I’ve been incredibly spoiled so far in 2023. Through Texas A&M’s bye week, I’ve been to seven incredible different venues for tailgates and football games. Of those seven games, four have featured crowds of 100,000 or more. The first three were at Texas, Penn State, and Texas A&M. The latest addition to this elite group was my trip to Tennessee for the SEC contest between the Volunteers and the Aggies. The whole Arnold family had an incredible time in Knoxville – let’s talk about it.
After a little coffee and Bailey’s at the hotel to get ourselves primed for the tailgate, we left our hotel and headed to Tennessee’s campus to park. Obviously, coming from the flatter parts of Texas we were struck by the presence of hills on Tennessee’s campus. We parked near the softball field and made our way from the lot to our destination in Circle Park.
The walk along Neyland Drive was gorgeous – a perfect fall morning in the foothills of Appalachia. The Tennessee River flowing along to our right and the campus to our left made for a fun journey. A quick left turn and a hike uphill brought us to Circle Park.
However, before truly getting into the tailgate festivities, we did decide to journey over to the SEC Nation set for Josh Heupel’s talk. The crowd of Tennessee faithful buzzed with energy. In spite of the early hour, I found myself buzzing as well.
After the conclusion of the show and a free brat, we journeyed from Ayres Hall back to the tailgate at Circle Park. I owe a huge shoutout to the fellas who put together the aptly named Alamo Tailgate, a joint Tennessee and Texas A&M party. With plenty of beverages flowing and a hearty supply of chicken from Zaxby’s, the tailgating began in earnest.
The people of Tennessee welcomed all of us with open arms. Though we anchored ourselves at the Alamo Tailgate, we wanted to journey around Circle Park and see other setups. Every tailgate we passed seemed to offer us either food or drink. “Rocky Top” played from nearly every speaker at least once, usually more, sometimes consecutively with various different versions.
In the SEC, I think most schools tend to be well-regarded for their tailgating prowess. However, the upper tier tends to include Ole Miss and LSU near the top. Though I still hold the opinion that Baton Rouge remains the best tailgate destination in the country, Tennessee quickly rocketed up my rankings. Circle Park, densely packed with great tailgates and welcoming hosts may represent one of the most underrated tailgate scenes in the nation. And of course, it wouldn’t be a proper tailgate without at least one shoey.
Just as the tailgate in Knoxville blew me away, the energy of Neyland Stadium packed one hell of a punch. From the opening whistle, the Volunteer faithful made sure their presence impacted the contest. The packed crowd with checkerboard sections made for a scene out of a storybook.
My Aggies jumped out to an early lead but the Volunteers came roaring back in the second half. I think the second-half punt return touchdown led to the most deafening rendition of a song by any crowd. When the thousands of Tennessee fans raised their voices to sing “Rocky Top” in unison I found myself bobbing along. I mean, just listen to that crowd go.
Rocky Top in person was honestly awesome pic.twitter.com/KrqgoBA57h— Jay Arnold (@CoachJayArnold) October 15, 2023
Unfortunately for my Aggies, with Tennessee possessing all of the momentum and our own offensive struggles that pretty much spelt the end.
The Volunteers established a stranglehold on the lead and the crowd somehow stepped up the intensity. Constant pressure on Max Johnson led to a victory for Josh Heupel’s squad in Neyland and yet another deafening rendition of “Rocky Top”. It also resulted in a lost bet on my own part that ended with the image of me in Volunteers garb below.
All in all, my journey to Knoxville resulted in yet another successful tailgate in spite of the loss. If Tennessee hasn’t already found its way onto your list of tailgate destinations, I suggest you add it expeditiously.
Until next time!