I’m currently en route to Knoxville, Tennessee for five days of delicious Southern cuisine, taking in the turning Fall colors from the foothills of the Smokey Mountains, meet-and-greeting, and of course, some college football. I’m pretty much beside myself with excitement (well, it’s that likely combined with the 2 Grande black coffees and 3 teas I have already enjoyed before the hour of 9am and the 3 hours of sleep I got before my 6:45am flight out of PHX) and am thrilled that when I chose this game to attend , I had no idea I’d be witnessing a clash of two SEC powerhouses (one current and one plagued with a bit of rebuilding and injury), one of which is currently ranked #1 in the BCS. It’s the University of Tennessee Vols taking on the tigers of LSU at home at Neyland Stadium on Saturday with a kick-off of 3:30EST. Woot!
If you know anything about me, know this: I love me some college football and right up there is a strong affection for well-executed tailgating festivities. This week promises me both, as well as good weather, an informed tour of the UT campus, meeting people whom I understand to be outstanding personalities and throwing back to my days and experiences of undergrad. Bring it. It’s kind of a birthday present to this one (I turned 29 on Monday the 10th. Sidenote: I accidentally typed “20” and had a mildly audible giggle that elicited a couple of stares from my rowmates. Oh, my 20-year old self… you have so much to learn.) and I’m really pumped about seeing the stadium at game time, as it’s ranked by a college football blog as the #1 stadium from which to see a college football game. Awesome.
I’ve actually been in (broken into?) Neyland Stadium before when some of my U-M track girls and I were long running along the river after one of our many trips to the Sea Ray Relays. Now anyone appreciates a good walk break/pause on a 12-miler the day after racing twice, so we fabricated the excuse that we just HAD to go into the stadium and see if we could get on the field. I’ll admit, this was not our first attempt at this on a college campus, so we were merely keeping with tradition. As we approached the stadium, and luck would have it, gates were open and no maintenance staff or security was there to chase us out, to which I would have challenged, “You’ll have to catch us first!” Anyway, that gave us free reign over the field.
What you should know is that Neyland’s field is at ground level, so to accommodate the 102,000+ fans, the structure basically just has nowhere to go but up. From the 50 yard line the stadium is one of the most intimidating places I’ve seen, and the damn thing was empty. See, I’m used to the gaping hole in the ground/sunken bowl of the Big House, on whose field I’ve ventured over 5 or 6 times, and for whatever reason, its seats (awful aluminum benches) and 113,00+ fans have never seemed that intimidating, at least not until the renovation of the press box and addition of luxury boxes was complete this year. Neyland just keeps going up and at an impossible angle. The kind of angle that is not conducive to unsteady steps or slick, beer-soaked soled shoes. I’m curious of how things will feel when I’m in there at game time and if it actually feels as awesome as I think it will.
As you may know, the SEC is steeped in tradition of football excellence and is often used as the measure of quality of other conferences’ members’ programs (yeah, how you like that back-to-back apostrophe action?). Just check out any given year’s BCS rankings and you’ll notice an inordinate amount of SEC schools in the top 20 or just outside. See, I live and breathe the Big Ten for obvious reasons, though I do have some knowledge of play styles and traditions of other teams from various conferences, but I am no Kirk Herbstreet, not by a long shot. It was this absence of knowledge that led me to read “Dixieland Delight: A football season on the road in the Southeasten Conference” by Clay Travis, sports writer and humorist.
What the book covers is this guy’s football season-long road trip to each of the schools in the SEC to experience the pre-game day festivities, what tailgating is like at each school, the history of certain rivalries and traditions, and basically the antics of him and his friends over the course of the weekend. I mean, this guy’s got a sharp wit, articulate writing skillz and a strange ability to find himself is some super awkward situations. Also? His wife went to Michigan so there are repeated references to my beloved school and our own traditions and events. One event that comes to mind immediately is a reference to the 2006 U-M vs. Notre Dame game where we unexpectedly smashed the crap out of Rudy’s team, much to the shocked and boisterous delight of my friends and I watching from A2.
It’s definitely on my suggested reading list if you want a great inside look at the religion that is SEC football in the South. I mean, where else are you going to read about the emasculation of men through their shaking of pom-pons (a VERY hot button topic), why LSU fans become irate at the mention of a corn dog scent, the apathy of Arkansas fans, Uga the University of Georgia’s bulldog’s long and storied bloodline and the aptly described eight stages of grief all die-hard fans experience after a loss? Get it.
We’re about to land, so I’ll comply with FAA regulations and shut it down up in here, but I’ll be sure to actually report back about pre and game day experiences at Tennessee… However I won’t be able to tell you about the details of one inevitable heated discussion that will be had when certain Vols discover I’m a Wolvie. Read: descendant of the same school of Charles Woodson, winner of the 1997 Heisman trophy over one such canonized former UT QB, Peyton Manning. I’ll be sure to refrain from instigating this conversation due to the sheer lack of backup I’ll have in my corner and really I don’t want my host ostracized from his very own tailgate. To say that the people of Tennessee are not over that “robbery” would be a gross understatement. I’ll leave you with that but enjoy your respective games and, as always, Forever, Go Blue!