire game thought he’d manage to pick up a young lady in Vol Orange by telling her how much her school sucked for three straight quarters. It didn’t go well for the poor fella.
By the fourth quarter, the Georgia fans decided to “turn the lights on” for the Dawgs by exhausting what little cell phone battery power most of them had left by waving cell phone lights in the air. One can only wonder what would happen if cigarette lighters were still allowed on campus. Maybe they’d have more room to twit.
We ended up leaving once Georgia bypassed the Vols by 15 points in the second half. The team put on a great showing in the first half, but it’s a rebuilding team going against the number three ranked team in all of college football. As Dr. S. and I started to leave, the previously mentioned Georgia loudmouth asked me, “Oh, is the Vol fan leaving early because they’re sore losers?”
“ESPN’s in town, dumbass,” I responded. “This way I’ll be home before 1 AM. Enjoy the gridlock, slapnuts.”
We retired that evening to an Irish tavern Dr. S. and I prefer for a post-game drink, remarking how well the Vols did in the face of adversity and how idiotic Georgia fans behaved.
In bed by 1 AM, we slept until 10:30. Thank heavens for grandparents who wanted desperately to keep the kids overnight.
Hopefully your weekend was as fun as mine, unless you’re a Georgia fan. Then please enjoy yourself in private, shamefully. And if you’re a “Dawg,” know you worship a canine breed genetically inferior to blue tick coonhounds replete with health problems. All of you should be embarrassed.