Mike Gibson and Jesse Fox Mayshark set out to find out, canvassing a range of residents--natives and newcomers alike--here in the heart of Vol country. From the thrill of the gridiron to the agony of gridlock, they found that Volmania means many things to many people and has a major impact on our wardrobes, our wallets, and our way of life.
Dr. Bruce Wheeler
UT History Professor
On Vol culture and Southern manhood: "One of the questions I get asked a lot is why football is so large in the South, as opposed to the Northeast or other places. That's not to say that Nebraska or Penn State or Michigan are Southern teams. But really it seems that football in the South is a little bit different. And in Tennessee, or in Knoxville anyway, UT football is a little bit different still. A lot of people are amazed that we have a football stadium that on any given day could hold more than half the population of the city. That's really quite amazing. A lot of people have tried to figure out why that is, what it is about Southern society that makes football so important.
"I have a feeling it has to do with the fact that southern conceptions of what manhood is are more physical than those conceptions elsewhere. Of course, other schools outside the South do have huge football programs. But the interest in football here seems to be pervasive. I was in Stanford in Palo Alto one day when a football game was being played and it was a very important one. But the rest of the community seemed to be quite unconcerned. One gets the impression talking to visitors to Knoxville that when UT plays football, everything stops. People actually plan their shopping and other things around that football schedule. My daughter used to live in Knoxville and she would listen to the radio, wait until kick-off, and then run out and do her shopping because she knew the stores would not be very crowded. She said she could always keep tabs on the score because the radio or the TV was on in all the stores.
"Wilma Dykeman--just a great writer and a great person--I went to a talk she gave which was on a Saturday afternoon in Gatlinburg, and it was about Tennessee history and culture. And the UT football game was on. Nobody would be rude enough to ask Wilma to hurry it along, but somebody was always sneaking out of the room and getting the score and whispering it through the audience. So if you ask me, I would probably guess that [football mania] has to do with Southern conceptions of manhood and masculinity. It's more physical, more elemental, than in other areas.
On the psycho-sexual drama: "If you're not from here, you must also have observed that this is a participation sport. Everybody in Neyland Stadium is a participant. It's a psycho-sexual drama. There's musicians; there are cheerleaders exhorting the crowd; there are people wanting to do the wave; everybody seems to have a part to play. And what's interesting to someone who doesn't go to a lot of football games is that everyone seems to know what their part is. They begin in the morning and line up, hundreds of them, and watch the team walk over to the locker room. Then they come up and stand along Volunteer Blvd. and wait for the band, hundreds of these people. When the band has made their entrance into the stadium, then they go to the stadium and participate in the ritual of this ballgame. Everybody is involved; it's not a spectator sport in the same way as when you would watch it on television. I think that's one of the fascinating things about UT football.
"I went to Duke and then on to graduate work at Virginia, but I hope the team does well. I hope we beat Florida and I hope Mr. Manning has a wonderful season."
Matthias Heinzelmann (Germany)
Lars Reuen (Germany)
Szu-Yu Chang (Taiwan)
Chris Walsh (U.K.)
Sasti Sathiyayani (Malaysia)
New international students at UT
On American football and the Vols:
LR: "Football, of course I've seen in American movies, in, um Naked Gun? The football game at the end. I don't know anything about the rules. It's funny to me to see big men crushing together, but I don't have any idea how the rules are. But about Vols, Vol football? No... Since I've arrived here, I know Vol football games must be very exciting, everything's orange. But I'm looking forward to it. I have no idea what football's about, what's going on, [I'm] just open-minded."
MH: "I've lived in the United States for a year before, so I know football and I really love it. They actually showed last year's game, Tennessee against Florida, they showed that on the trans-Atlantic flight, so I got to see it. The second half was great. With a couple more completions in the first half for touchdowns, they could have made it. But I guess this year they're going to kick some butt. There's Peyton Manning, who turns down a huge pro deal to play for the Vols; we need that kind of guy."
SC: "Actually, I don't know the rules." [Q: Have you seen any games?} "You mean, like a movie, like Jerry Maguire? Sure. I stayed with my friends, who live in San Francisco. I heard from them that the Volunteers are a very, very good college football [team]. I'll go to one game, sure."
SS: "I think it should be played like rugby. I'm a rugby player, and I think American football is just making a mockery of the game. You've got, like, pads and stuff? Come on! Real men don't play football, they play rugby.
"I've heard [Vol football] is pretty big, I've heard people from all over Tennessee come in here, all the way from Nashville; it's ridiculous. But I think it's good. It's a good thing for the university, because they get money and they give it to us. So it works out."
CW: "From a kind of community viewpoint, it's brilliant, because you get nothing like this anywhere else. But from a sports viewpoint, especially coming from England, it's completely frowned upon. American football, they kind of really tried to promote it and push it a few years ago, and it just fell flat on its face. First, for the sport, it's always stopping and starting, and it's just no fun. And also it's the name, because in England, football is one thing. They kind of go, 'American football? It's nothing like it.'"
On big-money college sports:
LR: "Crazy, but interesting."
MH: "I heard that athletes can get into university easier, so that's not fair. But if the system's like that with the college sports, and not like we have in Europe with a minor league system that's real big, you can't change it, and it works. What's good about it is you really identify with the team. I saw that in high school sports, the crowd is so wild. You don't have that when you have a minor league system. You just have less visitors. With university sports, you automatically have a crowd that's really good."
SC: "That will be very, very convenient to have a place to go. I hope there is a very, very great concert [at Neyland Stadium]--like Michael Jackson."
CW: "Obviously people won't admit it, but a lot of universities, [sports] is the only reason people come to university or why the university is renowned nationally or internationally."
SS: "You see Tennessee, and it's just 'UT'--'UT vs. Florida,' 'UT vs. Alabama.' If you didn't have football here, probably nobody would know this university at all. You've got to give a lot to football. Go Volunteers. Go Vols."
CW: "Just walking down into the bookstore at the university, the amount of merchandise they've got there, it's just like pretty corporate...you wouldn't expect that at a university. It's very American. I don't think you'd find it anywhere else."
Volunteer Ministry worker, Gay Street window washer
On his gridiron career: "I played high school football [at Austin High]--fullback. We weren't too good.
On football fans here and elsewhere: "I love [Volmania]. I've got a lot of orange stuff--hats, shirts, T-shirts, sweatshirts. I love every one.
"I guess it's just competitive, between the different teams. I stayed in Washington, D.C., for 15 years, and the Redskins won two Super Bowls and went to the Super Bowl twice and lost. It's hard to describe how the whole town carries on when they win, after every game that they win, you hear people blowing their horns all over town, running out of their house screaming and hollering. [Knoxville] is about like that when it comes to UT. Not quite as...it's a little different when you get to the pros, from college."
Junior at Bearden High School, 17-year-old Vol fan
On the Vol spirit: "I think it's just the overall atmosphere. I just love being in the stadium with thousands of cheering fans. It's just Tennessee football, it's fun. Me and a friend of mine, we go down and we park cars a few hours before the game at my dad's office, which is downtown. We're down there a few hours beforehand so we can see it all coming together....It kind of brings everybody together, 'cause they're all going for this one team. Even though they don't know each other or anything, everybody's talking to each other like they're good friends."
On being a Vol fan at away games: "It depends on what the score is. When we score, it's obviously a lot of fun, because everybody else is just silent, the whole stadium, and we're just sitting over there in the corner going crazy. Now, when the tables are turned and we're losing, it's not so much fun...I remember one of the games we lost...we were driving home in a convertible, and under every bridge we went, for about 45 minutes on the way home, there were Alabama fans up [on top]. And we started cheering and waving our orange and white stuff, and they dumped a big old glass of beer on us."
UT Football player (offensive line)1986-90, Pro Football player (Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Oakland Raiders) 1991-96
On entering UT as a football frosh: "It's a hard adjustment really, because you go from being The Man at whatever high school you were at to being just another player. You go from the top of the totem pole to the bottom. And then when all the students get there, you're one of 30,000 instead of one of 115. It can get very overwhelming.
On entering Neyland Stadium: "That's amazing. I've never seen anything like it. After six years of playing pro football, there's never been any feeling similar to it. Running out through that 'T', 98,000 fans just screaming their heads off, and the band and all that--there's nothing like it. The walk down from the dormitory, the whole thing is awe-inspiring, more than you can even put into words. Why else would someone pay a million dollars to the university to run through the 'T' like someone did a couple of years ago? He knew he had a good thing when he did it because he tried to run through it again, I hear.
"You had butterflies and it would get you all wound up every time you did it. You got your stomach kind of tied in knots--that's probably why Tennessee has such a good home record. For the first five minutes, the players aren't even on the field; they're two or three inches above it.
On his career highlights: "The Auburn game in '89 (won by Tennessee 21-14) --they were ranked real high when they came in and they had pounded us pretty well two years before. That was one I'll always remember.
On insane Vol fans: "I had very good experiences with Tennessee fans. They're a great bunch. They're insane, every last one of them. But they're one of the politest bunches I ever saw. Of course, I never rode in on the visiting team's bus, either. I remember 60-year-old ladies in Georgia beating on the side of the bus. I was scared to get out there in front of all those old ladies. I was scared they would beat me to death. But we had a great bunch of fans--I never had any complaints. In the professionals, I was fortunate to play in front of two good sets of fans; Tampa has some very loyal fans considering their history, and Oakland has some that are probably as crazy as Tennessee fans, although it's not as entrenched in the society as it is here."
Rabbi Howard Simon
Temple Beth-El (on Kingston Pike, one of the major arteries for football traffic)
On Vol fans in the temple: "Our congregation is about 250 families. I would say that 75 to 80 percent of the congregation are dyed-in-the-wool, bleed-orange Vol fans...It's very interesting, because the mood of the congregation is oftentimes reflective of win or lose on the football field. When things are good, it's a happy time. When things are not, oh my. They take it very seriously.
On his winning streak: "One of the things that gives my members a great deal of delight, my Vol fan members, is when the university asks me to give the prayer before the game. They like that. In the 11 years that I've been here, I've been asked to do that three times, and I'm 3-0.
On this year's Georgia game falling on Yom Kippur, the holy Day of Atonement: "Yom Kippur is Oct. 11, and that's an all-day service. That'll be a major concern for us, because we begin our services at 10 o'clock in the morning, and we do not end until 6:30 that evening--the full day. There are people who will come and go, but yeah, the game will be a problem. I wrote to Doug Dickey about it, realizing that he couldn't do anything to change the game. I just asked if it was at all possible to have any say with the televising of the game that it could be at night. That way, the Jewish community throughout Tennessee, Georgia, and anywhere else who care about the Vols can participate. He wrote me back; he wrote me a lovely letter and was most understanding of the situation, but explained to me when it comes to when the televising of a game is, it's pretty much out of his hands. Especially, as I gather, this game is the main game for CBS, so they call the shots. So I can understand.
First-year UT law student
On the downsides of Volmania: "I guess I just feel like academics are more important... I'm starting law school so I'm thinking about studying and doing all that stuff and knowing that I can't go out on Saturday and do that; you can't park on campus.
In a way it helps with [raising UT's] visibility, but what kind of visibility is it that you're getting? It has its value in terms of bringing people together and the celebration of it, but then again, if that's what the main focus is, then I think other parts of the university suffer."