Mattingly: Real UT fans don't let distance get them down

Let's hear it for the loyalty of the fans, from near or far away.

It's amazing how this loyalty manifests itself, occasionally from unexpected places.

Back in the 1990s, there was a young man named Mark Ostermeyer from Akron, Iowa, a small town located on the Iowa-Nebraska border. We had talked on the phone several times, and he talked rhapsodically about Neyland Stadium, a venue he had seen only on television. He specifically mentioned the memorable 1990 Florida game - Tennessee 45, Gators 3 - seen on ESPN.

He recalled liking the uniquely Tennessee orange jerseys and being impressed by the stadium and atmosphere he experienced watching on television.

The trip from Akron to Knoxville is estimated to be 16 hours, 10 minutes, covering 1,045 miles each way, and certainly appears to be a killer. If you think Knoxville, even Nashville, to Memphis is bad, try traversing the maze of highways leading from western Iowa to Knoxville and back again.

Mark once drove to Knoxville, visited the stadium (didn't say how he got in, but he did, somehow), and made a trip to the student center to buy some souvenirs. That's not all. He then turned around and drove back home. When he told me that, I was nothing short of dazzled.

In 1993, he and his brother drove all night to see the Tennessee-LSU game, and drove back home immediately after the game to get to work Sunday night.

I caught up with the Iowa duo the day before the game. As we walked across the connector between Stokely Athletics Center and Gibbs Hall, we ran into the Shuler brothers, Heath and Benjie.

After the appropriate introductions and some brief conversation, the Ostermeyer brothers declared their trip a success even before they saw the game, which ended up Tennessee 42, LSU 20. There was probably some interesting conversation on the way home.

Then there was a fellow named Dave Hagewood, who once recounted how he had driven from his home near Detroit to a hotel in Georgetown, Ky., to see a Tennessee game on television. That was the closest venue he found showing the game.

That was in the stretch run of the magic-laden 1998 season, when the Vols were 8-0 and No. 1 in the nation heading into the Arkansas game Nov. 14. It was, as we have said, a Tennessee classic if ever there was one.

"I had wondered if the Vols were ever going to win a national championship," Dave said. "When the Arkansas game week came up, the stations in my area were showing Notre Dame and Navy."

Hmm. Notre Dame and Navy. That's what Vol fans on the wrong side of Messrs. Mason and Dixon's famous line have to put up with on a weekly basis.

He had Tennessee roots, growing up in Clarksville, and decided he had to see the game one way or the other. So he ended up at a motel in Georgetown. (No one thought to ask why he didn't come all the way to Knoxville and see the game in person.)

During the game, international events in Iraq intervened, with CBS cutting directly to a briefing from the White House, and he missed Peerless Price's first half touchdown reception.

When the game came back on the tube, Dave saw a replay of Price's catch and watched the rest of the game live, including those moments in the final quarter when Al Wilson practically willed the Vol defense to force two turnovers.

Wilson blocked a field goal, and, as every Vol fan knows by heart, Billy Ratliff, urged on by Wilson, found a fumble on a play forever memorialized as the "Stoerner Stumble," named after Clint Stoerner, the Arkansas quarterback that day.

Historians might end up calling that game "The Rally by the River" or "The Miracle in the Gloaming." It was something. It was another magic moment in the history of Shields-Watkins Field/Neyland Stadium. It raises the question whether ghosts actually are found somewhere in or underneath the turf Bob Campbell so carefully tends.

Loyalty to a school is one thing. Loyalty to an athletics team at that school is another. Faraway loyalty, as we have seen, is beyond amazing, beyond rational explanation.

The University of Tennessee athletic community is definitely a special place, one full to the brim with special people.

(We're not talking about the "special people" in Tuscaloosa this past season who had to get off the shuttle bus first, just because they could, even though they were sitting in the back. They got on first and had to get off first. Bless their hearts.)

We're talking about the "really" special people, those who have supported the University of Tennessee from far beyond its borders. Their stories are sometimes so amazing they can't help but be true.

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 everywhere, and "Tennessee Football: The Peyton Manning Years" (1998). Send comments to tjmshm@comcast.net. His News Sentinel blog is called "The Vol Historian."

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Comments » 15

Volsnfl writes:

If i had the money I would do all that to,but we all cant afford to go and come as we please.

stevefrommemphis writes:

Anybody know what this references? He lost me.

(We're not talking about the "special people" in Tuscaloosa this past season who had to get off the shuttle bus first, just because they could, even though they were sitting in the back. They got on first and had to get off first. Bless their hearts.)

TommyJack writes:

in response to stevefrommemphis:

Anybody know what this references? He lost me.

(We're not talking about the "special people" in Tuscaloosa this past season who had to get off the shuttle bus first, just because they could, even though they were sitting in the back. They got on first and had to get off first. Bless their hearts.)

Beats me.

nicksjuzunk#646117 writes:

Well I've lived in Malaysia for 5 years and have never followed Tennessee as much as I do now! With a 13 hour time difference, I wake up at 1:00 am, 4:00 am, or whatever else time I have to just to have A CHANCE to find a bad internet feed so maybe I can get a few glimpses of Tennessee football!!

Volsnfl writes:

in response to rabidvolfan:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I go to a local sports bar to watch the games thats not aired.

CoverOrange writes:

in response to rabidvolfan:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I live in Dayton Ohio. Pretty sure Hagewood had to go through Dayton to get to Georgetown. I'm pretty sure I watched that game at my house with no problem. Hagewood traveled an extra 100 miles.

SouthDakotaBob writes:

I'm a Carter High alum living here in South Dakota. Thanks to ESPN gameplan and the extended sports package I rarely miss a game. GBO!!

WV_Vol writes:

I am a Vol fan from WV. I used to see only big games, but thanks to ESPN Gameplan I have seen every game this year. For Christmas my wife got me tickets to the Bowl game in Atlanta. It is my first live Tennessee game. Needless to say, I was ecstatic... 50 yd. line, front row, right on the field!!! I can't wait! Next year we are going to come to Knoxville and visit for a game.

Volsnfl writes:

in response to WV_Vol:

I am a Vol fan from WV. I used to see only big games, but thanks to ESPN Gameplan I have seen every game this year. For Christmas my wife got me tickets to the Bowl game in Atlanta. It is my first live Tennessee game. Needless to say, I was ecstatic... 50 yd. line, front row, right on the field!!! I can't wait! Next year we are going to come to Knoxville and visit for a game.

Lucky dog,Ive never been to a UT game,Have fun.

LeftCoastVol writes:

Do I count as a "real" fan. I live in Orange County, California and am a season ticket holder(Section Y6). I'm "common folk" so I've become pretty savvy at finding the best and least expensive flights to Knoxville from LAX and SNA. I sometimes fly into Atlanta or Nashville and then rent a car. I've also made away-game trips to Florida, Notre Dame, Cal, Pasadena(which is close), South Carolina, Tempe, and next year LSU. My friends think I'm crazy but admire the fact that I bleed orange. Go Vols!!!! By the way, it kills me when I see "fans" leaving Neyland Stadium early so that they can beat traffic or whatever.

Thad123 writes:

in response to WV_Vol:

I am a Vol fan from WV. I used to see only big games, but thanks to ESPN Gameplan I have seen every game this year. For Christmas my wife got me tickets to the Bowl game in Atlanta. It is my first live Tennessee game. Needless to say, I was ecstatic... 50 yd. line, front row, right on the field!!! I can't wait! Next year we are going to come to Knoxville and visit for a game.

There is nothing like a game in Knoxville. My dad took me to my first game when i was around 8 and i will never forget that day the rest of my life. I hope you do get a chance to go to Knoxville

volunteers4life writes:

I'm a 31 yr old broke vol fan from memphis, tn thats never seen a live vol game minus the 2 times ive seen them play memphis here. Ive always wanted to see neyland alive with orange. But financially just cannot afford $50 tix, $25 parking, $80 gas, $100 hotel, plus food etc... Thats over 300 just for nose bleed seats and a 12 hour total drive time. I grew up a vol, my dad spent 5 yrs in knoxville as a freshman (the whole time!) Said he couldnt concentrate on his studies because he spent so much time watching football and picking up all those hot east tennessean women up there!

My dream is to come to a home game someday and share this experience with my own son together, for both of our first times. Should be something neither of us will ever forget and would provide an excellent bonding opportunity as well.

Can't wait as I have literally dreamed of being in a pro-vol to the core town and experiencing 100,000+ orange clad vol fans screaming our team on to victory. It has to be rewarding and I hope all of you in Knoxville and surrounding areas appreciate how convenient and lucky you are to have the vols right in your backyard. My orange pride is often ridiculed and berated by the fair-weather Florida/Bama local contingent, local MS ST goofballs, and most especially the challenged Ole Miss and Memphis Tiger fans that seem to be like cockroaches around these parts. I dont care though. I still wear my orange with pride regardless.

dcarver262#345455 writes:

my wife is from middle Tn; I'm from NJ. We met at a keg party in my dorm room in Andy Holt back in 82; and have been together ever since.

When we lived in Australia, we'd get a video of the game fedx'd to us; and watch them live (about a week) late with our friends down under. No Internet back in the early 90's..

We live in NJ currently and get back to Knoxville at least 2x every year for a home game and try to get to an away game whenever possible. Since we graduated, we've seen the Vols play in Boston, South Bend, LA, Berkley, Oxford, Athens, Columbia, Piscataway, Giants Stadium (twice), Baton Rouge (3x), Miami, Nashville, Syracuse, Gainesville (3x), Tempe (2x including the national Championship game), Tampa, Orlando (3x), and Atlanta (6x including the VA Tech game in a few days).

Over the next few years, we look forward to getting to Oregon, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Ohio State and Uconn for away games. There are few things as entertaining as spending a weekend in a college football town!

We also recently bought my wifes grandmothers farm in Trousdale County TN; where we plan to build a house for retirement and continue to spend our saturdays in Knoxville and on the road as long as we can.

belle01 writes:

in response to Volsnfl:

I go to a local sports bar to watch the games thats not aired.

I was living in North Georgia at the time...a stone's throw from UGA (READ: SEC Country) and still couldn't get the game on TV. I remember this game clearly- I was camping and made my buddies pack it up early to watch the game. I had to settle on highlights being played while another game went to commercial. One commerical break we were winning, the next we were loosing. It was a nail biter and I was only watching highlights.

So no- back in 1998 it was a bit harder to trapse down to your local bar and watch any game you wish.

mattingly writes:

in response to dcarver262#345455:

my wife is from middle Tn; I'm from NJ. We met at a keg party in my dorm room in Andy Holt back in 82; and have been together ever since.

When we lived in Australia, we'd get a video of the game fedx'd to us; and watch them live (about a week) late with our friends down under. No Internet back in the early 90's..

We live in NJ currently and get back to Knoxville at least 2x every year for a home game and try to get to an away game whenever possible. Since we graduated, we've seen the Vols play in Boston, South Bend, LA, Berkley, Oxford, Athens, Columbia, Piscataway, Giants Stadium (twice), Baton Rouge (3x), Miami, Nashville, Syracuse, Gainesville (3x), Tempe (2x including the national Championship game), Tampa, Orlando (3x), and Atlanta (6x including the VA Tech game in a few days).

Over the next few years, we look forward to getting to Oregon, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Ohio State and Uconn for away games. There are few things as entertaining as spending a weekend in a college football town!

We also recently bought my wifes grandmothers farm in Trousdale County TN; where we plan to build a house for retirement and continue to spend our saturdays in Knoxville and on the road as long as we can.

Congrats on coming (back) to Trousdale County. It's a great place. Been going there for years.

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