Tom Mattingly: Choosing sides not straightforward

Here's a question for your consideration during what is often called the "dog days" of summer, when everyone can barely wait for fall, or at least for the arrival of the Vols back on campus.

Does it matter which side of the field your team stands on?

It's a tough question.

The argument goes like this.

If your bench is on the east side, your team is in the sun, regardless of the time of year. If you team is on the west, or press box side, it's cooler. There may also be some element of tradition involved in the choice of bench area.

We all know that the Vols, whether under the tutelage of Gen. Robert R. Neyland, Bill Britton, John Barnhill, Harvey Robinson, Bowden Wyatt, or Jim McDonald, occupied the east sideline of Shields-Watkins Field, the sideline closest to the Tennessee dressing room at that time just a few feet away from the field. It was a matter of convenience.

The visitors were set up on the west side.

(Note For History: That allowed Bill Battle to have stood on that side of the field as an Alabama player in 1962 and as Vol head coach eight years later. A great many things happened in the intervening seasons to make that possible.)

Doug Dickey moved the Vol bench area to the west side in 1964, bringing the power and majesty of the team running through a large "T" formed by the band. He and Dr. Julian made that happen, and there would be an uproar of monumental proportions if, for some reason, it didn't happen. Then or now.

Things got a little iffy at times when the visitors were already on their sideline, and there might be a thought to impede Tennessee's entrance from the east side, but reason and good manners always prevailed, and the Vols made their way onto the field.

Moving the Tennessee dressing room to the north end in 1983 caused a few logistical problems. From the LSU game that season through the 1992 Kentucky game, the Vols ran through the "T" and turned right to the west side.

Tennessee's bench area moved back to the east side in 1993, thanks to an SEC crowd control directive that prohibited home team students sitting directly behind the opposing team's bench. From the 1993 season opener to the 2009 season finale against Vanderbilt, there was a left turn required after coming through the "T."

Then in 2010, the Vols moved back to the west side. That also took some getting used to. It also required another right turn as the Vols came onto the field at game time.

For the record, Tennessee was the final SEC school to return its bench to the press box side. Every other school had its bench area on the press box side of the stadium.

That must have meant the Vols either had the best student seating in the conference, or, possibly, someone else might be fudging on the rules.

(That happens more often than you think. See Mississippi State and the SEC rule against artificial noisemakers for an example.)

At Alabama, it was an article of faith that during the Bear Bryant, Ray Perkins, Bill Curry, Gene Stallings, or Mike Dubose eras that the Alabama bench would be on the east side of either Bryant-Denny Stadium or Legion Field in Birmingham. It was seemingly ordained from on high.

Then came Dennis Franchione ("Coach Fran"), who had a cup of coffee in Tuscaloosa and left for supposedly greener pastures in College Station, Texas. He was responsible for moving the Tide bench to the west side of Legion Field and Bryant-Denny Stadium, with Mike Shula and Nick Saban following suit.

Tide purists might not have endorsed idea of some opposing coach, a mere mortal, walking on the same turf Bryant and the others walked on, but that's the way it was. Perkins got rid of Bryant's coaching tower, and Franchione moved the bench area across the field. Talk about challenges to tradition.

Not only did Alabama change sidelines, but the Tide stopped playing at Legion Field as well. Not just for the "Iron Bowl," but for every other game traditionally played there as well. The capacity crowds left the stadium on Graymont Avenue and moved to campus venues at Auburn and Tuscaloosa. The "Football Capital of the South" seemed to be a shadow of its former self.

What Birmingham considered a divine right yielded to the economic reality of the larger stadiums on each campus. Somehow playing a "home game" more than 50 miles from Alabama's campus and at least 100 miles from Auburn's seemed foolish.

When we start thinking about all this, it's very likely we're all getting a little addled, waiting for the season to start.

Frankly, it can't start soon enough.

Tom Mattingly is a freelance contributor.

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Comments » 2

kingmufasa76 writes:

where is article about UT TENNIS STAR player of the year?? very suprised its not front net news he did beat newton

allvol32 writes:

in response to kingmufasa76:

where is article about UT TENNIS STAR player of the year?? very suprised its not front net news he did beat newton

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