April 22, 2013
By Nick Carner
KNOXVILLE -- Dog sweaters. Glasses. A motorcycle helmet. Faces.
And ... bricks!
These were just a few of the items fans brought to have signed by Vols' head coach Butch Jones and the Tennessee players at Fan Appreciation Day, which took place before the DISH Orange & White Game.
The line for entry was supposed to begin at 7 a.m., but that didn't stop Dusty Whitener and his group of friends from arriving just a little early.
Whitener and company left their hometown of Cleveland, Tenn., at 1 a.m. and drove the 80-plus miles to make sure they got a good place in line.
"They called me and said `hey we can't sleep' so we all loaded up and came up here," said Whitener. "We parked the car, slept for 30-45 minutes, then made our way down here to the gate."
They had established their place in line at the early time of 3 a.m.
By the time the gates officially opened at 11 a.m., the line of fans snaked past the G-10 parking garage, down Phillip Fulmer Way, past Thompson-Boling Arena and Pratt Pavilion all the way to Neyland Drive.
Once inside the stadium, fans took pictures and tossed football on field as the lines for autographs started to form. Some ran to the lines to ensure they got their favorite Vols' signature, while for others, it was more about the experience.
"We've been to a couple games, but this is his first spring game," Josh Wilson said, of his five-year old son, Nate. "He doesn't care what autographs he gets. He'll be happy with any of them. He's just a Vol fan."
For the players, it was an opportunity to give something back to a fan base that is known as one of the most passionate in the country.
"It means a lot to us," senior safety Byron Moore said. "It shows the passion they have and how much they love us. We're just trying to give the love back to them."
"For us to have gone through what we have on the field the last couple of years and for these people to still come out and support us the way that they are, it just shows the passion of this place," junior lineman Antonio Richardson said. "Coach Jones is turning us around and we're gonna win for the fans."
The longest line of the day was for the man responsible for the program's turn around. Coach Butch Jones greeted the mass of fans, shook hands and signed everything from footballs and shirts to posters and jerseys.
"I would like to thank all of our great fans. 61,000-plus is what makes this the best place in all of college football," said Jones. "It was a pleasure to meet so many of our great fans and sign thousands of autographs for them. Thank you to our fans."