By Alyssa B. Martin
When asked about tradition, after a native East Tennessean finishes the last verse of “Rocky Top”, Tennessee Football is next on the list. Despite not having the best record in recent years, it is undeniable that Tennessee Football fans are loyal to a fault. With loyalty and the love for the Vols, naturally tailgating becomes a part of this deep, rich tradition.
Although tailgating today likely has a slightly different meaning, the first tailgating part was said to be in 1869 between Rutgers and Princeton. Fans backed their pickup trucks around the field and sat on the tailgate to watch the game-hence the namesake of the party. Although fans today still partake in eating and drinking, their tailgates are slightly different. Most are very familiar with these parties; however, they typically involve drinking alcoholic beverages, grilling and party games, such as cornhole. However, specific to the Tennessee Vols, many tailgate only a block away from Neyland Stadium in Circle Park.
This begins one of the best, most important traditions for Vols Football Fans-The Vol Walk. Beginning in Circle Park and ending at Gate 21 of Neyland Stadium, the Vol Walk gets fans and players extra excited for the game that is about to commence. The ritual started nearly 30 years ago as “a spirit-infused pep rally” to help motivate players before a rival game in 1990. The idea for the Vol Walk was inspired by a similar tradition at the University of Auburn; however, the Tennessee Vols have made it their own by adding the Pride of the Southland Marching Band, as well as thousands of supporters lining the entire walk from Circle Park to Neyland’s entrance.
In recent years, sailgating has become more popular with the Vol Navy. George Mooney, a former radio broadcaster, grew tired of fighting the Knoxville traffic to reach Neyland Stadium. In 1962, he found that driving and docking his little boat on the Tennessee River made for a much nicer and efficient game day. This began the tradition of sailgating with UT and further eventually formed the Vol Navy. Like tailgating, many participants make sailgaiting an all day party leading up to kick-off.
Unfortunately due to the Covid-19 virus in 2020, heavy restrictions were placed on tailgating, sailgating and football in general. Public health protocols were taken into consideration when considering restrictions. Many remember only being able to stack boats two deep, still required to wear face coverings when interacting with other boats and maintaining social distancing during last year’s Vol football season. Tailgating on campus, although permitted, was only available to limited capacity. Facial coverings and social distancing were also required, and large groups were not allowed, as well as many other requirements.
Not being able to tailgate or sailgate in the traditional way left most Vol fans longing for the way it used to be-the lost tradition. However, this year will be much better. Neyland Stadium will be back to full capacity for the 2021 football season, just in time to celebrate it’s 100 year birthday. Although there will be some mandates to attend games, a full capacity stadium of cheering fans brings back the most important traditions. With the longing of a sense of full normalcy again, tailgating and sailgating will be back and better than ever this year to breathe tradition and the love of Tennessee Football back into the East Tennessee fall air once more. Go Vols!