267 Games and Counting…
Today we are graced by the presence of the one-and-only TK. He’s one of those lovable folks who keeps everything. Including a list of all Tennessee football games that he has attended in person. I’ve known TK for somewhere around 40 years, and he is one of my earliest connections to UT football. He also was the instigator behind the email discussion group that eventually was transformed into this Vols in the Fall blog. We’ve had many long conversations about the fortunes and misfortunes of the Vols. So I thought it would be perfect during this bye week to have TK write a post for us that reflects on his nearly half-a-century experience of attending Vol football games, in Knoxville and elsewhere. Kind of like a segment on one of those Ken Burns documentaries.
So, TK, take it away…
Well, Hello Volunteers! TK speaking.
It’s a bye week for University of Tennessee football. Our Blog Master Fred (BMF? We could have a little fun with that) has invited me to do a recap of the 267 Tennessee games I have had the privilege of attending since my first one in 1966. Shouldn’t take more than a few words!
Picture this. Knoxville, Tennessee. Neyland Stadium, Sheilds-Watkins Field. Football Saturday. Countdown: 13 minutes and change before kickoff – the Pride of the Southland Band takes the field. 11 minutes and change before kickoff – the National Anthem. 3 minutes and change before kickoff – the “T” opens up. 1 minute and change before kickoff – the Volunteers erupt through the “T”… players, coaches, trainers, cheerleaders, all led by a blue tick coon hound affectionately named “Smokey”. It’s Football Time in Tennessee!!!!!!!!!!!!
And so goes at each home game in Knoxville, but I’ve seen ‘em on the road, too. At approximately three and a half hours per game, that’s about 39 days solid of Tennessee Football! Yes, 39 days spread over 43 years. Of my 267 games to date, through last week’s defeat of Georgia, I have never arrived at a game late, and never left a game ‘till time had expired. I’m proud to say that’s never changed. But as you can imagine, I’ve seen a lot of changes over the years.
Changes Through The Years
Of course the game itself has seen a lot of change. Here are some tidbits describing the game as I watched it over 40 years ago that are notably different from today.
Little things about the game.
A team couldn’t defer on the coin toss. A player had to signal to the ref (and make sure the ref saw it) when a substitution was made. Kickoffs from the 40 with hardly anyone able to get it into the end zone!!! No time outs from the bench. No reviews. Penalty flags were white, not yellow. No twenty five second clock… it was all in the QB’s head. Try that in today’s world. Ties. Just a few of many.
The stadium in Knoxville.
When I first went, there was the west side upper deck built in 1962, and a huge, and I mean huge for its time, press box – almost brand-spanking new at four years old. The north stands, bleachers really, had just been built. They looked great then, a dark green, but would look rather temporary in today’s world. The Coca-Cola Company had just helped pay for a new scoreboard, and it had digital numbers instead of the old sweeping hand clock it replaced. That old scoreboard remained behind the new northstands for the 1966 season and then it disappeared. I hope somebody bought it for posterity. Also in 1966, the checkerboard endzones were there, but soon to disappear, only to reappear years later where they remain today as a unique symbol of Tennessee football to the rest of the nation.
Section “X” was there at the north end of the west stands protruding north past the end zone. An obvious addition. Kind of looked out of place. The section was built in 1937 by the Works Progress Administration (WPA-one of Roosevelt’s programs) to seat (and I’ll use the terminology of the day) the “Coloreds” back in the days before the Civil Rights Movement. But compared with other programs across the South, at lease Tennessee was forward-thinking enough to at least have the section built at all. It was torn down when the north horseshoe was built to complete the bowl shape of the stadium for the 1980 season, blocking the view of “The Hill” forever.
But back to 1966. There was a gap in the new north end bleachers, allowing the fans to see The Hill and the huge interlocking orange-and-white “UT” on the sloping grass, just below the G&G and Physics buildings. There was also the flagpole and, on game days, a cannon provided by a UT fraternity. During pregame while the Pride of the Southland Band played the National Anthem, the flag was raised in an intermittent fashion during the drum-roll segement of the anthem. It took three or four of those segments to get it to the top of the pole. But they had the routine down. And that cannon… Well, a Vol fan wanted to hear that cannon fire because it was set off at each Volunteer score. And sometimes fired too soon if there happened to be a penalty on the scoring play… remember, there were no cell phones and probably no walkie-talkies involved in this setup.
Back in my early days, the “T” was formed from the east stands, as that was from where the team ran out. The players also divided as they got to the head of the T – half going left and half going right – before collecting at the sideline. The “T” was later moved to receive the team from the north when the north horseshoe and its new locker rooms were built many years later.
The Tennessee Walking Horse used to appear at every game. Seems a horse couldn’t maneuver very well on the Tartan Turf which was installed beginning with the 1968 season. One fell with injury, so this tradition was cut back to a homecoming-only pageantry.
There once was a raised platform for the cheerleaders in front of the student section.
The home team bench used to be on the west side-the shady side for those hot September afternoon games. This began in 1964, Doug Dickey’s first year as Vol head coach. It had previously been on the east and was later returned to the east where it is today.
Game times were either 2:00 pm or 1:30 pm, with the rare exception of a late afternoon game for TV. Today, sometimes you don’t even know the game time until a couple of weeks before.
The Vol Navy was there then, too, but not advertised as such. Just how some people got to Neyland Stadium.
Gay Street in downtown Knoxville was where the pre- and post-ballgame crowds gathered back then. Lunch at the S&W Cafeteria. Tickets could be bought at the Farragut Hotel. Bought mind you. Scalping was illegal then!!!!! If you needed Tennessee gear, you went to the Athletic House – its basement level was full of shirts, banners, window decals… you name it. And pictures of former Volunteer players all over the walls. I remember going there as an 11-year old with my Dad. I was hot stuff getting to go to Tennessee football games. And my Dad loved taking me. We talked about it all walking from uptown, where we parked in the Millers Department Store parking garage to the games and back. My Mom did her shopping and then we met her for the ride home and bent her ear about the game for the next 100 miles. The experiences of gameday in Knoxville with my Dad got into my blood. It’s still there and its one of my strongest connections to him. He died over 11 years ago. But my memories going to the games with him always puts a smile on my face.
Not everything has changed, though. One tradition comes to mind. The band 40 years ago performed their famous circle drills just as they did last week. There are just some things you can’t change. It still looks great, and I’ve never figured out how the hell they remember all those steps and play instruments at the same time.
My Top 5 Tennessee Games
The old Blog Master Freddy (there’s that BMF again) has requested this segment, and it’s a damn hard assignment, right up there with some of my Civil Engineering homework problems. But here goes, in no particular order.
Tennessee 23 Florida State 16 • Jan 4, 1999 • Tempe, Arizona
I guess this one is obvious. For an undefeated season and the National Championship. In the Fiesta Bowl stadium, and the excitement was in the air. I had no idea how it would go ‘till about 2 hours before the game when I really got into the pre-game celebrating with all the fans. And there, in an instant, I just knew it would be Tennessee all the way. And it was. I had to be there for it, for it might be a once-in-a-lifetime game.
Tennessee 17 Georgia 17 • Sep 14, 1968 • Knoxville
The first game on the very controversial Tartan Turf. Not Astro Turf, which was the thing of the time. Tartan Turf was different. And way too different for the Georgia Athletic Director. The controversy stirred, but the game went on. The buildup was terrific and turned out the game was too. Tennessee tied it up on a two-point conversion with time expired on the clock. I was just 13. I remember asking my Dad if they could still do the conversion with no time left. The crowd went wild.
Tennessee 21 Auburn 0 • Sep 29, 1973 • Knoxville
One of my many “rain games” I’ll mention later. The torrential downpour in the second half. I remember watching the rain come down on the west side and me in the dry east side (I was in the upper deck in the student section). That was just bizarre, and so was the game. The strategies because of the downpour were total entertainment, especially with the score in the Vol’s favor. Repeated punts on first down! One for 80 yards by a running back. Just one of those games you don’t forget.
Tennessee 17 Alabama 17 • Oct 16, 1993 • Birmingham
Just two more Vol-Tide games were played in the Iron City, at Legion Field, after which the series shifted to the campus in Tuscaloosa. A hard-fought battle by both teams. A good ol’ Vol-Bama rivalry game. I went to the game on a road trip with seven good friends. Fans of both sides were so into this game. Legion Field was a special place to see an SEC game.
Tennessee 35 Alabama 28 • Oct 16, 1982 • Knoxville
After a torturous streak of 11 Alabama consecutive wins in this series, the Vols finally get one. Unbelievable tension in the stands throughout. And boy the fans were very loud at this one. This was my “Jack Daniels game” as I’ll explain later, but I was under control!!!
Knoxville wasn’t, though, when this game was over. Celebrations broke out everywhere. The Strip out by campus was shut down, but not before a Kerns Bread tractor trailer tried to make it down Cumberland Avenue. The crowd, now surrounding the truck, had made the street impassable. Then somebody climed up on the backside of the truck and forced open the trailer doors, and within five minutes, the truck was completely emptied – celebratory hamburger buns flying to the crowd in the street! Do you know how many hamburger buns are in a tractor trailer? Surely Kerns had insurance?!?!
Something quite strange about these five. Two were on October 16th. Two were ties. Hell, I’m an only child. Maybe I was wanting a sister to kiss?
Let’s Get Categorical
I may be a pack rat, but I’m an organized pack rat. So here’s some of my experiences put in boxes for easy digestion.
First Game: Oct 1, 1966 in Knoxville. Tennessee 23 Rice 3.
First Night Game: Sep 16, 1972 in Knoxville. Tennessee 28 Penn State 21.
First Bowl Game: Dec 20, 1971 in Memphis. Tennessee 14 Arkansas 13 (Liberty Bowl).
First Away Game: Oct 9, 1976 in Atlanta. Tennessee 42 Georgia Tech 7.
First Loss: Nov 3, 1973 in Knoxville. Georgia 35 Tennessee 31. This first loss came after 35 games. I was 33-1-1 then! And the tie was against Georgia also.
I have seen three, all won by the Vols. Against Arkansas in 2002. Six overtimes and the longest NCAA game at the time: 4 hours, 9 minutes. And against South Carolina in 2003 and again in 2007.
100th game: Nov 14, 1981 in Knoxville. Tennessee 28 Mississippi 20.
200th game: Sep 2, 2000 in Knoxville. Tennessee 19 Southern Miss 16.
250th game: Oct 27,2000 in Knoxville. Tennessee 27 South Carolina 24 (1 OT).
The Hottest Game
Sep 13, 1980 in Knoxville. Southern Cal 20 Tennessee 17. It was a night game, terribly hot as I remember and concessions ran out of ice. I believe Sandy was with me.
The Coldest Game
Nov 21, 1981 in Lexington. Kentucky 21 Tennessee 10. I didn’t drink coffee, I didn’t smoke… But I did both at this game. Anything to associate with heat! And on top of all that the, Vols lose. And to Kentucky to boot. Cold temps, howling wind, spitting snow. It was a long ride home.
Sep 29, 1973 in Knoxville. Tennesse 21 Auburn 0. One of my Top 5 all-time Tennessee games as mentioned above. The crowd stayed for the party in the rain. Only my second game as a UT student.
Nov 27, 1982 in Nashville. Vanderbilt 28 Tennessee 21. Left Kingsport that Saturday morning with my Dad. It started raining when we were 30 miles out of Kingsport. Drove all the way to Nashville in the rain. Rained the whole game. Drove all the way back home in the rain. Felt like my eyes were falling out of my head that night. Remember sitting in the car for a few after the game drying our shoes and socks with the car heater.
The Furthest Destination
Sep 1, 2007 in Berkeley. Cal 45 Tennessee 31. I’ve known Mike B since the 7th grade, and he’s the only friend I know that may have attended as many Vols games as myself. But this game was a real first – Mike B and I actually sat together! It took 246 games for me to finally watch the Orange with my old friend. Maybe that’s because, unlike myself, I’ve known Mike to have left a game or two early!
My Drunkest Game
Sep 15, 2006 in Knoxville. Florida 21 Tennessee 20. Hey we all have to have that drunk game. Mine was very recent (maybe I’m going through life backward). Maybe I knew the outcome before the game. What can I say?
My “Jack Daniels Game”
Oct 16, 1982 in Knoxville. Tennessee 35 Alabama 28. Another one of my Top 5 games. Rooster and I went to the game with a bottle of Jack hidden in my boot. And like the drunk game, but what was to be in a better way, maybe we knew the outcome before the game.
My Worst Season
1977. The worst record the Vols have had in my years of attending was the 4-7-0 campaign of Johnny Majors’ first year as head coach.
My Best Season
1998. Duh! Vols were 13-0 and the National Champs. First year of the BCS.
My Bowl Games
Liberty Bowl 1971. Tennessee 14 Arkansas 13.
Liberty Bowl 1974. Tennessee 7 Maryland 3.
Bluebonnet Bowl 1979. Purdue 27 Tennessee 22.
Fiesta Bowl 1999 (‘98 season). Tennessee 23 Florida State 16. NATIONAL CHAMPIONS!
Peach Bowl 2002. Maryland 30 Tennessee 3. More on that later.
Outback Bowl 2007 (‘06 season). Penn State 20 Tennessee 10.
Outback Bowl 2008 (‘07 season). Tennessee 21 Wisconsin 17.
Have I ever gotten sick at a game? No.
Have I ever gotten hurt at a game? Well, very close. I broke my foot shortly after a victory against South Carolina in Columbia, 1994. Too much celebrating after that one. The result of a little horse play with one of the guys.
Have I ever sold extra tickets? Quite often. Sold a $30 single ticket in Tuscaloosa for $100. Traded two tickets for a 50-cent program in Knoxville in the early 80’s. And there have been other times I’m sure. I could have pulled that deal off again.
Have I ever gotten into a game free (as in no ticket)? Indeed. In 1989 against Auburn in Knoxville. Auburn in town – tickets were tight. For some reason I didn’t have tickets that year, or at least for just that game anyway. Jeff, a buddy at work, knew a guy who worked the gates. He talked with him and told him my problem. His friend recommended for me to find an old unused ticket from another game so he could tear a stub off and I could get in free. Great plan. I just happened to have some old unused tickets from the previous season! Trouble was, Jeff’s friend and I had never met! But I knew the gate number. And with Jeff’s descriptions of each of us to the other, the plan went off without a hitch. Oh, and the Vols won, 21-14. And speaking of old unused tickets… I have some if you are interested. Even some from those Liberty Bowls of over 30 years ago!
Have I ever gotten into a fight at a game? Well not really, but pretty close. Kentucky was in town. Myself, BG, GH, and Freddy were verbally mixing it up pretty good with some Wildcat fans in the upper deck of the south horseshoe back in 1978. It soon settled down. No physical action developed except for me grabbing a Kentucky hat (the cowboy variety in Kentucky blue and a white “K”) off the top of some guy from that state up north and slinging it off the upper deck. Not sure how we got out of there after that.
Any superstitions? Well not really. I have worn a Tennessee hat of some sort since around 1980. When an extra point is kicked I watch for the center to flinch while snapping the ball and at that point I yell “good” and start clapping. Always get in three claps before the extra point is signaled good. In the unlikely event it’s not good… well, I was just wrong!!!!
Any quotes worth mentioning? When Tennessee kicks off toward the south end zone I sometimes holler “Kick it in the river.” Another. In the game at LSU in 1982 the public address announcer at half time announced the attendance at Tiger Stadium that night at somewhere in the low to mid 80,000 range. I responded by yelling “They wouldn’t even turn the lights on in Neyland Stadium for that!” This was in the times of the capacity wars at college stadiums. Most schools went through that phase. Freddy and Rooster were with me and Freddy has never forgotten that quote – he always brings that one up.
I’ve been to 33 Tennessee road games at several venues, including (not bowl games): Auburn, Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, Athens, Baton Rouge, South Bend, Boston, Berkeley, Columbia, Atlanta, Nashville, Lexington. May have missed one or two but those are the biggies. The ones that made the biggest impression, in order, probably go like this:
LSU at Baton Rouge. The magic of Tiger Stadium on a Saturday night. The tailgating before the game. The excitement of the Tiger fans. Willie Gault ran a kickoff back for a touchdown.
Georgia Tech at Atlanta. Grant Field. A feeling of history of the southern game. Makes me think of Bobby Dodd, the great Hall-of-Fame Georgia Tech coach who starred at Tennessee, and before that, played for my high school in Kingsport. The great Tech-Tennessee rivalry was still going pretty strong when I watched the Vols in Atlanta. Too bad they don’t play anymore.
Notre Dame at South Bend. Number one in all of college football history has to be Notre Dame. I just needed to see at least one game there, and one game is what I saw. The first-ever contest between Tennessee and Notre Dame. There was a lot of buildup for this one in 1978. Notre Dame came up on top. Rooster was there with me. Oh, one interesting fact about that trip. National speed limits are 55. I’m pulled over in central Indiana by a local deputy doing 70 on the interstate highway’s on-ramp. No ticket though. Must have been my southern charm. Or maybe the two girls in the car…
There were some major duds from all these games, for sure. I was there for the upsets that our generation remembers. North Texas State in 1975, Rutgers in 1979, Virginia in 1980. And also the recent loss to Wyoming in 2008. All of them played at Neyland Stadium. I also would have to throw in a couple of losses to Duke. Then there’s losses to our usual doormats, poor ol’ Kentucky and Vanderbilt. I’ve witnessed three losses to Kentucky and three to Vandy. That in itself shows I’ve been doing this for a while!
But the all-time worst – the game that wore me out more than any. The Peach Bowl in Atlanta on New Year’s Eve. 2002. Maryland 30 Tennessee 3. It was awful. Nothing worked. Team looked disoriented as hell. Appeared to not even try in the second half. The Georgia Dome had very few orange-clad folks left at the bitter end. And if it had not been for my accomplishment of staying to the end of every game I had seen up to that time, this is the game I would have walked out on.
Biggest margin of victory: 67 points. Sep 23, 2000. Knoxville. Tennessee 70 Louisana-Monroe 3.
Biggest margin of defeat: 44 points. Sep 5, 1981. Athens. Georgia 44 Tennessee 0.
Longest win streak: 28
Longest undefeated streak: 34
Longest losing streak: 3
Sep 23, 2006 in Knoxville. Tennessee 33 Marshall 7. This game was postponed for one hour. A 4 pm kickoff finally started at 5 due to severe thunderstorms in Knoxville. Lightening in the skies. In addition to the delay, several oddities occurred. You could enter the stadium and leave and return by showing a ticket stub (a big no-no under regular circumstances). The band did not march pregame – no “T” was formed by the band for the team to run through. The only time that has happened since Doug Dickey started this tradition against Army at the beginning of his coaching reign. Also the Pride of the Southland Band did not perform at halftime. Felt weird.
A Big Regret
Like I said, I’m a pack rat, and an organized pack rat at that. Which begs the question… Why I didn’t save all of my ticket stubs! That would have made a nice keepsake.
267 games… So how did I do? Overall record is 194-64-7 (.740 winning percentage). I’m right up there with General Neyland, boys!
Funny thing is that I don’t get tired of it. It’s one of my hobbies I guess you could say. I’ve seen some non-Tennessee college games, too. I just love the college game. There was Notre Dame at Clemson with Bert. Alabama at Georgia Tech with Rooster. Wyoming at Oklahoma with Freddy. Florida at Auburn with Rooster. I even watched BYU play UNLV by myself in Las Vegas. The hookers wanted too much to go with me! But none of those are like watching Tennessee. There’s just nothing like it.
Some Final Words
Fred’s request has brought back lots of memories for me in writing this. It’s been a great ride. Not soon to be over I hope. The five of us who have started this on-line thing are Vol fans of the heart, and I’m sure you would have been right there with me for all 267 if you could. At least each of you were there at some points in the journey.
I just hope this write-up has dislodged some memories from the backs of your minds and maybe you can share some of yours, too. So, get commenting. Just one obvious request before I wrap this thing up guys… in the words of the legendary Bobby Denton…
“We ask that you pay these prices. And PLEASE! PAY NO MORE!”
So, good evening. This is John Ward signing off. On this, the Vol Network!