Neyland Stadium – Tennessee Volunteers
Good Old Rocky Top
You won’t find many more imposing venues in the country than the home of the Tennessee Volunteers in Knoxville, Tennessee. Neyland Stadium seats over 102,000 orange-clad fans in an enclosed bowl, making it as loud as it is large. Opened in 1921 as Shield-Watkins Field, this college football mecca originally seated just 3,200. It has grown by almost 100,000 in just under 100 years of Volunteer football. In 1962, it was renamed Neyland Stadium for recently deceased Athletic Director and Coach General Robert Neyland.
The Sporting News ranked Neyland Stadium as the #1 stadium in college football in 2001 and Sports Illustrated ranked a weekend in Knoxville as the best college football weekend experience in 2004. Tailgating on the Tennessee River is an event unto itself. While college football fans will always debate the best gameday experience, few would argue with you about ranking a game at Neyland as an essential on the college football bucket list.
Food & Beverage 2
If there’s one area where Neyland has difficulty measuring up to some of its southern counterparts, it’s concessions. Don’t expect a huge variety of food options at any of the concessions around the stadium. Hot dogs and hamburgers are largely your options, with a few variations scattered about. In addition, you won’t see any food vendors walking the stands (possibly due to the extreme vertical stairs), so grab your food on the way in. Halftime can be a nightmare (especially in the upper deck) due to the narrow walkways, vertical stairs and small concession areas. Your best bet is to run to the concessions during a timeout, as they are scattered enough to always be nearby. Prices, on the other hand, are extremely reasonable. Burgers and dogs will run you $4-$5 and a large drink runs around $7. The $7 with a free refill option is a great deal for drinks, as well. Alcohol is not available at Neyland Stadium, as is the case with all SEC stadiums, so drink your fill as you tailgate on the river.
No one can debate all the positives Neyland has to offer. The tailgating scene is one of the most unique and relaxing in college football. Whether you’re walking Cumberland Avenue, grilling a few feet from the Tennessee River or enjoying cocktails on a boat just outside the stadium, Knoxville offers a spectacular gameday experience before and after the game. Fans are friendly and won’t hesitate to engage in some hospitable conversation with visitors. Inside the stadium expect noise, even if the stadium isn’t sold out. The enclosed structure keeps noise inside, and even a crowd of 90,000 on a bad sales day is large enough to be louder than most stadiums in the country.
I’m always a stickler for gameday traditions in college football, and Tennessee definitely shines in this department. It all starts with the Volunteers running through the band-formed Power T to the stadium rocking cheers of 102,000 fans dressed in orange. The Vols entrance is almost universally ranked near the top of college football traditions, and alone makes Neyland Stadium a required college football destination. The Pride of the Southland Band is one of the best bands in all of college football, and will put on quite an impressive show both before the game and at halftime. And whether you think it’s a great tradition or one of the most overplayed anthems in college football, 102,000 singing “Rocky Top” is a sight to behold.
The stadium itself struggles a bit, however. The sound system is shockingly bad. Compared to other stadiums in the SEC or elsewhere, it isn’t even close. It sounds like there is one set of speakers below the press box blaring from a distance. The other thing I find incredibly odd is that scores from around the country are not displayed anywhere in the stadium or read off aloud. I’ve never been to a major college football stadium before where this wasn’t offered in abundance. The last concern is what you’ll hear most fans complain about on a trip to Neyland. There’s not a stadium in the country with narrower seats and more vertical stairs. Climbing the upper deck to be squeezed into your seat is not for the faint of heart. If you need it, though, the usher will be happy to go seat by seat to make sure everyone is squeezed in enough to fit the proper number in the row. Just be prepared to get to know your neighbor.
I can’t even imagine a reason to score Neyland anything less than a 5 here. You can debate fan involvement when it comes to tailgates across the southeast and the country, but there’s no debating the absolute perfection of the venue in Knoxville. If you go out the night before, there are more than a few areas of town that will offer you everything you need as far as food and drink. The Downtown Grill & Brewery is a great spot to sit down to a meal or grab a few beers. Calhoun’s is another great restaurant for gameday or the night before, and is located conveniently right on the Tennessee River.
On gameday, it’s a must that you get up early and grab a spot in the Calhoun’s parking lot. You’ll be within easy walking distance of the stadium, while tailgating just inches from the Tennessee River. The only better option is if you happen to own a boat. You’ll see a lot of Vol fans tailgating just outside the stadium on anything that floats, be it speedboat or a full-sized yacht. Hotels are all around, but for a true college football experience, the Marriott near Calhoun’s will play the big college games of the day in the lobby on a huge projection screen. Fans returning from tailgate will set up shop with their coolers in the lobby to enjoy some late-night football.
Again, Vol fans have to score high here. I arrived as a fan of the visiting team, which in the SEC is a mixed bag, at best. Tennessee fans are nothing but hospitable. They are always willing to have a friendly conversation, and you can expect to feel very welcome anywhere you go in the general area around the stadium. The more surprising part is how hospitable the fans remain after the game. In my case, my team lost in a tight, hard-fought game. Although they were all obviously ecstatic after the win, not one fan felt the need to rub it in or even say anything to me or any of the opposing fans. I can’t speak highly enough of fan bases that show this kind of class. Definitely expect the same friendly atmosphere.
As far as volume, there’s no drop-off. Vol fans will support their team vocally all game. They may not always sell out their games (hard to consider that a negative when their low attendance of 90,000 is still more than the majority of schools get in a sellout), but by the noise level, you won’t be able to tell. They know the cheers, whether it’s the verses to “Rocky Top” or the timing when chanting “Vols”, and aren’t afraid to yell either at the top of their lungs.
Again, unless you have a boat, be willing to arrive early and walk a bit. There is free parking to be found and it’s not going to be unreasonable, but as you can imagine with 102,000, the roads will become an issue if you wait. Besides, don’t miss a minute of the extra-ordinary tailgate that awaits you. As far as getting into the stadium, prepare for tired legs if you don’t have great seats. The concourses (especially in the upper deck) are narrow and clogged. The ramp to get the higher levels is long and vertical. The stairs in the stadium are universally known as steep, to say the least. The restrooms are also old and in need of a serious update. The stadium definitely shows its age, and isn’t the most pedestrian-friendly stadium in the country by any means, but don’t let that discourage you from enjoying the atmosphere.
Return on Investment 4
As a large SEC school, tickets won’t be cheap. I’ve heard you can get them for value for lesser games if you’re willing to take your chances around the stadium, but tickets for a fairly big conference game were $80, in my case. To be fair, you’re paying for quite an experience. In addition, you’ll find that food, parking and hotels in the area aren’t outlandishly priced across the board, so the trip is definitely well worth it.
I can’t give enough points for the overall experience. Yes, the stadium is old and far from comfortable, but the tradition, spectacle and uniqueness more than make up for any of the “warts”. Neyland Stadium is on the short list of college football “musts”, whether you’re a Vols fan or a college football traveler.
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Latest Crowd Reviews
Rocky Top is all you need to hear when you think of the Tennessee Volunteers. And with Tennessee football, you think of Neyland Stadium, up on the hills of eastern Tennessee. Neyland Stadium is one of the largest stadiums, but when you get in there, you really don&#039t feel that way. And I mean that as a compliment. POSITIVES: Neyland Stadium is a 100,000 seat stadium but you do feel close to the action. The place is unique in terms of how it looks and I liked the checkerboard end zones. They do have some decent food there (Petro, which is a small chili bowl with the works). And you&#039re right by the river which is also nice and you are in walking distance of certain things. NEGATIVES: The concourses are brutally bad on the upper levels. And it is slick. I heard the lower level, the upper rows, you are obstructed with a lot of the field views. Prices are a tad expensive for everything. Parking near there is slightly problematic as you will have to walk for general parking. Overall, it is a good place with some holes, but definitely a must for any college fan.