Oct. 20, 2012
By Brian Rice
A Tennessee tradition celebrates an anniversary today as the Vols host Alabama at Neyland Stadium. The Vol Walk was first made an official part of game day in Knoxville when the Crimson Tide came to town 22 years ago today, October 20, 1990.
Prior to 1990, members of the team had followed the now-traditional path from Gibbs Hall down to Gate 21 at Neyland Stadium as nothing more than a means from getting from the athletic dorm to the locker room. A trip to Auburn earlier in the season changed all of that. Tennessee team busses were delayed in arriving at Jordan-Hare Stadium because the team bus route had to cross the path of Auburn's Tiger Walk. The delay gave head coach Johnny Majors the idea of formalizing his players' journey from their dorm to Neyland Stadium and three weeks later, the tradition was born.
The Vol Walk tradition has evolved over the years with changes in its path and length. When the Tennessee Lettermen's Wall of Fame was erected outside the Neyland-Thompson Football Complex in 2000, Phillip Fulmer had the walk begin with players running their fingers along the wall's marble surface that bears the name of every Tennessee letterwinner in every sport in the program's history.
The route of the Vol Walk was shortened in 2009, when team busses dropped he players and staff off at the head of Peyton Manning Pass to make the walk through thousands of fans. The route down the street named for the Tennessee legend leads past the Pride of the Southland Pep Band, before turning left on Phillip Fulmer Way to the cheers of more fans and a right hand turn into Gate 21A for a quiet final journey down the ramp to field level.
In 2010, Derek Dooley added a team gathering around the Torchbearer statue to coincide with his inaugural year as Vol head coach. The famous symbol of the University stands tall at the corner of Volunteer Blvd. and Peyton Manning Pass where the walk still begins. Players and coaches, clad in suits and ties, get off the buses to the cheers of fans all around and greet family, friends and fans as they make the walk.
As they make the left hand turn onto Phillip Fulmer Way, players pass by another new addition to the Vol Walk. The statue of General Robert Neyland, unveiled as part of homecoming festivities a day prior to Tennessee's win over Ole Miss on Nov. 13, 2010, stands, or more accurately, kneels over the crowd from its spot just inside the stadium at the corner of the roads named for Manning and Fulmer.
The Vol Walk gives players a unique experience that they will never forget, but it also represents a connection for fans young and old. It is a route where grandfathers can share the love and spirit of Tennessee with grandchildren, a place where proud parents can greet sons as they head to an SEC battle, a place for fans young and old to meet their heroes, even a place for marriage proposals. Whatever the meaning to each athlete and fan, 2 hours and 15 minutes prior to game time it's the Vol Walk, and it's a Tennessee Tradition.