I have always been firmly of the mind that Tennessee sports are not just about the game. It is not simply the touchdowns, the sacks, the homeruns, three point shots, goals, or loves. It is not even wholly about the players. Those Manning’s, Parkers, and others who we grow attached to and follow in their next lives as they continue to excel both in their careers and in sports.
It is about the loves ones we take to the games, the friends, and the families. I think that is often why we refer to the Tennessee fans as a family.
One thing we do not talk about much around here are the smallest Vols: our children. I want to focus on them more than anything, but I wanted to give a glimpse for those who either are not parents or are new to Tennessee what makes our fan family so special. Show them why it is truly great to be a Tennessee Vol.
I have mentioned previously that my wife is UB Alumni. This game will be a series of firsts. Neither my wife, nor my daughter has ever been to Neyland Stadium or to a Tennessee Football game. It is also the first time that I will have three generations of my family at a single event. My mom, my wife, and my daughter. It is the little things that make these games special, to me anyway.
I thought I would share that journey. This one is for the families of Vol Fans!
My wife and I in 2002 in Depew, NY
I met my wife in Buffalo, New York in 2002.
I had been on cellular assignment in the area since February 2001.
When my current employer asked me if I had an aversion to travelling I had to keep from physically laughing, mentioning the months and years I spent in other locations, living in a hotel, other times in apartment. They had shaken their hands in astonishment "That’s not travel….that’s relocation!" In some ways it was. When your setting up cell towers and cellular communication equipment travel is part of the job, and the job is all over the world.
When we were dating, she did not understand my obsession with college football. She is a University of Buffalo Alumni. In her time there, she does not recall going to a football game. Ever. For my part I could never imagine being part of a school and not participating.
It is not that she did not like football. Quite the opposite in fact.
She can name the kicker who got the Bills to multiple Super Bowl bids, and then cost them the game.
She can name almost the entire starting lineup of the Jim Kelly offense.
She can recall games, scores, and downs with clarity. However, it is all pro. For many citizens in towns that house pro teams it's been my experience that they tend to discount their long lived, college teams. The trend is also more predominant in the North east and Northwest then their southern counter parts. Just my experience, mind you.
I had to first explain that until the last several years there were not that many pro teams down south. How many of us recall the days as I do, when the only thing down south for a pro football team was the Falcons, Oilers, and Dolphins? I discount Dallas because I do not consider it "south".
I explained that college football was the past time, because typically our college teams won (Save the Dan Reeves time, name a really good Falcon year. I’ll be making coffee while you do that.)
Pro sports for us just were not the dominant factor.
They say that love is blind, and after three years of what I typically jokingly call being held prisoner of war in New York, when I left the area my soon to be wife left with me. My other joke is that I took the only thing in the sate worth having and left with it. She is not amused at my humor, sometimes.
My first Christmas in Amherst, NY: 87 inches of snow in 11 hours.The red & white '73 Ford truck in the middle in front of the lamp post? Was my work truck. By morning it was just a pile of snow and it took me a day to uncover it.
Truthfully, I have no complaints. The citizens of Western New York are good people, who can tailgate harder and longer than anyone, I have ever met. 20 degrees out? No problem. It's time for body paint, grills, beer and brats. Fortunately frost bite and the Bills colors are both blue.
They are a community that suffers some from a series hardship I am not sure others in the country can, and I say that having some extensive travel behind me. From a miserable job market that was in place long before the country started talking about recession, extremely hard winters, high taxes to a government that had become so corrupt that the federal court system stepped in to operate it, eventually giving control of the city, to the county. Public parks, libraries and more were shut down to try to keep the city above water. It is an area in pain. Football and hockey are their reliefs.
When Ralph Wilson passes on, it is a community that will be socially lost if the Bills move elsewhere. It is also a community that my wife often misses, and once a year returns to.
However it is a community of people who will welcome you, openly. They will give you the shirt off their back, buy you a round, and introduce to some of the most amazing food that can be found in the country. In some ways, I miss it as well.
Fast forward almost ten years.
Our daughter is neither a daddy’s girl, nor a momma’s child.
She is very much a product of us both. She is fearless like myself (according to rumor), and bashful as my wife is (she rarely speaks to folks until she knows them well), boisterous yet contrite.
However, she is my number one football fan in the house. Even though she goes to school in Razorback country, she has the courage to wear Tennessee orange to her 1st grade class despite the disbelief of both her young peers and even her teachers. During games we pile on the couch with her with my decoration pom-poms from my desk and she tries to sing Rocky Top (although she does not quite have all the words down just yet.) Game days, are very happy days for me, as a fan and as a parent.
By the time she was three anything orange was automatically associated with Tennessee. I called it a break through. My wife called it brainwashing. My daughter calls it fun.
She wears solid orange on Saturdays, and when I buy something for myself for game day, she wants something just like it. I recently had to buy her socks with UT on them simply because she thought they were cute.
The idea for us all going to game came as a request from her back in July. I was preparing for our November 12 meeting with Arkansas by ordering a number of items for the tailgate. My daughter, ever the helpful soul was assisting me by looking over my shoulder in this processes and making her suggestions on what I should buy (everything!).
As a parent, it is hard to deny a sincere request from your child. When your child has their head upon your shoulder and looks at you unflinchingly then says in only a way a parent can identify, that’s yet to be captured by Hollywood effectively "Daddy…when can I see a game in Tennessee?…well…it’s hard to say no.
"Why do you want to go to a game?" asks I, who was of course pleased at my youngsters request.
In simple wide green eyed innocence she proclaimed , "Why, thats where Tennessee and Smokey is!"I ask you friends what would you have done? I wager your actions would mirror my own.
I debated long on this. She is not a fan of crowds, or loud noises and as everyone here knows, Neyland has both. I talked to her about this several times over three weeks. She felt sure, at age 6, that she would be fine.
As a parent you think of your own first game. You know, that some day, she will tell her friends, or her own children about their first game. You know that you could set the foundation for something that you can both connect on. Ask many sports families how they managed to keep the peace in their homes over the years and often they will reply "The game. When Dad/Mom and I were at odds we could still meet in the middle for the game."
The game goes beyond the field, in this matters, beyond the stands, the stadium and the roar of the crowd. It becomes something special, a meeting place, and a bond, that can bring people together no matter the strains. When you go to prepare your child for their first game, of something you love, you want it to be something special for them, and for the family as a whole.
I thought long regarding this. What game, Work schedules, crowds, travel all were a factor.
I settled on the Buffalo game for some fairly obvious reasons. In addition to my wifes relationship to the school, the crowd should not be as big as a rivalry or SEC game. It is the fall break for the students, so it should not be as packed. While it would be awesome to take them both to see say... Tennessee Alabama, I had to make a parental decision on how to expose them both to the heart and soul of our fandom bearing in mind the fact that my child has never seen anything like this.
I wanted her first experience to be a good one, one she could tolerate, and one that she could and would enjoy. The same goes for my wife who has never been to a Tennessee game either, or even to Knoxville.
The Buffalo game, while having very little meaning in the grand scheme of things four our Volunteer team, had just taken on a much larger meaning for a Volunteer family.