We’re all Vol in this house.
Growing up in Knoxville, my family always rooted for Tennessee. It wasn’t hard in the ’90s; we had Phillip Fulmer, Peyton Manning, Pat Summit, Chamique Holdsclaw, and Todd Helton, just to name a few Tennessee legends. My parents volunteered with the Red Cross for home football games, which meant our family spent six Saturdays every fall in Neyland Stadium from before the first fan arrived until after the very last had left. My dad watched all the baseball and basketball games on TV, and he read the paper every day to keep up with the scores for non-televised events. If there was a Vol getting drafted to the pros, competing in the Olympics, winning an award, or innovating in their professional field, we heard about it. Being a Tennessee fan wasn’t just about cheering for people on a field or court; we root for the home team because they’re “our” guys and gals, and the Vol Nation is a family.
My husband – a Knoxville transplant – and I have continued this tradition with our own kids.
Thanks to my parents’ season tickets, my three oldest kids have each attended at least one home football game per year since they were three-years-old. When my boys play NCAA sports on the Playstation, one of them has to be Tennessee, and they always root for the Vols, even when it means they’ll lose. My two-year-old runs across the living room floor cradling a Nerf football and collapses behind the couch with a shout, “Touchdown, Tennessee! Go Vols!” They ask me to sing “Rocky Top” as a bedtime lullaby. These kids are #VFL – Vols For Life.
But it’s more than sports for them. Game days are about family time, and Tennessee players are their heroes, with good reason. Student athletes perform at a high level in the game and in the classroom. They are both Volunteers and volunteers, investing their time and energy into the community to make a difference. There’s a lot of hype for Knoxville’s sweetheart Peyton Manning, but my kids’ favorite quarterback is NFL rookie Josh Dobbs. Josh is compassionate, intelligent, and talented. He bravely brushes off the bullies and raises awareness about alopecia areata, an autoimmune condition my daughter shares. Talking about Dobbs has vastly improved my boys’ character in just about every way: Josh Dobbs eats his vegetables to be strong enough to take hits! Josh Dobbs controls his temper when things don’t go his way! Josh Dobbs doesn’t hog the ball but works with his teammates to win the game! Even, Josh Dobbs shows up to practice every day and works just as hard as everyone else, even though he doesn’t get play time in the NFL. It doesn’t matter to my kids that Dobbs isn’t the greatest quarterback who ever lived – he is their quarterback, and they adore him.
Knoxville is more than a college town, and orange is more than a color — here, being a Volunteer is a way of life.
Vols love our community, our landscape, and our traditions. Our team is more than just the players on the field or the coaches in the box. Our fans have been known to stop countless 3rd down conversions with “The Neyland Effect” of 102,000+ combined voices shouting to confuse the opponent. During one of my favorite traditions, the Vol Walk, players and fans have an opportunity to connect quite literally, as the players become not just helmets on the field, but young men walking through a sea of orange and white, fans clapping, families hugging, and children on shoulders hoping for a glimpse of their favorite athletes. The Volunteer Spirit is grace and Southern hospitality, welcoming everyone to our city and our stands. Our beloved Pride of the Southland Marching Band even plays the opponent’s fight song every week as a show of our good sportsmanship.
And isn’t sportsmanship what it’s all about? My kids don’t care if we win or lose, they just love spending time with their dad at the games. They love teasing me for pacing the living room during an intense game on TV. They love screaming together to celebrate our first offensive touchdown in 15 quarters. Our family has enjoyed some of the best bonding during some of the worst performances on the field just because we could laugh and be together. Yeah, the fans pay big bucks for game tickets, team gear, and access, but really, we Tennesseans are humble people who take pride in our land and our neighbors. We know those are people out there, and even the coaches are only human. They make mistakes, they fall short of their goals, and they lose. Sometimes a lot. Sometimes changes are necessary, but when families face big changes, they either pull together or they fall apart. The Vol Nation celebrates when we win, sure, but we succeed when we come together. That means showing up to cheer, win or lose. That means respecting the real live humans who attend press conferences Saturday night and then classes Monday morning. That means living up to the true Vol spirit of grace, dignity, and hospitality, even if we feel sour about someone’s performance.