Mattingly: Stadium once 'forlorn sight'

Shields-Watkins Field, which grew from humble beginnings after being christened in 1921, added 1,500 seats, at lower right,
in 1934, making the capacity for the home of Tennessee’s football team 19,360.

NEWS SENTINEL PHOTO

Shields-Watkins Field, which grew from humble beginnings after being christened in 1921, added 1,500 seats, at lower right, in 1934, making the capacity for the home of Tennessee’s football team 19,360.

As the powers-that-be talk about a new and improved Neyland Stadium for the 2010 season and beyond, fans seeking perspective might want to think back to an earlier day, when a much-smaller Shields-Watkins Field first opened for Tennessee football games.

That was Saturday, Sept. 24, 1921, nearly 90 years ago, when Tennessee played its first game in the new arena, sometimes referred to in the early days as Shields-Watkins Stadium or The Shields-Watkins Field. Emory & Henry helped christen the new arena.

The new field was located on 15th Street (as it was known then, since then as Stadium Drive and now Phillip Fulmer Way) a block or so south of the team's previous home on Wait Field. That venue was too small and was replete with "rocks and hard places," said Roy "Pap" Striegel, captain of the 1922 team and the man who convinced Banks to outfit the team in orange jerseys that season.

The stadium's name came from its benefactors, Knoxville banker and Grainger County native Col. William S. Shields and his wife, Alice Watkins Shields.

The field had its beginnings in 1912 when University Realty was formed. The company held an option on seven acres of land until the university could complete the purchase and develop a "physical education-athletic field."

As of 1917, financing had not been completed and contributions were solicited from the community. Checks averaging $10 were received, and UT students pledged $2000 in cash and 2000 days labor.

In 1919, Col. Shields, a new member of the school's board of trustees, donated $22,453, a figure matched by the University, for the seven-acre tract of land. The field area included a large ravine that Dean Nathan Washington Dougherty ordered filled with dirt during the construction of Ayres Hall.

Tennessee authors Barry Parker and Robin Hood ("Neyland: Life of a Stadium") called the area "a forlorn sight: an unmarked, upgraded expanse of mounds and gullies that turns into a quagmire in the rain."

According to a University of Tennessee history ("To Foster Knowledge, A History of the University of Tennessee, 1794-1970") penned by James Riley Montgomery, Stanley John Folmsbee, and Lee Seifert Greene, Col. Shields contributed more than $40,000 for the field, equivalent to a nearly $500,000 ($475,563.79) contribution today.

That figure included two other parcels Col. Shields bought on the west side of the field at Dougherty's "suggestion."

There was a "Campus Day," sometimes called a "Field Day," held March 16, 1921, to prepare the field.

"I remember that Dr. H.A. Morgan, the university president, called a student holiday so that the student body and faculty could pitch in and help complete the field," Striegel said.

"There was everybody out there working, and right beside us was Dean James D. Hoskins, who later became the university president."

It was quite an effort to get the field ready.

"Students in the home economics department prepared lunch," Montgomery and colleagues wrote. "Students ('practically unanimously') volunteered to work eight hours. Sophomore surveying classes laid out the track, the diamond, and other features.

"Ditch digging became a competition, with a prize awarded 'in the 100-yard ditch-digging contest.' "

The whole process ended up taking two days, allowing a baseball game to be played March 19 against Cincinnati University. Shields threw the first pitch that day to president Morgan, who promptly whiffed. The Vol baseballers lost, 7-6.

Later, a crown of additional dirt and a "strong stand of Bermuda grass" were added to the field.

The capacity of the new stadium was 3,200, all on the west side, but considerably fewer showed up for the opener, as a crowd estimated at 1,200 watched under a persistent drizzle, the Vols finally winning 27-0.

A 21-point third quarter proved decisive as Coach M.B. Banks cleared the bench. Rufe Clayton scored the first TD in the new stadium on an 11-yard run. A reporter named H.I. Leyshon had the game story byline.

The Vols finished 6-2-1 and, in four home games, did not give up a point. Even in those days, defense ruled.

Carson-Newman earned the first opponent points on the new field, but that was in the second game of the 1922 season. The Vols won a total of eight in a row on the new home field in 1921 and 1922, before Vanderbilt took a 14-6 victory on Nov. 4, 1922.

The stadium has grown steadily from these humble beginnings, with a capacity of more than 100,000, but these early days helped establish the program and what it has become over the years.

"If you build it, they'll come," was the famed line from the movie "Field of Dreams."

Over the years, as the stadium has been expanded, fans have come from every nook and cranny of Tennessee, and from as far and wide as the expanse known as "Big Orange Country" will allow.

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). His News Sentinel blog is called "The Vol Historian." Send comments to tjmshm@comcast.net.

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Comments » 28

UTGAMER writes:

Good insight

sambad writes:

It would be nice if you could get a before picture.

tnsportsman writes:

This is the RICH TRADITIONS of Tennessee Football! This is why UT will always be among the best! You can't buy this kind of tradition EVER!

GO VOLS, WE ARE UT!

TommyJack writes:

in response to Agent_Orange:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

crimsonviper writes:

Good story..Props to Mattingly.

keepitreal4vols writes:

Love ol photos and history lessons.

volfan73120#211815 writes:

in response to Agent_Orange:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

volsoutwest writes:

in response to Agent_Orange:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Why? Stories and history of the Vols never get old to me. Also a great book by the way.

VolsINFan writes:

Great story. Only been able to go to three games at Neyland, but it has been great each time. I've been to Notre Dame, Michigan, and Ohio State for games, but in my opinion they can't compare with UT for home game experience. Their fans are genuinely rude and disrespectful of the other team fans, and I have yet to see that at a UT home game.

Go Vols!

crimsonviper writes:

in response to RichRollin:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Good post RR..

AtLeastMyTeamHasPerfectSeasons writes:

in response to sambad:

It would be nice if you could get a before picture.

There is a book I bought off of e-bay called "Big Orange: A Pictorial History of University of Tennessee Football" by Bud Fields and Bob Bertucci from 1982 that features pics of the 1890's campus (showing The Hill with a building before Ayres Hall) that are very interesting. Plenty of Wait Field shots and even a couple of the 1st field the Vols played before Wait.

richvol writes:

I never tire of reading about the great history and tradition of UT. Those that do are simpletons and are certainly not Vol fans.

I attended my first games at Neyland with my Dad in '56 and although larger and improved the overall look wasn't much better than this photo.

I remember the smell and cavernous feel of the interior ramps climbing up the east and south sides of the structure. The football players lived in the dorm rooms lining the exterior just like gladiators. The seats were old cracked wood and you could get splinters if you weren't careful. The old timeclock ran like a conventional clock with a second sweephand. The north endzone was open and students,or others who couldn't afford a ticket,would sit on the hillside and have a good view of the game. The small X section looked funny...like an afterthought.

I sure miss those Saturday afternoons with my Dad. It's certainly one of the reasons that I took my own children to the games while they were growing up. That stadium has been a big part of my life for almost 60 years now and my grandson went to his first game there this past season...Proud to be a Volunteer.

RespectTradition writes:

in response to VolnotHAMILTONfan:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Most all schools have traditions, but not rich ones.

We were a dominant program until the mid-fifties, hardly bridesmaids. The success after that may not have been as high nationally, but we sure were good. And since NC were voted on by yankee and wankee sports writers, I question the validity.

Please, just stay home and watch the games, because no one who is a fan would EVER say the things you say.

Pathetic.

Go Vols!

Ringside writes:

At least the workers back in the 30's got free hotdogs and sodas. How things change in 75 years.

Ringside writes:

My son is going to Neyland for the first time this year. We are really looking forward to it.
Go Vols. Happy Fathers Day gentlemen.

Ringside writes:

in response to VolnotHAMILTONfan:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

TARD ALERT TARD ALERT TARD ALERT TARD ALERT

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

Rich traditions on hallowed ground for sure;Not a bad stadium for 1934 standards..Reminds me of the Orange Bowl Stadium in Miami;Many great memories.The Orange bowl was built in 1937 in response to the Rose bowl hoopla.It opened with an unheard of seating of 74,000 and UT beat OU there in 1939.When it was torn down the seating was still very close to it's original 74k

AtLeastMyTeamHasPerfectSeasons writes:

in response to Ringside:

My son is going to Neyland for the first time this year. We are really looking forward to it.
Go Vols. Happy Fathers Day gentlemen.

Awesome. My 1st son was born Friday, brought him home today (fathers day).

A future Vol-lifer was born who I will someday take to Neyland for his 1st game.

Can't wait.....

FEARinSEC writes:

in response to tnsportsman:

This is the RICH TRADITIONS of Tennessee Football! This is why UT will always be among the best! You can't buy this kind of tradition EVER!

GO VOLS, WE ARE UT!

Did you steal those laast 3 words from Marshall??

http://herdzone.cstv.com/sports/m-foo...

orangecountyvols writes:

Speaking of not being relevant.............this guy with the Volnothamilton screen name is without a doubt someone who has some serious issues. We have a nice article to read and you can always bet some ignorant, negative troll is going to show up.

Yes, for the good of the Vol fans, this one hopefully will stay home and curse at his television instead of being a pest in person at the games. Generally speaking, with every one of these posts enjoyed by the majority of us...........it's going to happen, we all know who the trolls are..............just recognize the screen names and expect nothing else.

Mattingly, good job and we VOL FANS thank you.

Ringside writes:

in response to AtLeastMyTeamHasPerfectSeasons:

Awesome. My 1st son was born Friday, brought him home today (fathers day).

A future Vol-lifer was born who I will someday take to Neyland for his 1st game.

Can't wait.....

Congrats!!! That is awesome. You have some really fun days in front of you.

Raynoch writes:

in response to Agent_Orange:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Absolutely terrible post. The Mattingly stories are awesome. True Tennessee fans should feel fortunate to root for a school with such great tradition. Mattingly is a great resource to learn about that tradition.

gbeejr#1354500 writes:

The stadium & field are beautiful. But as I watch from my upper deck seats and feel the vibrations caused by our enthusiastic fans, my thoughts never linger far from the stories of what lies under the sod. Over the years I've heard all kinds of stories of caves and sink holes under our stadium and field that had to be dealt with. I never put a whole of truth into it simply because I couldn't see how such a discovery could be kept quiet. I guess it just adds to the excitement.

kyvol98 writes:

I remember going to Stokley as a kid and, before the games, walking the concourse and looking at all of the old photos on the wall. Great memories I will have for a lifetime.

orangecountyvols writes:

in response to gbeejr#1354500:

The stadium & field are beautiful. But as I watch from my upper deck seats and feel the vibrations caused by our enthusiastic fans, my thoughts never linger far from the stories of what lies under the sod. Over the years I've heard all kinds of stories of caves and sink holes under our stadium and field that had to be dealt with. I never put a whole of truth into it simply because I couldn't see how such a discovery could be kept quiet. I guess it just adds to the excitement.

gbee,

I heard those stories too. Supposedly, that's why they couldn't go lower into the ground with the stadium expansions over the years. Some stadiums are almost below the ground's surface, such as the Yale Bowl.

Ralph_Crampton writes:

In the summer of 1952. the Associated press ran of the winning football teams from the years between 1926 thru 1952...generally considered the modern area of college football. I suppose the main reason radio became so accessable to the average fan around the nation. It was around the time of the Dempsey-Tunney fights...the great teams being produced by Notre Dame..and the Rose bowl came into vogue as the big game of the year. The Hearst newspapers really gave college football a huge lift thru its banner headlines. According to the Associated press, the Volunteers won more total games than any other college team. Look it up, it was long wire story from the AP around July or August of 1952. Entitled "Vols winningest football team in modern era, 1926-1952.

orangecountyvols writes:

in response to Ralph_Crampton:

In the summer of 1952. the Associated press ran of the winning football teams from the years between 1926 thru 1952...generally considered the modern area of college football. I suppose the main reason radio became so accessable to the average fan around the nation. It was around the time of the Dempsey-Tunney fights...the great teams being produced by Notre Dame..and the Rose bowl came into vogue as the big game of the year. The Hearst newspapers really gave college football a huge lift thru its banner headlines. According to the Associated press, the Volunteers won more total games than any other college team. Look it up, it was long wire story from the AP around July or August of 1952. Entitled "Vols winningest football team in modern era, 1926-1952.

Ralph,

Good post. By the way, speaking of stadiums, some may already know this but Soldier Field in Chicago has had its capacity greatly reduced through the years. This may be the largest ever crowds.....Notre Dame played Southern Cal and Army in the 1930's or so, and each one drew 120,000. I wish I could have seen some of those earlier games myself.

Ralph_Crampton writes:

Before Television got as big as is today...were you aware that football games lasted one hour...and twenty minutes. Since television commercial were not on...A college football clock ran continuosly no stopping the clock ran at all times thru the game except for two minutes time out per quarter....Nowadays a football game will last three and a half to 4 hours. Fot TV commercials.

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