All of my fall weekends usually are spent covering either the Gophers or Vikings games, but not this weekend. Thanks to my gracious sports editor, I get to be a fan this weekend.
I’m headed back to Tennessee to take my oldest son to his first Vols game at Neyland Stadium as a way to celebrate his upcoming 13th birthday.
He picked the trip without any encouragement from me. Honest.
But yes, I bleed orange having grown up in Tennessee and a lifelong Vols fan. I know multiple verses to Rocky Top.
As a sportswriter, we root for stories, not teams. We strive to be objective. I break that rule with one and only one team.
I love the Vols and I root like heck for them. My former Strib colleague Judd Zulgad makes fun of me because I refer to the Vols as “we” when talking about them.
As in, we’re hosting Oklahoma on Saturday. Hey, old habits are hard to break.
UT football is so ingrained in my home state’s psyche. As a kid, my family watched games with the TV sound turned down so we could listen to John Ward’s radio call. Everyone in Tennessee worshipped John Ward, the long-time Voice of the Vols.
I’ll never forget the sound of his voice in my head. And we loved to imitate his famous sayings:
“He’s at the 5-4-3-2-1 … Give. Him. Six. TOUCHDOWN TENNESSEE!!”
Our basement would be pure bedlam at that point.
Anyway, this father-son trip has caused me to reflect on my first visit to Neyland Stadium as a kid and the excitement I felt that day.
It was 1981, a few weeks from my 10th birthday, and I still remember vivid details about that day.
I remember riding to the game with my uncle who had season tickets. I remember singing Eddie Rabbitt songs in the car.
You take that first step, ask her out and treat her like a lady.
The Vols played Georgia Tech that day. I didn’t remember if they won or lost (I looked it up, they won 10-7) but it’s the emotions and sensations that still linger with me.
I’ll never forget walking through a tunnel into the second level and seeing the stadium and field from the inside for the first time. I’m pretty sure I was speechless, other than to say “wow.”
The stadium was so much larger than what I envisioned from watching games on TV. Neyland felt as big as Earth to me that day.
The sea of fans was overwhelming. Everyone wore orange. The noise gave me butterflies.
My love for Tennessee football grew tenfold that day.
OK, so here’s your turn. I’d love to hear from readers about the first stadium you can remember visiting as kids – or even as an adult -- that gave you that same kind of experience and memories.
What stadium? How old were you? What do you remember?