Fan Stories2021-07-20T19:03:47+00:00

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The love for Tennessee football and the University started with my Grandfather and he passed it down to my Dad and he then passed that love down to me, and the memories we have made attending games in Neyland have been some that I will cherish forever. We’ve seen some amazing games, some heartbreaking games, and everything in between. Neyland is a special place and we love attending games and supporting the Big Orange. Go Vols!

– Clark Hatfield

My memories of Neyland started when kids like me could roam the fenced area behind the team. These were the days of the tear-away jerseys. When Haskel Stanback or Stanley Morgan would make a long run and lose their jersey, the managers would throw them over the fence for us kids to fight over. Nothing like wearing a genuine Big Orange game jersey to school on Monday all strung together with safety pins. Another real plus during those good ole days, was being able to sit on the hill behind the temporary stands in the north end zone just below Alumni Hall. No ticket – no problem!

– Dan Tidwell

My Favorite Neyland Story

– Andy Bowser

It was 1973. It was Auburn. Big deal back then. Huge rivalry. I drove up from my co-op engineering assignment in Chattanooga for the game. My friend Marcia Wood got me what turned out to be the best seats I ever had as a student at UT–section D, Row 49, 48 yard line. One row in front of being under the cover of the upper deck…

Weather threatening. Second half. Tennessee ahead. Rains came. Rains like I’d never seen before and haven’t seen at Neyland since. I literally watched rain come across the north end zone bleachers and sail into the south end zone horseshoe seats while never touching the ground. The playing surface of Shields-Watkins was covered with water from the sidelines out to the hashmarks. During time outs Auburn cheerleaders body surfed from the hashmarks to the sideline fence. But the highlight was that Tennessee was ahead. Auburn couldn’t advance the ball and punted. Tennessee punted right back on first down. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat until the game ended. Only game I’ve ever seen where a team punted on first down. But it was the right call Coach Battle! Final score Tennessee 21 Auburn 0. I had a nice dinner on the strip with a new friend and drove back to Chattanooga in the rain. Happy!

– David Torbett

It was my first game in Neyland freshman year in 2019, and I was going with some new friends I had met in my hall at Brown. About halfway through the game with no breakfast or water, I celebrated halftime by passing out directly into a trash can in the student section. A combination of heat stroke and some hefty tailgating had done me in. I don’t remember a thing, but woke up to my friends telling me that they had to dig me out of this giant garbage bin in front of the entire student section.

This will forever be my fondest freshman year memory because I left Neyland that day with who I didn’t know at the time were going to be two of my best friends, one of whom is now my roommate. This story makes an appearance every once in a while amongst our friend group, and I know it will be my go to “Mom was crazy in college” stories in the future. I can assure you there’s no better way to make lifelong friends!

– Amanda Phillips

I have so many memories in this place. Almost as many as my childhood home and my grandparent’s homestead. I can’t name a best memory, as there are too many to list. But my first game was in ’87, versus Auburn. Second biggest rival at the time, to Alabama. I’ll never forget seeing the sea of orange for the first time in person. Late in the game, we were down 20-17. Auburn had the ball and was driving. I closed my eyes and prayed that we would somehow get the ball back. No clue how many plays in tow that I did this for, but the next thing I recall is hearing the crowd roar, and my Dad yelling “We got the ball! We got the ball!” Preston Warren had intercepted a pass, and we then drove down the field to kick a field goal to tie. No overtime in those days, so we didn’t win, but we didn’t lose either. I didn’t care much at the time. I was hooked. That was followed by witnessing tons of wins over the years. A lot of wonderful memories, but none can really top that one, for me.

– Eric Crowell

My wife and I are huge Tennessee fans and my wife is a UT Law Graduate. Our shared loved for Tennessee football was one of the things that drew us together when we were dating. Our first shared trip to Neyland was for the 2015 Oklahoma game. Fast forward to May of 2016 and I knew exactly how I was going to pop the question to my now wife, Alex. I met Alex as she was finishing her last final exam of the Spring Semester and we were about to journey to the beach. On the way to her car, I told her I wanted a picture of us with the Neyland statue, the rest, as you can see, is history.

– Derik Samber

In 1982 my dad worked as an usher at one of the entrance tunnels in the south end zone. It was a way for him to get to see the games for free as well as make a few extra bucks. Occasionally I would be able to get a ticket and go with him to the game. This particular Saturday Tennessee was playing Alabama and I am fairly certain that we hadn’t beat them in my lifetime. If we had I would have certainly been too young to remember. Alabama seemed invincible to me and truth be told, to everyone else as well. We managed to stay in the game the whole time but I kept waiting for the inevitable to happen. To this day I remember Chuck Coleman taking the ball off tackle and bursting through the left side of the line. As he was heading to the end zone straight toward me I remember him pointing his finger toward the student body as he left the Tide defenders behind. The fan reaction was louder than anything I had ever heard and that was the point I knew we were going to win. Bobby Denton kept repeating the final score 35-28 Tennessee!

– Gary Taft

In 1982 I was invited to go to the Tennessee verses Alabama football game. The person that was supposed to meet me with a ticket did not show and I bought a ticket for $10.00 and ended up setting in the student section behind the Tennessee bench on the 30 yard line. With less than a minute left in the game and Tennessee leading Alabama we all crossed the chain link fence and I was standing by coach Johnny Majors. When the players carried him over to shake coach Bear Bryants hand I just followed along and a picture was taken of coach Majors shaking hands with coach Bryant. In the picture there are three faces seen, coach Majors, coach Bryant, and myself. The greatest moment of my volunteer life! Go Vols

– Larry Shropshire

At age 15 in 2003, I decided my best bet at getting tickets to the games was to sell hot dogs as a vendor. The first game that year was Fresno State, and if there was one place on planet earth the sun decided to stare at that day, it was Neyland Stadium. It was so hot. Needless to say, there wasn’t much interest for hot dogs, but I had a job to do. I trekked across the south end zone upper deck looking for patrons and came across a guy somewhere around section GG or HH. Shirt was off and several small, empty, unidentified plastic bottles were scattered around his feet. “Hot dogs,” he said, “who the hell wants a hot dog in this heat??” I answered, “I have a job to do, sir, and that’s to sell hot dogs.” “Well,” he said, “got any water?” “No.” He chuckled, “I tell you what, you bring me a water, I’ll buy every damn hot dog you’ve got in there.” So…I went and bought the guy an ice water. And he bought every damn hot dog I had. Must have been 15 dogs.

– Heath Trentham

As a young single 20 something the only thing more entertaining than reading personals ads was watching the VOLS play football. Imagine my surprise when I came across an ad for a guy whose friend had bailed on him and left him with an extra ticket to the 2010 Florida game! Never being one to miss a good opportunity I replied to his ad thinking at best I would see my first game inside the stadium. Well he received a lot of responses but what made mine so special was that I had only ever seen the VOLS play on TV. Being as it was short notice and we were both working adults we couldn’t arrange to meet before the game he did all the planning and all I had to do was show up and enjoy myself. And I did enjoy myself! Even though the VOLS didn’t win that day they had delivered a completely different win to us. We spent the rest of the season going to home games and watching away games together. It didn’t stop there because this will be our 11th season watching the VOLS together. In that time we’ve had an orange and white wedding, welcomed two vol-babies, continued to watch every game together, and based all our plans on being able to watch the games. For us Neyland isn’t just the home of the greatest college football program, its the start of our love story.

– Mary Overstreet

I have worked at Neyland since 1974. My best memory was in 1982 when I was working as an usher in section H near the visitor’s tunnel to locker room. When Bear Bryant made his last trip to Neyland Stadium and lost to Johnny Majors. I went down to the field to ask Coach Bryant to sign a ticket for me. He told me that if he stopped a crowd would gather, so he said for me to walk with him. I did and we talked all the way during his walk around the field. He signed the ticket and the guys I worked with gave me a hard time about it, but hey IT WAS BEAR BRYANT AND A TENNESSEE WIN!

– Mike Major

Prior to 9/14/19 my favorite was being directly to the left of the Uprights when Florida missed the field goal in the 98 Championship Season and watching the end zone crowd for their reaction to see if it was good…..It was NOT, but now my favorite is 2 Games….the UT vs Chattanooga game on 9/14/2019…..I had been trying to get on the Kidney Transplant list at UT Medical Center since July of that year and through an incredible generous act of a family from my home town I received a call in the 3rd quarter that I was being evaluated for a Kidney through a directed donation. As game ended I received a second call that said get to UT medical we have a room waiting….and after some confirming test I had a Kidney Transplant at UT medical at 6am on 9/15/19. All went perfect and is working great still today. The second game was the 10/26/2019 game against South Carolina. After some very hard work and progress….and begging my doctors….. I was able to attend this game (wearing a mask) just 6 weeks after my Transplant. That 41-21 drubbing of SC was the best medicine I could receive.

Attached is a picture of me and my wonderful sister who pushed me everyday to walk and get stronger at that South Carolina game……I was Mask Cool way before it was required.

– Sam Melton

In the fall of 1968 I was a freshman at UT. In those days there was a Homecoming Event called the “Freshman Footrace”. It used be be held at halftime on Shields-Watkins field but that year it was held before the game. I, together with several of my Phi Sigma Kappa pledge brothers, signed up. For the event we took off our shoes, put them in a big pile on the goal line, and went to the other goal. The object was to run to the end of the field, find your shoes, put them on, and run back to the original goal line. Back in those days I was pretty fast so I was able to beat the 40 or 50 other guys to the pile (mostly from pledges from other fraternities).

I had painted my shoes “day-glo orange “so they were easy to find. I found them, quickly tied them on, and took off for the other goal line 100 yards away. I gave the first guy who tried to tackle me a quick inside then out move, turned the corner, picked up a nice block from one of my brothers, and broke to the outside. I’ll never forget looking down the field and seeing nothing but green grass! I thought this was what Richmond Flowers much feel like! I was home free….or so I thought. Somehow a guy comes out of nowhere and tackles me just inside the five yard line. Well, I went to the turf, kicked the guy in the face and scrambled over the goal.

At half time my name was announced as the winner and I was given a nice trophy. It was proudly displayed in the Phi Sigma Kappa house for the next 4 years and now is on the shelf in my home office. Go Big Orange!

– Richard Murphree

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

I remember my first game as a freshman in 1969…..i was told to bring an umbrella by some upper classmen…. to put my bottle of Southern Comfort inside the umbrella. and i thought it was hilarious that the drink vendors were yelling, “mixers here….get your mixers here”. dont rember much about that first game…. or weekend.

– Chuck Hickey

X2, 47, 13. To most that sounds like a completely random set of numbers but to me it holds just as much significance as numbers like 98, 16, or 102455 do to any fan. That was my seat for history. It’s where I would learn to sing Rocky Top and to hate Steve Spurrier. When you asked my grandparents how long those seat had been theirs, they couldn’t give you a year. They simply pointed out the there were wooden bleachers behind the north end zone. When Texas Tech came to Neyland Stadium in August of 1997 it was my turn to occupy that seat. I had no idea of the journey I was about go on. Sandwiched between my dad and my grandparents I would spend the next 12 seasons growing up, witnessing some of the greatest moments in the history of Neyland Stadium from that seat. I didn’t even witness a home loss until 2001. To pick a single game or moment would be almost impossible, but the things that stick out most to me are the hugs I would get from my grandmother after each game which were always a little tighter and longer after a win, the sights of flashbulbs (real ones, not smartphones) flashing like lightening bugs as the team ran through the T, or Bobby Denton giving a “score of interest” and adding a dramatic pause before announcing that Florida or Alabama was losing. Thankfully, in an effort to be like my father and grandfather, I insisted that I have a radio, and was able to enjoy John Ward’s final season. I even sat through the 3rd quarter of the 1997 Georgia game with a gash in my knee from a fall on the way to the Stadium that would require 10 stitches and a brace that didn’t allow me to bend my knee for weeks, simply because I didn’t want to leave. The doctor apologized to giving me Kentucky blue stitches. In high school that seat was where I took my girlfriend, who is now my wife, to her first game. These are just some of the amazing memories that all take place in that one seat. I only moved to a different location when I became a student at UT, though I did get to sit there a couple more times before my grandparents and parents let the tickets go. 2021 will mark my 26th season in Neyland Stadium. I’ve been extremely lucky in the past 25 years to have only missed 3 games (97 Ole Miss, 2000 Florida, 2013 South Alabama). Unfortunately over time my seat has changed. My grandparents are no longer with us. But every Saturday that I get to sit inside that stadium, part of me is still the 7-year-old boy sitting in those seats witnessing the pageantry of a Tennessee Football Saturday in Neyland Stadium for the first time. I still hear Bobby Denton and John Ward. I still smell the aroma of whiskey and cigars coming from the ramps above gate 10. I still hear my grandmother singing the National Anthem along with George Bitzas. I still see those flashbulbs exploding as the team runs through the T. And it’s all thanks to my family and X2, 47, 13.

– Curtis Herd

I am a member of the Tennessee cross country and track team who ran during the Coach Rohe era from 1964 until 1968. My fondest memory of Neyland Stadium was running interval 440’s around the cinder track that used to be outside the football field. Coach Rohe would time us and we usually would run 40 x 440 with a 70 second rest on Monday’s. When were were finished, the cross country team had its locker room under the stadium where we would get a shower. Then, it was off to Gibbs Hall where we would sit down to dinner on the training table and eat like ravished wolves after expending all that energy running 40 x 440.

When I came back to Tennessee in 2014 for a cross country and track team reunion, I was in the book store in the student union. There was a family there looking at a present day picture of Neyland Stadium. I casually told them that I was a member of the cross country and track team during the Coach Rohe era and that there was a track around the football field. I mentioned that one of our workouts was running 40 quarters on the cinder track and that the stadium was open at the north end forming a horse shoe. There was no second deck and the stadium was not a closed oval like it is today. They listened to what I had to say with great interest and they were fascinated that I happened to be in the student union and was able to share the memory of the cinder track around the football field and the stadium being open like a horse shoe. Go Vols!

– Paul Ladniak

My family are all big Florida State fans, but we wanted to see Rocky Top in-person and cheer against the hated Gators. Thus, in September of 2016, my folks came up from Tallahassee and I flew into Tyson-McGhee from Connecticut. We stayed in Gatlinburg and soaked up all the Smoky Mountains have to offer, including the awesomeness of the Pancake Pantry. We also took a cruise on the Tennessee River, which was fantastic.

On Game Day, we headed to Knoxville, enjoyed hanging out with the fans outside Neyland and had the pleasure of listening to the UT band playing Rocky Top as they marched into the stadium.

We then grabbed our seats and MAN it was hot. Had to be 100 degrees in the sun. And the Vols just wilted in the 1st half and were down 21-3 at halftime. Some folks left, but we stayed cuz, well, we never knew whether we’d get to Neyland again and “what if the Vols came back?”

Well, you know the rest if you’re a Vols’ fan! UT scored 38 straight points in the 2nd half and CRUSHED THE GATORS 38-28! We were singing Rocky Top at the top of our lungs after every UT touchdown and just had a blast. The win snapped the Vols’ 11-game losing streak to Florida and I’ve never seen happier fans than those inside that stadium late in the 4th quarter. And for those Vol fans who left? Lawd, you missed seeing one of the greatest comebacks in UT history!!! What were you thinking?

– Joe Pankowski

As a member of the Clinton, Tennessee high school marching band I dreamed of being a member of the Pride of the Southland Marching Band. As a high school senior I tried out and was accepted into the band as a member of the trumpet section. My parents were the kind of Mom & Dad that were always there when their children were participants in a sporting event. When I was accepted into the band, they purchased season tickets and, until they passed a few years ago, could be found cheering the Vols from their seats in section HH. In the Fall of 1973 it was time to attend my first “band camp” – a week long intense practice regimen to prepare for the first football game at Neyland Stadium. The long days were filled with much music to learn, drills to remember and anticipation of “opening night” for the football team and the band. Then came Saturday – the pregame show as the Pride hit the field playing the Tennessee Waltz march, the alma mater march, the Star Spangled Banner and then we formed the giant T in which the football team raced onto the field. As we began to play “Down the Field” (the primary fight song at the time – pre Rocky Top), the T opened up, the team ran through and the crowd – including my parents in section HH went wild. My lifelong dream had come true and, let’s just say one cannot successfully play a trumpet when overcome with emotion and tears streaming down my face. I think I recall pulling myself together in time to exit the field, but I’m not totally sure. Memories of Neyland… bet this one will be with me forever. Thank you Tennessee, and thank you Neyland Stadium for what you have meant to me and my family.

– Ronnie Boling

How to pick just one? I can’t so mine is a conglomeration of memories. Both my parents went to UT and were huge fans. We lived in NW Pennsylvania while growing up so we didn’t get to see any games. I got to experience my first as a freshman in 1989 and it was like nothing I’d ever experienced! My four years at UT saw me at every home game except while studying abroad during the fall of 1991. After I got married in 1996, we got season tickets in 1997. I took both my kids to their first games at 1 month old. We missed a couple here and there but have been Vol faithful ever since. Now my oldest is a senior about to graduate from UT and my youngest is finishing up his freshman year. Our family bleeds orange and the memories made in Neyland Stadium are priceless.

– Laura Joyner

My husband and I had our very first date at Neyland Stadium. We sat under what used to be the VOLS sign in the high rise area of the stadium. It was the Tennessee vs. Alabama game on October 18, 1980. It rained the whole day, except when Charlie Daniels entertained at half time. Despite the rain and the loss to Alabama, we are still together, married 40 years now. We consider October 18 an anniversary for us and our continued attendance at Neyland ever since – now with our daughters, son-in-law (who is a Georgia fan) and grandsons (who we are working on being Volunteer fans). The middle sings Rocky Top at the top of his lungs. Go Vols! My niece, Kera Sewell, also was Jr. Smokey for several years and Smokey occasionally, so we loved seeing her perform during the games!

– Sandy Dodson

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