My name is Jonathan Abbott. I grew up in Southeastern Kentucky, a border town to the great state of Tennessee. My home was full of Kentucky fans, but I was just different. I remember watching my first game on television in 1985. As a child I was infatuated with the orange and white, the fans, the stadium and of course the great John Ward. Listening to John was way better than the television. I can remember playing basketball outside while the radio was blasting John Ward’s game calls. My brother in law gave me the opportunity to make my first trip to Neyland as a teenager. I remember like it was yesterday watching Peyton torch UNLV in 1996. However, this story isn’t centered around me. Tennessee is a very special place: the fans, the stadium, the University. I knew one day I would share this with my son.
Fast forward to October 10, 2015. I’m filled with tears just typing this. My wife and I purchased tickets for my son John Nathan’s 4th birthday. Tennessee vs Georgia in Neyland, what a showdown. I made sure that he experienced all the pageantry of Knoxville and Neyland. We ate at Calhoun’s on the river, tailgated in the parking lot of Church Street United Methodist Church, visited the Vol Shop. I didn’t want him to miss any of this, however there were two things I was NOT going to let him miss: the Vol Walk and the boys running through the T. I remember arriving at the Vol Walk and having to place him on my shoulders to see. We successfully saw the famed Vol Walk. John Nathan was excited and joyful. It was such a live event with so many fans attending and the SEC Network crew onsite. Our seats were in the upper level, and we had two large bags of gear from the Vol Shop. I made a late decision to run the bags back to the vehicle. I told my wife Whitney to take John Nathan to our seats just in case I didn’t make it back to see the team run out. I made it firmly clear I wanted John Nathan to witness that. I literally ran back the my truck and dropped to gear, then ran all the way back to the gate. Nothing like a pregame warm up right?
As I re-entered the stadium I could hear the crowd roaring, I knew what was about to take place. I ran as fast as I could to our seats. My wife and son were no where to be found. Worried was an understatement when your wife is unfamiliar with a stadium full of 100,000 plus fans, with a four year old in tote. As the team ran out of the tunnel through the T I remember the gut punch feeling of not witnessing that moment with my son for the first time and the thought of them being lost in Neyland. I left my seat and began calling my wife. They finally showed up at the right section as I directed them to me. John Nathan’s face was glowing with smiles. I should have hugged and kissed both of them, but instead I blamed Whitney for him missing the team running through the T. When she began to explain what happened, I felt pretty small. They entered the correct gate but ended up on the complete opposite side of the stadium. My lovely wife knew how important this was to me and my son. She noticed the band separating on the field and decided to stop searching for the seats and allow John Nathan to witness this legendary tradition. The beauty of this story isn’t me checking the boxes of our agenda. Whitney just so happened to stop right next to the disabled veterans section. Some random kind gentleman sitting there, displaying the heart of a true Tennessee fan, handed my four year old his binoculars so my child could fully experience that moment. I was overwhelmed with joy. Although I wasn’t there to witness it with him, his mother took the reins and championed that moment. Whitney took photos, one of which was professionally printed and hangs on his Tennessee bedroom wall to this day. What a wonderful experience it was, and the Vols upset Georgia in a shocking 21 point turnaround.
– Jonathan Abbott