50 YEARS UNDER THE LIGHTS: Troutt's top-five night games in Neyland stadium
By: Zack Troutt
Junior Staff Writer
The All Vol Call in Show
There is no better atmosphere in college football than a 6:30 kickoff at Neyland Stadium. The crisp air, 100,000+ screaming fans, and the way the orange jerseys pop under the lights gives me chills just thinking about it. Week 3 against Akron won’t be the biggest or best game played this year, but it does hold historical value.
This Saturday’s matchup will mark the 50th anniversary of the first night game played at Neyland, when Condredge Holloway led the #7 Vols past #6 Penn State 28-21. Since my time on God’s Green Earth (1990) the Vols are 48-25 at home at night, making it one of the toughest places to play under the lights.
It would be nearly impossible for me to rank every night game that’s been played at the venue, but there are five games that always come to mind when I think about Rocky Top at night.
5. November 19th, 2011 vs. Vanderbilt
I included this game on my list for personal reasons; not because it was a fantastic game. It was miserably cold and for some reason my wife (girlfriend at the time) and I decided to wear dress clothes. It was not a very comfortable night for us. I even went to one of the gift shops and bought a pair of mittens that were extremely overpriced to wear as socks. However, we had some of the best seats in the house. This was my first experience sitting in the front row and it was a blast. Tennessee would end up winning this game in overtime thanks to an Eric Gordan pick-six that took place right in front of where we were sitting. One other note from this night: never, and I mean NEVER, park in blocked parking just because it’s cheaper. Pay the extra cost so you don't have to wait four hours after the game just to leave your spot.
4. September 12th, 2015 vs. Oklahoma:
You might be asking yourself why I included a game that Tennessee lost on my top-five list. I put this on my list due to the sheer atmosphere of this game. It was reported that at one point during the first half the noise level reached 114 decibels, the loudest recorded level in the stadium's history to that point. The fans checkered the stands for the second ever time and were ready to send the Sooners back to Norman. The Vols led 17-3 entering the 4th quarter, but Oklahoma scored the game tying touchdown with just 40 seconds left in regulation and eventually won in double overtime. Even though UT lost, the stadium was rockin' all night long.
3. October 31st, 2009 vs. South Carolina
Picture this: it’s Halloween night, 2009. It’s raining, it’s cold, UT is just coming off a heartbreaking loss to #1 Alabama, and now the #21 South Carolina is in town. The Vols finished their pregame warm up wearing their normal home orange jerseys and are about to head back on the field. The band forms the T, and the players are in the tunnel, but something looks different. As the T opens and the players start running through, you realize they are now wearing black tops and orange pants. Everyone instantly goes insane. This is what every fan experienced that night at Neyland, including myself. The Vols would end up taking down the Gamecocks 31-13 behind QB Jonathan Crompton, RB Montario Hardesty, and three fumble recoveries.
2. October 10th, 1998 vs. Arkansas
I know this was not a true “night” game since kick off was at 3:30, but I couldn’t leave this game out. I’ve probably watched this game at least 100 times in my lifetime. This game is a microcosm of the Vols 98 season. It had ups, downs, determination, and perseverance. This was UT’s first game as the #1 team in the country, but the #10 Razorbacks were looking to spoil the party. Arkansas took the early lead and held it for almost the entire game. The keyword is almost. With 1:54 second left, Tennessee failed to convert a 4th and 9. The entire team was in shock, but there was one player who wasn’t ready to give up. Billy Ratliff famously told Tee Martin not to worry, we’ll get the ball back for you. On Arkansas 2nd play of their drive, Razorback’s QB Clint Stoerner fumbles the ball after being tripped up by his center, and guess who recovered the fumble? Spoiler alert: it was Ratliff. This play would forever be called “the stumble and fumble.” Tennessee would then hand the ball off to Travis Henry five straight times, the last being a 1-yard game winning touchdown.
1. September 18th, 2004 vs. Florida
When I think of night games at Neyland, I instantly think of 2004 vs Florida. This was my first game I attended, and it didn’t disappoint. In front of 109,061 of my closest friends the number the #13 Vols took on the #11 Gators in what was as one of the best games of all time. It included three ties, four lead changes, and four total turnovers, three by Tennessee. This game had everything you could dream of as a football fan. Tennessee’s Jayson Swain caught a 13-yard touchdown from Erik Ainge that got the Vols within 1 late in the 4th quarter, but James Wilhoit missed the extra point. The score was 28-27 Florida leading and with the ball. Tennessee’s defense stood tall and stopped the Gators on a 3rd and 3 forcing them to punt. The Big Orange marched down the field to set up a 50-yard go-ahead field goal for Wilhoit. This was a tall task for a kicker that just missed an extra point, but he did not falter. Wilhoit put it dead center of the uprights giving the Vols a 30-28 win and elevating him to Tennessee football legendary status.