Welcome to the 7th stop on the Tailgate Tour, Tennessee. Knoxville is home to the University of Tennessee Volunteers, or Vols for short. I had been to Knoxville several times before this trip, but I had never been to Neyland Stadium on game day. Neyland Stadium is big. Correction, it is huge! With a capacity just over 102,000 people, it is the third largest stadium in the country. The size of Neyland is impressive, but that is not all Neyland has to offer on game day. Let me show you what I discovered on October 23 when Alabama came to town.
In thinking of how to summarize a game day in Knoxville, I quickly realized that Knoxville has it all. What do I mean by that ? Well, tailgating in Knoxville is a combination of every great tailgate I have been to this season. Let me start with how I got to the game.
In getting to Neyland Stadium you can drive, park in a parking deck (more on those later) or parking lot, like you would for most tailgates. There is another way to get to Neyland. In Washington, I visited tailgaters who left the parking lots behind and went on water. This was my first experience with “sailgating” Well, Husky fans are not the only ones who can sailgate. That’s right, Vol fans can sailgate as well. Tennessee and Washington have the only 2 college stadiums that allow fans to arrive and tailgate on the water. Thanks to Keith, and his boat the Wastrel, I was able to investigate Tennessee sailgating first hand.
Keith keeps his boat in a marina about 30 miles away from Neyland Stadium. After filling up with gas and putting ice in the cooler, we were ready for the hour and 20 minute trip down the Tennessee River to join the rest of the Vol Navy. They were out of ice at the Marina, so we had to get a little bit creative and use the ice at the bottom of the freezer. You do what you have to when it comes to tailgating. After all we weren’t going to eat the ice, we just needed our beer to be cold.
The weather for this tailgate could not have been better, 75 degrees and sunny.The water was like glass. The fall colors were reflecting off its surface looked like a scene out of a painting.
As we got closer to the stadium, it was evident we were not the only fans taking the nautical route to the game.
Approaching the stadium by water is the best way to have a complete view of Neyland. Tennessee’s campus is quite hilly and there are buildings that extend right up to the stadium and obstruct a full view of the stadium.
On the water, these problems don’t exist. It is easy to see that Neyland is not a small place. Take note of the parking deck, Lot G-10, in front of the stadium, I will explain more about that later.
Across the street from Neyland is the Tennessee Crew team’s boat house and the beginning of the Vol Navy.
There are dozens of boats tied up along the river. Some of the larger house boats stay docked for the entire season.
The blue boat in the picture above delivers gas and ice to the larger members of the navy who may need a refill. With gas and ice at hand why would you ever leave?
Once we picked a boat to tie up to, it was time to start tailgating!
Grilling on a boat? Yes! I was curious of the idea. Is it possible to prepare the same game day foods that I am accustomed to on land when that land has been replaced with water? The answer is yes. On the menu today was pork tenderloin accompanied with…
sweet potatoes and a black bean quinoa salad. An excellent meal to begin my Tennessee tailgating with. Being in Knoxville, the only way to finish the meal is with…
Magpie’s cupcakes. I love Magpies! Every time that I am in Knoxville, the trip isn’t complete without one of their cupcakes. I had my eye on the pumpkin one you see before you. Once again Magpies didn’t disappoint.
Thank you again to Keith and Cheryl for letting me join them on their boat. I could have spent the rest of the afternoon on the boat, but sailgating and the Vol Navy is just one aspect of game day in Knoxville.
After leaving the fun of sailgating, I headed towards Neyland Stadium.
Neyland was right across the street, so it didn’t take too long to get there. There is a small parking lot in front of the stadium that was filled with tailgaters, but the 6 stories of tailgating is what I wanted to investigate.
When approaching the parking structure, I noticed two satellite dishes sitting outside. Upon further investigation, I saw that they were for the tailgaters inside. This was the first level of the parking structure, I could only imagine what the top looked like.
As I climbed the stairs I came across tailgating on every level. To give you an idea of the structures height the picture on the left was taken on Friday, while the picture on the right was taken on game day.When I made it to the top, here is what I found.
As you can probably guess, the picture on the top is what the structure looked like on Friday. The bottom picture is what I found when I arrived on game day. Before I continue explaining what I found on the top deck, just take a moment to look at these pictures and try to get a feel for what I saw.
If you were unaware of Tennessee’s schools colors, I am sure you have now figured out that they are Orange and white. To describe the tailgating on top of G-10 I would have to say that it has the energy of the Penn State student lot but with a Southern twist. What do I mean by a Southern twist? It is found in the food and the attire. I will talk about the dress later, but now for the food! You might notice the plumes of smoke in the distance of the pictures, well those are a good sign. When walking around G-10 I followed theese smoke signal of the grills and here are a few of the food items that I discovered.
Of course there were burgers and brats to be found, but the rest of what I found was definitely heavy on the BBQ side…
BBQ drumsticks and baked beans mmmm….
the remains of beer can chicken (unfortunately it was gone by the time I arrived at this tailgate), pulled pork, and BBQ Baby back ribs….
and a tailgating first, Bacon Explosion! I have heard of the legendary Bacon Expolsion, but have never before witnessed or tasted one. It is kind of hard to tell from the picture, but the Bacon explosion is a beautiful dish before it is cut. A simple explanation is that it is a pound of bacon woven into a checker board pattern. On top of that is a pound of sausage is spread out. Next a pound of cooked bacon bits are spread over the sausage. The whole thing is rolled up creating a delicious log of bacon and sausage. There are seasonings that each chef can add and additional flavors you can introduce, but that is the basics of it. Thanks to the chefs above for introducing me to the bacon explosion. My heart was not very happy with you, but my stomach sure was.
I also saw several dishes of sausages and peppers on the grill. I don’t see too many desserts at tailgates. If I do, they are usually brownies or cookies of something simple and delicious, but I was presently surprised to see this cake!
A replica of Neyland Stadium! Pretty creative. With all this delicious food you need something to wash it down with right?
Of course there is water and soda, or the ever popular beer ( I thought the Orange can was pretty cool). I also ran across some peach moonshine! With my stomach full, it was time to head over to the stadium for one of Tennessee’s time honored traditions… the Vol Walk!
On Friday, while walking around the front of Neyland Stadium I saw these orange barricades. They extended all the way down the front of the stadium and left me curious as to what they were for. Little did I know, I would find out the next day.
On Saturday, the scene in front of these barricades was much different. I thought, this must be where the Vol walk takes place. I asked someone to confirm my suspicions, and I was correct. The Vol Walk happens during every home game. It is very similar to the Walk of Champions at Ole Miss. In front of the stadium, the cheerleaders and mascot will lead the crowd in cheers before the players arrival. 2 hours and 15 minutes before kick off, the players and coaches will walk from Circle Park to the stadium. Fans will line the sides of the street on either side cheering them as they walk past. It is one thing to tell you about it, now I will show you what this looks like.
Fans lined up in anticipation, waiting for the player’s arrival.
Tennessee are the the volunteers, but their mascot is Smokey the Dog. On game day is was seen in the live and costume version. The players have arrived with Coach Derek Dooley leading the way.
That is a lot of school spirit on display right there. Thousands of fans cheering as their team makes their way to the stadium. It is hard to describe fully the emotions felt in being a part of this scene. The Vol walk is one of those great traditions that make Knoxville a special place on game days.
When the Vol Walk was over, I made my way over to see the tailgating in Circle Park.
Circle Park is a nice little green space that is located next to the stadium. When I visited on Friday, the tents gave me a clue that there would be tailgating going on here on game day. I was correct in my assumption.
The tents, trees, grass, and beautiful trees reminded me a lot of The Grove on a much smaller scale. This was just another interesting aspect to the Tennessee tailgating experience. As I continued walking around the block outside the stadium, I decided to take a higher vantage point and onto a pedestrian bridge.
Similar to with the Vol Walk, I saw a lot of people standing around and waiting for something.
Outside the stadium fans began to line the street on both sides. I asked the person next to me what everyone was waiting for? Her answer… The Tennessee Marching Band!
Similar to the players and coaches arrivals, the band marched down the street and into the stadium, playing the entire way.
I followed the fans entering the stadium and made my way back over to lot G-10. By this time the lot was even fuller than when I had visited a few hours before.
I have shown you the food of Tennessee tailgating, now for the fashion. Basically the only rule of tailgating at Tennessee is wear orange.
With your Orange you can go one of two ways. The first is the common relaxed game day style of a t-shirt or jersey and jeans. This is the most common tailgating attire I have seen throughout my travels, with the exception of one place… Ole Miss. When I think of dressing up for the game, Ole Miss is the standard. Everyone there is in a dress or shirt with a collar.
Tennessee was by no means as dressy as Ole Miss, but was very similar to the Texas vs OU game. You could be in a dress and boots and fit in perfectly fine with someone wearing a t-shirt and jeans. Some other game day fashions I ran into were…
a very sparkly orange hat, pants with the T, and the dressed down look of white suit with a t-shirt. This t-shirt was not the only funny one I saw on game day…
Lane Kiffin was Tennessee’s coach last season, in the off season he decided to jump ship to take the Southern California job, lets just say there is still some resentment towards him from the fans. Rocky Top is the song of Tennessee. If you have never heard it before, come to a game day and you will know the words by the time you leave. The tux t-shirt is always a classy way to go.
The games was against Alabama, so the orange shirts on the ends are appropriate. The one is the center is in reference to a game earlier this season when Tennessee had beaten LSU, but on the last play they had 13 men on the field. This resulted in a penalty and gave LSU a final goal line stance with no time on the clock. LSU capitalized and beat Tennessee.
Cornhole was by far the most popular tailgating game that I saw on game day.
Just be careful playing in the parking deck.
This game went up against a car and lost.
Unfortunately all good things must come to an end. With the 7:15 kickoff and the sun having gone down, my tailgating experience in Knoxville was done for the day.
Game day in Knoxville has set a new bar for tailgating. As you can see Tennessee had it all. I was able to sailgate like I did in Washington. Eat BBQ and a meal that could probably kill me (Bacon Explosion) like I did at Virginia Tech and the Red River Rivalry. Saw dresses and watch the players walk to the stadium like I did at Ole Miss. Laugh at funny T shirts like I did in Wisconsin, and I was able to tailgate with 100,000+ people like I did at Penn State.
I had heard great things abut tailgating in Knoxville. After this experience everything I had heard was true, and I discovered even more! Riding on a boat to the game was an amazing experience. Thank you again to Keith and Cheryl for letting me join you. Thank you to everyone I met on game day in Knoxville. I appreciate your hospitality and allowing me to photograph you and your tailgates. Tennessee might not be the best team on the field this year, but regardless of the final score on the field, if you spend a day tailgating in Knoxville, I guarantee you will not be disappointed.
This weekend I am headed to Jacksonville for Georgia vs Florida game. This game has been called the world’s largest cocktail party, so I am excited to see how it measures up.