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3 things to know about a football gameday at Tennessee

If you find yourself to be a first-timer, here’s what you need to know about attending a game at the University of Tennessee.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 10 Kentucky at Tennessee Photo by Bryan Lynn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

College football in the south — is there anything better? The answer is no, and nobody does it any better than the University of Tennessee. The Volunteers have a rich tradition in Knoxville, marked by a distinct shade of orange and an iconic ‘Power T’ logo.

It’s a way of life in Knoxville on Saturday gameday mornings, with the entire city revolving around their beloved Volunteers. One of the most historic football programs in the country, one of the most iconic venues in the country, rich traditions everywhere — you simply have to experience it to understand.

At the heart of that experience is the stadium itself, where you’ll join 100,000 of your closest fans for a wild three hours.

Neyland Stadium

Simply put, it’s hard to find a better atmosphere in all of college football. Neyland Stadium is one of the most iconic venues in the sport, offering a unique fan experience amid quite literally a sea of orange. The venue seats 101,915 fans, absolutely packed shoulder to shoulder to capacity. There’s nowhere for opponents to hide, with two stories completely surrounding the field to create a nightmare environment for visitors.

The historic stadium was first completed back in 1921 as Shields-Watkins Field. General Robert Neyland took over the football program in 1926, and the stadium eventually was named in his honor. Neyland guided the program until 1952, with two interruptions for military service.

Neyland Stadium’s capacity grew from 3,200 in 1921 to nearly 50,000 by the time General Neyland’s time was done in Knoxville. Upper decks were started in the 1970s and eventually completed in 1996. That addition got Neyland Stadium over the magic number of 100,000, where it’s stayed since. The capacity peaked in the early 2000s at over 104,000, before coming down slightly to add premium suites and boxes.

The latest upgrades brought even more luxury options, along with the upper north deck and another jumbotron. Athletics director Danny White also brought back the iconic V-O-L-S signs high above the upper deck. LED lights were also added, creating an incredible pregame atmosphere for night games.

‘Running through the T’ is something that you won’t want to miss either. Be sure you get all your drinks and food well before the game, because you’ll want to see Tennessee’s entrance. If it doesn’t give you goosebumps, you may need to check your pulse.

Syndication: The Knoxville News-Sentinel Brianna Paciorka/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

Given Tennessee’s recent resurgence, Neyland is back to what it once was — the best home-field advantage in college football. If you need any evidence, just look back at the 2022 victory over Alabama. The deafening crowd forced Nick Saban’s squad to commit a handful of mental errors early, giving the Volunteers the early advantage.

Neyland Stadium truly is a difference maker once again.

The Vol Navy — The unique way to tailgate in Knoxville

Waterfront tailgating isn’t exactly at the top of people’s minds when you think about Tennessee, but that’s exactly what Knoxville offers. Now for over 60 years, boaters have docked on the banks of the Tennessee river to pregame on Saturday mornings.

It all started back in 1962 when then voice of the Vols George Mooney came up with a unique way to beat gameday traffic.... a boat! That got the ball rolling, as his idea quickly picked up steam with others. A decade later, dock space was built specifically for those with this idea, creating what’s known now as the Vol Navy. Somewhere around 300 boats can be found lining the banks of the Tennessee river on any given Saturday.

‘Sailgating’ is available in Knoxville — one of just three campuses in the country where you can travel to the game by boat. Hanging out dockside for a few hours before heading just up the road to Neyland Stadium is pretty tough to beat.

Syndication: Knoxville Caitie McMekin/News Sentinel, Knoxville News Sentinel via Imagn Content Services, LLC

The Vol Walk

One of my favorite things about gameday in Knoxville is the Vol Walk. Head Coach Josh Heupel and his staff will lead the team down Peyton Manning Pass, with fans lining the sides of the street to cheer them on. It’s a chance to see the entire roster up close and personal, sending the team directly into Neyland Stadium to get ready for action.

After that, it’s time to welcome the Pride of the Southland Band. The University of Tennessee’s famed marching band will make their way through campus, stopping just before the stadium on Phillip Fulmer way. ‘Rocky Top’ and ‘Down the Field’ can be heard at full blast, setting the tone for the next few hours ahead.

You can line the streets in the sea of orange, but get there early to get a good spot. You can also get a different vantage point by entering the stadium early at Gate 21, then taking the ramp up a few levels. If you’re not a fan of the street crowds, this is the move to make.

Every city in the SEC has its own feel, but Knoxville has to be near the top of the list. The tradition, the big-game feel, the stadium — it’s all there. If you want a classic, true south college football experience, Knoxville is the place to visit. With Josh Heupel in town now, you’ll get the chance to see a pretty exciting brand of football on top of all that.