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THE GREAT CATHEDRAL: Neyland Stadium's glorious history and its effects on the opposition

By: Dallas Bowlin

Senior Staff Writer, Junior Editor, Content Manager, Co-Host

The All Vol Call in Show

20230805


Neyland Stadium | Photo | Tennessee Athletics

The University of Tennessee football team initially played at Baldwin Park, just north of Fort Sanders. In 1908 the team began playing at Walt Field where the Walter’s Life science building now stands. The idea for a stadium came to life in 1919, when Colonel W.S. Shields a University trustee and president of Knoxville’s City Bank donated the funds to construct what was then considered an “Athletic Field”. Once the original stadium, and what is now the lower level of the West Stand in March of 1921 it was dubbed “Shield-Watkins Field” in honor of the colonel and his wife, Alice Watkins-Shields. The funds quickly vanished, and the project was put on hold until MacGregor Smith suggested that the students and teachers finish the work together. The project was finished over two days. In celebration, an invitational track meet would be conducted, marking the first event held at the stadium.


The stadium was not christened "Neyland Stadium" until 1962, named after one of Tennessee's best football coaches of all time, General Neyland. In 1968, the stadium would be one of the first ever to implement an “Astroturf” surface, which stayed until replaced by natural grass in 1994. Expansions of the stadium took off in 1926-1930, going from a capacity limit of 3,200 to 31,390. The largest expansion took place shortly after the end of World War II when General Neyland returned from war to coach the Vols. The expansion included dorm rooms, an athletic department office, and a dressing room for visiting opponents. A crowd of 52,000 were in attendance when Tennessee took on North Carolina in 1948. The stadium broke a capacity of 100,000 following the 1995 season. The largest crowd in Neyland to date was set in 2004 when 109,061 gathered to watch the Big Orange take on heated rival Florida. Modern day, the stadium almost mirrors the look of an ancient Colosseum in Rome, with the upper deck as steep as the Great Smoky Mountains. A lot of former players have said it is like the crowd is on top of you, which makes it even more intimidating for visitors.


The history of Neyland Stadium is amazing, make no mistake about it. But what sets Neyland apart from others, and makes it one of, if not the greatest stadium in college football is the 100,000 screaming fans who strike fear into the hearts of opposing teams and fanbases. Ask any college football expert or fan, Neyland Stadium is special. What happens in that stadium on Saturdays in the fall creates memories for generations. If you don’t believe me, just ask former Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield who had this to say about Neyland:


“When we went to play Tennessee in Neyland Stadium, that was probably the best game experience I've had and probably will ever have. That's a different type of loud. I can't even describe it. It was unbelievable.". Mayfield wasn’t the only Sooner who felt the effects, however, Ty Darlington used to think home-field advantage was a myth, that is, until he visited Neyland: And then I ran out of the tunnel in Knoxville, Tennessee, for a warm-up and was greeted by thousands of screaming fans and the chorus of ‘Rocky Top,’ Darlington said. “The game wasn’t set to start for over an hour, and these people seemed to think it was kickoff time. I exited the tunnel for the pregame warm-up, and those psychotic students were already there, giving us a small preview of what to expect in the hours to come. What had we gotten ourselves into?”


From the very first night game against Penn State in 1972 where Tennessee knocked off the sixth-ranked Nittany Lions, to knocking off the number-one ranked Auburn 38-20 in 1985, to the 1998 home opener where the Volunteers bested the second-ranked Florida Gators, and then, of course, the 2022 victory over Alabama where Hendon Hooker and Jalin Hyatt officially put the Vols back on the map, Neyland Stadium has seen some of the most special moments in college football history. The 2023 -2024 Volunteers squad has an opportunity to add to those special moments with a victory over the Georgia Bulldogs. Neyland will be rowdy and ready.

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