April 9, 2014
By Brian Rice
As a young fan coming to Neyland Stadium, I had absolutely zero idea what they meant when the voice over the loudspeaker said to "Pay these prices and please pay no more!"
What I did know was that my mom and dad insisted that we be in our seats in time to hear it each game. As the years went on, I wanted the same, I never wanted to experience a game without it.
Now, all of Vol Nation faces that reality with the passing of the voice behind it, Bobby Denton.
Denton and longtime "Voice of the Vols" John Ward taught generations of young Vol fans the proper pronunciation of Neyland (like your knee) and Tennessee (emphasis on the SEEEEEEEEEE).
As I grew older, I wanted to be him. I became convinced that Bobby Denton had the greatest job in the world, a belief solidified in the 90s when I found out he was also at that time the voice of Talladega Superspeedway. That meant that during the UT win streak over Alabama in the mid-90s, Crimson Tide fans then also had to listen to our announcer call the races in their home state.
I tried to be him the first time I took the microphone for a charity basketball game when I was 13. The fans didn't react to me the same way those in Neyland did to him, but it still felt like part of a dream realized. Six years later, I announced a Lady Vol volleyball match at Stokely Athletics Center, and felt like I had now reached this mythical fraternity of UT announcers.
But Saturdays in Neyland told me I wasn't in the same stratosphere. You always knew "It's Football Time in Tennessee" and "Please pay no more!" were coming. But as a fan, I waited anxiously for a sack so we could hear "Stopped, thrown for a loss," or a gang tackle to hear, "Brought down by Wilson and a HOST of Volunteers!"
Perhaps what I will miss most will be the Senior Day announcement of each of the seniors for one final run through the T. There wasn't anything really different than any other place, but that iconic voice saying simply the hometown, number and name before the solo run through the band brought tears to the eyes of fans all around.
Denton told any aspiring announcer that would ask for advice that you needed to be yourself, need to develop your own style. I happily took that advice from him, but adopted one small thing that he said was important. Athletes were always identified by hometown and state. But those from the state of Tennessee were called just by town, because this state is their home. A small detail that many probably never noticed, but something that became even more important to me over the years.
I walked into the PA booth in Neyland Stadium last August to read a few announcements as part of the open practice that served as a warm-up for much of the game day staff at UT. It was more than a little overwhelming to just sit in the seat and see the microphone, not to mention be expected to talk into it. I was, as were many people that contacted me on Twitter, comforted by the fact that a couple of weeks later, it would be Bobby's microphone once again.
A piece of Tennessee is now gone, and game days at Neyland Stadium will never quite be the same. But that's not a bad thing. Some things, some experiences, some people are so special they can never be duplicated. And that is when you know how truly special they are.