BY BRIAN RICE
"The atmosphere, of course, encompasses more than a playing field and seats. It takes in the Vol Navy, the dozens of boats docked along the Tennessee River and making up a tailgate party that sometimes lasts from Thursday until Sunday. The scene reaches on to Peyton Manning Pass, the street the team follows for the Vol Walk on the way to the stadium. It includes every bit of the day's pageantry, the band's pregame performance and that super-charged moment when the team bursts through the T only minutes before hostilities begin in earnest."
- Haywood Harris
- Haywood Harris
A football weekend at The University of Tennessee is much bigger than just the game itself. Traditions abound as the clock ticks toward the magic moment when toe meets leather and the game gets underway.
THURSDAYFormer Vol Network radio broadcaster George Mooney, tired of game day traffic, began to pilot his boat up the Tennessee River in the 1960s and a tradition was born. Now, dozens, sometimes even hundreds, of boats make up the "Vol Navy," which sets up at docks from just outside Neyland Stadium all the way to Volunteer Landing and Bicentennial Park. The boats makeup a tailgating area unlike any other in the nation, and the party can last for days.
FRIDAY24 Hours to Kickoff
"The Rock," just as the name suggests, is a large rock, unearthed during excavation of what is now Fraternity Row on the west side of campus in 1960. It was placed at the corner of Volunteer Blvd. and Pat Head Summitt St., where it has become a canvass for student expression ever since. On game weekends, members of the Pride of the Southland Marching Band paint an "It's Gameday" message for all to see.
SATURDAY2 Hours, 15 minutes to Kickoff
With the smells of tailgates in the air all around, the Volunteers gather around the Torchbearer before making the Vol Walk down Peyton Manning Pass. The team, led by head coach Derek Dooley, makes its way through a massive crowd as the pep band serenades them and the crowd with "Rocky Top," the unofficial fight song. The players and coaches continue the walk by passing the General Neyland statue and making a left on Philip Fulmer Way, meeting more fans before making a right hand turn into Gate 21A and heading for the Peyton Manning Locker Room Complex.
1 Hour, 40 Minutes to Kickoff
Fans gather on "The Hill" as the Pride of the Southland Marching Band marches toward Neyland Stadium. The band stops at the base of "The Hill" to perform the "Salute to the Hill," a three-song melody capped by "Rocky Top." Due to construction of the new Student Union, the Salute will move to the corner of Peyton Manning Pass and Philip Fulmer Way for the 2012 season. After the band marches through, fans remain for the Kickoff Call-In Show and Bob Kesling, along with former Vols Tim Priest and Andy Kelly, take questions from the crowd and callers with network host John Wilkerson as the Vol Network begins more than seven hours of non-stop game coverage on "The Statewide Stadium."
15 Minutes to Kickoff
More than 100,000 fans have poured into Neyland Stadium and the Pride takes the field for, as band announcer Bill Williams puts it, "A pregame tradition unrivaled in college football." As the Pride concludes its show with "Stars and Stripes Forever," the Volunteers emerge from the locker room and collect in the tunnel in the north end zone.
1 Minute to Kickoff
The Pride, more than 300 members strong, begins the march into a formation known around the world. Started in 1965 by former head coach Doug Dickey and legendary band director Dr. W.J. Julian, the band forms a human "T" that stretches from the end zone to the 50-yard line, providing an entryway to battle unlike any other. The cue comes from above and the Volunteers take the field, 100,000-plus cheering with excitement. It's a moment that brings chills to even neutral observers and brings a tear to the eye of Vol fans everywhere.
10 Seconds to Kickoff
The pageantry is now directed to the field, adorned with orange and white checkerboard end zones, a tradition started by Dickey as head coach in 1964 and restored by Dickey as athletic director in 1989, and the large Power T that has adorned midfield since 1998. The kicker approaches the ball on the tee and Bobby Denton, public address announcer since 1965, says the words that Vol fans have waited months to hear, "It's Football Time in Tennessee!"