Sept. 14, 2012
By: Brian Rice
When former Vol Network radio broadcaster George Mooney first tied up his small runabout across the street from newly re-named Neyland Stadium in 1962, he almost certainly didn't know that he would start what would become one of the most unique traditions in college football.
Mooney, frustrated with the gameday traffic, began to pilot his boat up the Tennessee River during the first season that the stadium bore its new name. Now, five decades later, the Vol Navy is over 200 boats strong each gameday, with many arriving as early as Thursday to kick off a weekend-long tailgate party. When the Vols have back-to-back home games, it's common to see members of the Vol Navy stick around for the entire week.
Boats of all shapes and sizes tie up on docks that stretch from the Lady Vol Rowing boathouse directly across from Neyland Stadium all the way through Volunteer Landing Marina, Calhoun's on the River and Bicentennial Park. The Neyland Greenway spans the distance, allowing fans that have come to campus and downtown via more traditional means to view the boats, soak in the atmosphere and even pick up an invitation aboard to join the party.
The port of call of the boats is just as eclectic as the boats themselves. Members of the Navy come from as far downstream as Florida and Louisiana to set up for a weekend and from as close as Concord Marina to join in for the afternoon. Opposing fans have even been known to join in. And why not? Only two other college stadiums, Washington and Pittsburgh, are located adjacent to a river.
The Vol Navy even has its own boater's association (VolNavyBoaters.com) to allow members to connect during the offseason, share tailgating recipes and plan events away from the water. Just like the Navy itself, the association is for "those that own a boat, or wish they owned a boat."
Mooney left the Vol Network and broadcasting in 1967 to, appropriately, retire to his boat in Anguilla. He would occasionally return to the Vol Navy and catch up with the current Vol Network broadcasters on the Kickoff Call-In Show.
George Mooney passed away in 2011, two days before the Vols hosted LSU at Neyland Stadium, and members of his legacy dedicated the weekend on the water to him. Mooney may be gone, but the tradition he began five decades ago lives on. From all corners of the south, the Vol Navy navigates its way to Ft. Loudon Lake seven times each fall, its members united by one thing: A passion for Tennessee football.