Tyson loves UT football more than anything in the world, and that probably includes me. From the time he was a baby, he has bled orange, despite growing up in the middle of Dawg country. It’s no secret he came to college in Knoxville specifically for the free student tickets to the games. Last year, upon finding our seats in our normal spot, Tyson got really quite and started acting strange. I looked over at him, and there were tears in his eyes. He was literally crying. He said, “It’s just a beautiful sight.” Tyson didn’t even cry on our wedding day.
So needless to say, my husband is just a little anxious for kickoff on Saturday night. He has been adding to his “tailgate necessities” list since Monday, and every time I catch sight of it, it’s grown by 5-10 items. I’m trying to figure out where he thinks we’re going to put all this stuff, but at this point I’ve decided it’s best to adopt a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
We decided on a tailgating spot in the back parking lot of Regions on Cumberland Avenue. This year, they have partnered with the Knoxville branch of the Alzheimer’s Association and all the parking proceeds will go to this charity. I think we made a great decision, because the location is great, we pay for the whole season upfront, and we can come and go as we please all while helping out a great cause, as opposed to putting twenty bucks a game in the pocket of some random landlord (who’s already raking it in from their overpriced, under-managed apartments) for a blocked-in space in a gravel lot.
I have been informed by the powers that be (i.e, Tyson, my brother Justin, and our friend Josh) that tailgating will begin promptly at 8am. Kickoff is at 6pm. You do the math – yes, that’s right, there are TEN HOURS of tailgating planned on Saturday. What will you do for all that time, you say? Well, I am glad you asked, because we have PLENTY in store for all of our lucky tailgating guests.
8:00 am – ARRIVAL AND SET UP. We’ll get to Regions, set up our tents, our two tables (one for beer pong, of course), both cornhole sets, and fire up the grill. And by grill, I believe I meant, the god of all things tailgating. My brother bought us (read: Tyson) the Margaritaville tailgating grill that hooks into our hitch and swings out for your easy grilling convenience for our wedding present, and let me just say, it was created quite the hype in our little tailgating circle. I’m hard-pressed to decide if the boys are more excited about the actual game or the grill. It’s a close call.
8:30 am – BREAKFAST. Tyson doesn’t just tailgate with the intention of finding a parking spot and sitting and drinking all day. He does it big. We will have a full-fledged breakfast (courtesy of aforementioned grill) of bacon, sausage, bagels, etc. He has even informed me we will be making mimosas and poinsettias from the leftover champagne from the wedding festivities, just to start the mood off right.
9:00 am – CORNHOLE WILL ENSUE.
10:00 am – SCREW CORNHOLE, BEER PONG IS WELL UNDERWAY.
12:00 pm – NORMAL PEOPLE WILL BEGIN SHOWING UP. Of course, my family will have a 4 hour head start on those poor, unsuspecting fans, but this is the actual expected time for the crowd to really start coming in.
12:30 pm – THE REAL SHENANIGANS WILL BEGIN. Take this for what it’s worth. Alcohol + football + large crowd always = party, which may or may not get out of hand. Our one saving grace this year is that we are actually right on the Strip, under the watchful eye of several cops who may or may not care what the hell we are doing.
1:00 pm – LUNCHTIME. Remember how I said Tyson likes to go all out? Hot dogs and hamburgers are apparently not good enough for the UT-Martin game; we will be grilling steaks. Steaks that I put in marinade this morning before I left for work, because he insisted they be saturated for the just the perfect two-day time period before we eat them.
2:00 pm – HEAVY DRINKING WILL COMMENCE. With only 4 hours til kickoff, this is when the guys, namely my husband and brother, will decide they have not partied nearly enough for the game. This will, of course, be an incorrect assumption, since if we all remember correctly, they have been drinking for 6 hours already. But this won’t matter to them, they will insist on a Power Hour(s) forthwith.
3:00 pm – FIGHT NIGHT. Inevitably when you mix alcohol, sports, and die-hard fans, a fight will break out at some point. We can all thank God this is not a rivalry game, which means whenever a fight does occur on Saturday, it will most likely be the result of someone “borrowing” another tailgater’s hotdog buns (last year’s tailgaters, you know what I’m talking about…). At any rate, this is a disagreement that can easily be overcome with a couple bucks and/or beers.
5:00 pm – HEAD TO THE STADIUM. Tyson will insist we need to get to the stadium AT LEAST a half hour before kickoff so he can analyze the pre-game warm-ups taking place on the field. I imagine my husband to be convinced that he is on the coaching payroll for the Vols, as his criticisms and instructions that are yelled at the top of his lungs from the upper level bleachers are voiced with such fervor that General Neyland himself would take pause to listen up. Past years of experience have proven, without a doubt, that he will successfully endeavor to embarrass the hell out of me before the game even starts.
6:00 pm – GAME TIME. The players have run through the T, the coin has been tossed, and we’re lining up for kickoff. All is right in the world. Tyson is probably crying again. The next 3-4 hours will be a haphazard mash up of cheers, the wave, yelling at the ref, and lots and lots of Rocky Top. And this cycle will repeat itself 6 more times before the season is over. Yay me.
All sarcasm aside, I make fun of Tyson and Justin, but the truth is, I love it too. Maybe not to the fanatic extent that they do, but it really is one of my favorite times of year. How do you beat 100,000 orange-clad fans who are all equally passionate about the same thing you are and will do anything to let you know it? You don’t have to be a Tennessee student or alum to get caught up in the atmosphere. It is truly like nothing else in the world.
So I will suffer through the next four weekends (and three more later on) of no sleep and bad hangovers, and probably some disappointing losses. Because in Knoxville, while wins and losses may be important, it’s more about the fandom and the spirit of excitement that 11 players stepping onto a football field brings to an entire city and its surrounding counties. In the words of Charlie Daniels, “Down here football’s not just a game, it’s a way of life.”