Nov. 23, 2012
By Brian Rice
It is routinely listed as one of the greatest entrances in all of college sports. This great tradition was born from the minds of two of the greatest innovators that the University of Tennessee has ever had on campus. And every time the Tennessee Volunteers burst through the "T" made up of 300+ members of the Pride of the Southland Marching Band, the aura of excitement can be felt in the fall air.
In 1965, the two innovators, head coach Doug Dickey and band director Dr. W. J. Julian came together to create a unique entrance for the Volunteers.
A year earlier, Dickey had introduced the orange and white checkerboard end zone design to the surface of Shields-Watkins Field. Many programs, Tennessee included, had used checkerboard patterns to decorate end zones dating to at least the 1930s, but the addition of the orange color was a new and unique tradition for Tennessee.
In the four years since he had taken over the marching band program in 1961, Julian had also made sweeping changes to the program, including moving its oversight from the ROTC program to the College of Education. The band had grown to over 140 members and had taken on a less militaristic look in the uniforms, but the marching precision that was originally born under the ROTC tradition remained. Julian introduced the legendary "Circle Drill" routine, one of the most difficult and unique marching band routines in the country.
For the 1965 season, Dickey moved the Volunteers from the east sideline, next to the home locker room in East Stadium Hall, to the west side, which allowed the team to enter the field through the giant "T" formation that he and Julian had drawn up. To say the formation caught on would be an understatement.
Dickey would re-introduce the checkerboards in 1989 when he returned as athletic director at Tennessee and the design has become a signature brand for Tennessee. Julian went on to introduce a marching band remix of a popular bluegrass tune in a 1972 halftime show. It was some song by the Osborne Brothers called "Rocky Top," it seems to have caught on as well.
The route of the "T" shifted 90 degrees when the lower bowl was enclosed in 1980 and the team dressing room moved to the new addition in the north end zone, where the "T" began to originate. The team made the right-hand turn to the west sideline until the early 1990s, when an SEC rule change moved the home bench to the east sideline in front of the Tennessee student section. An adjustment to student seating was made in 2010, moving the Volunteers back to the west sideline for that season, and changing the route back to its current right turn.
Now, fans are sure to arrive in their seats early to catch the Pride's pre-game performance, capped by the moment that they have waited days, weeks, months or even years to see in person once again. And when the magic moment arrives and the Vols enter the field, the feeling extends all over the Vol Nation. From Neyland Stadium around the world, It's Football Time in Tennessee.