Collegiate stadiums, especially in the south, are definitely something special. Vol fans will discover how special as they journey to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Fla., Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, Miss., and Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, Ky., this year.
(In answer to numerous questions, the "Hemingway" in "Vaught-Hemingway Stadium" is not a writer named "Ernest," but a judge named "Frank.")
The venues where the Vols play are, for the most part, ancient and creaking, built in sections over the years, designed for football and really nothing else. They're often in the center of campus, surrounded by classrooms, dorms, and the other accoutrements of campus life. Sports Illustrated called them "Saturday Shrines: College Football's Most Hallowed Grounds."
They are a major reason SEC football is such a way of life. Even the act of getting the home team onto the field is a major source of excitement, with each school having something special. Pre-game and post-game activities are almost as exciting as the game itself, heralding the rivalries, some ancient, some of more recent vintage.
There is, for example, Bear Bryant saying, "I ain't never been nothing but a winner" over the public address system at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Bryant died in January 1983, but his voice lives on in Tuscaloosa.
South Carolina comes on the field at Williams-Brice Stadium, formerly Carolina Stadium, through smoke and the strains of Richard Strauss' "Also Sprach Zarathustra," known popularly as the theme from the movie "2001."
At LSU, there's a real Tiger (in a cage) on the field. Georgia has a Bulldog. Tennessee has a blue tick coonhound.
At Ole Miss, there's pre-game activity of all kinds at "The Grove," a not-to-be missed venue in everyone's collegiate football experience. Check it out Nov. 14.
For pre-game excitement of another kind, there's also Kentucky's "Senior Day" at either Stoll Field (for us old folks) or since 1973 at Commonwealth Stadium.
When the UK band strikes up Stephen Collins Foster's "My Old Kentucky Home," Kentucky fans (and more than a few Tennessee fans) may not know all the words, but when the chorus swells to "Weep no more my lady," there's nothing like it.
There are SEC venues with crowd noise so loud during the game that seismometers have gone off in academic buildings when particularly big plays happen. There are times observers on the sidelines can't hear the person standing next to them because of the noise.
The classic example was at Legion Field against Alabama in 1993 when the Tide scored a touchdown and a two-point conversion to steal a 17-17 deadlock from the Vols. That was an explosion of noise.
(Just for the record, however, that game was later declared a Vol win by NCAA fiat. There were no "vacated games" in those days.)
There was a similar explosion of noise after Florida missed an overtime field goal in 1998, giving the Vols a 20-17 win.
Getting to the stadium on the road can be interesting. Some all-too-exuberant partisans have been known to rock the Tennessee team buses, not with literal rocks, but pushing from side to side.
At Georgia, Florida, and LSU, for example, there are those fans who line the player's entrance and yell "Dog Food," "Gator Bait," or "Tiger Bait" as the Vols (or any other opposing team, for that matter) enter the stadium after getting off the buses. To be fair about it, there also are Tennessee fans there, cheering on their heroes.
Occasionally, there are times fans-the word fan is short for fanatic-on both sides get so exercised that being on the field can be dangerous.
In 1998, Steve Spurrier did his post-game media conference in a small boiler room at the south end of Neyland Stadium because medics in the "real" visitors press area were treating a broken arm or two and similar injuries from the post-game celebration.
There were similar situations in 2000, at Georgia, where Bulldog fans tore down the beloved Sanford Stadium hedges in celebration of a win over the Vols, and at LSU where fans also stormed the field at LSU after an overtime victory against Tennessee.
Finally, there was a Tennessee player at Arkansas in 1999, forever to remain nameless, who was so caught up in the post-game excitement that he was spotted helping hoist a portion of the goalpost amongst the Arkansas fandom before being escorted to the Vol dressing room by a Tennessee staff member. Don't let anybody tell you that's not a true story.
When these venues are bursting at the seams, the bands are playing, and the game is hotly contested, there's no place any southern football fan would rather be.
If you haven't learned that by now, you're not trying.
On the Mooney: Coming next week is a conversation with former "Voice of the Vols" George Mooney.
Tom Mattingly is the author of "The Tennessee Football Vault: The Story of the Tennessee Volunteers, 1891-2006" (2006), now available in second edition at fine bookstores, and "Tennessee Football: The Peyton Manning Years" (1998). Comments may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. His News Sentinel blog is called "The Vol Historian."