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Where I Come From: Tailgating Traditions

This post is sponsored by EA Sports NCAA Football 11.

Several times a year, fans of non-conference opponents or SEC brethren who've never been to Knoxville will come to our site looking for the best places to go, eat, and experience Tennessee Football on a fall Saturday in Knoxville.  Lots of us have offered lots of good ideas on those posts in the pasts, and as we continue our promotion with EA Sports in celebrating all that is good in the world of college football, today's post will hopefully become a central location for future questions on what to see on gameday.

What are your favorite tailgating traditions?

There's so much to see in Knoxville, from the Vol Navy to the Vol Walk.  There's the Pride of the Southland's march into Neyland, made even more spectacular by the mass of orange humanity that appears on Phillip Fulmer Way before and after the band comes through.  From the Old City to the The Strip, a conversation about the best places to go on fall weekends includes some well-known establishments and some lesser-known favorites.

So where do you tailgate?  Where do you eat?  What's the best way to get the Tennessee Football pregame experience? 

Can I interest you in a long walk?

These days, I have to get back to Virginia as quickly as possible if it's not a noon kickoff.  So my pregame ritual includes making sure I can get on the interstate and get gone as soon as possible.  But my experience with getting in some light cardio on gameday goes back more than a decade before I needed to head towards I-81.

My Dad pledged ATO, and our season tickets are still on the same row with the families of his fraternity brothers.  When I was a kid and my parents were in their late 30s/early 40s, we tailgated in front of the ATO house with those same families.  I remember playing football out on the lawn there hours before kickoff, and not having to go far to see the Vol Walk.  It was an especially good spot during Homecoming, when all the floats were on display around that area of campus.

The only thing I didn't like about it was after the game was over.  Lots of times you just double parked down there, and so lots of times you had to wait.  And then we'd sit in standstill traffic on Volunteer Blvd, listening to John Ward and Johnny Majors on the postgame show.  It wasn't bad if we'd won.  It was horrible when we didn't.

And then in 1993, we were playing Georgia.  For whatever reason we were later than usual getting there, and there was no parking available at the ATO house.  And so we scrambled to find another spot on campus...but by this time, options were limited to nonexistent.

Somehow we made our way towards downtown, and then ended up crossing the Henley Street Bridge.  Just on the other side was a lot for Baptist Hospital, and they were charging only five or ten bucks to park there (I guarantee you it's more now).  Since my Dad and I both did 5K races on non-Fall Saturdays, I think we had some sort of strange fascination with the idea of walking that far to the game.  But more appealing to us both was the idea that, being from South Knoxville, we could exit the parking lot and turn right on Maryville Pike, and we'd sit in zero traffic and be home in less than 15 minutes.

It's around 1.6 miles from the bridge to the front of Neyland Stadium if you drive it.  But late for the game that night in '93, we found a shortcut at the end of Hill Ave, by just going through the trees and down a giant hill (which I don't think you can do anymore).  I've seen many a sundress regretted on that hill, but as a 11 year old kid, trying to get down it in one piece made gameday more exciting.

We made that trek from that night on, trading the tailgate and the wait for the walk and the view of Neyland above the water.

After my days in the dorm were over, my oldest friend and roommate from North Carrick moved into an apartment on Summit Hill Drive.  We took our pregame festivities over there for the next several years, and with its close proximity to the interstate, it remains where I park for games now.  This is an even longer walk:  1.8 miles from Summit Hill, down Gay Street through downtown, over to Cumberland.  From here, we usually walk the back side of The Hill around towards Gate 23.  When we win, it's great coming back thru World's Fair Park and by the Sunsphere.  When we lose, it's a long, quiet walk.

Choice Foods

After that long walk, for the last several years we've headed down to Neyland Drive at the base of the G-10 garage for tailgating with old friends.  It's a great spot that's close to everything worth seeing on gameday, and I've got friends who bring everything:  tents, generators, televisions, you name it.  UT runs that "Tailgater of the Game" promotion every week that's sponsored by Food City, and they came down and checked it out once with Miss Food City in tow.  I only mention that so I can mention the exchange of "Is that a sash or a receipt?" that followed. 

The spot is also great because it's close to Calhoun's, which remains my favorite restaurant in Knoxville.  I also know that everyone on staff here at RTT endorses Gus's Good Times Deli, which you know about if you went to UT, and if you didn't you should discover it one of these weekends.

When we made that original walk, there used to be a little place on the Chapman Hwy side of the Henley Street bridge called something like Rocky Top Market, and I have no idea if it's still there, but it was always good for one of those quick and dirty $2.99 chicken sandwich and fries deals on the go.

Inside the stadium itself, my sister is a big believer in the Smokey Dog (a stadium hot dog with cheese cooked inside of it), but I try to be less of a believer in heart attacks and stick with the regular stadium dog.  If I ate one of those hot dogs right now, I wouldn't enjoy it.  But there's something about gameday that makes it great...and maybe that's true for a lot of things.

Alright, give us your best tailgating stuff...