By Alex Norman
So a few months back some of my old college friends and I scheduled a get together in the great state of Tennessee. The plan was to spend a couple of nights in Nashville and see an NFL game. We settled on the middle of October and the huge Titans/Browns game.
Yes. Titans vs. Browns.
This was also the same weekend as the Tennessee/Alabama game in Knoxville.
Yes. Tennessee vs. Alabama.
Yeah, scheduling is not my strong suit.
What follows is a first-hand account of the weekend and why SEC football in Knoxville is infinitely better than NFL football in Nashville. I’m not saying this just based on the athletic ability on display itself. NFL players are bigger, faster and stronger than SEC athletes. I’m talking about the overall experience here.
So my friend Jon flies in on Friday afternoon and we immediately head to Calhoun’s on the River for lunch. It’s 75 degrees and sunny, the outdoor patio is packed and hundreds of boats are already docked next to the restaurant and along Volunteer Landing. It is a Knoxville Chamber’s dream.
We walk to campus and my friend buys a sweet Tennessee “rifleman” cap at a jam packed store inside the student union. The area right outside Neyland Stadium is buzzing with excitement as fans and media converge on this space.
The next day Alabama will destroy an undermanned Tennessee team 49-10 but I won’t be there to see it. I’ll be in Nashville.
We pick up our friend Jason at the Nashville airport on Saturday morning and head to Broadway. We spend the day and night watching college football on TV at the local bars, interestingly enough with lots of Ohio State fans, who are in town to watch their awful Browns team play the Titans. They are as annoying as you can imagine.
On Sunday we go to Nissan Stadium and the tailgate scene was fun. Lots of people with elaborate setups in the parking lots around the complex. We bought tickets for under cost on the field level about 30 minutes before the game. Had we waited longer we might have gotten in for $20.
The thing was… something just felt lacking. It just didn’t feel like a big deal.
Then there was the game itself.
Granted, the Titans and the Browns aren’t exactly the 1970’s Steelers and Cowboys or 1980’s 49ers and Giants or the 1990’s Cowboys and Bills or the 2000’s Patriots and Steelers… but it is still a game in the biggest professional league in the country.
Before the game the Titans bring someone out to spike a sword onto the 50 yard line. They play a video on the big screen. The team runs onto the field to great support. The NFL “cause” this week is breast cancer awareness so fans are given pink Titans flags to wave. Certainly this is a worthy cause but the NFL has serious issues when it comes to the abuse of women so this always comes across as being disingenuous to me.
One of the issues the Titans have is that they play in Nashville, which has become a destination city for lots of sports fans. Go to any Titans or Predators game and you’ll see fans supporting the teams from New York or Chicago or Pittsburgh, etc…
In this respect, Nashville is the new Atlanta. Cool city to visit and easy tickets to get.
In Knoxville, the stadium has about 33,000 more seats but tickets for Florida or Alabama or Georgia are really tough to get without selling your Chevy.
The Pride of the Southland Marching Band performs before the game and throughout the day in Knoxville. In Nashville there is no band.
They may play the same sport in both locations, but the experiences are so different. In my opinion the Knoxville experience greatly outperforms the Nashville experience.
Maybe the biggest reason is tradition. The Titans have been in Nashville for less than 20 years. The Vols have played in Knoxville for well more than a century. When you walk into Neyland Stadium, you are in the same place Hank Lauricella and Johnny Majors and Doug Atkins and Reggie White and Peyton Manning and countless others played.
When you walk into Nissan Stadium, you know that is where Steve McNair and Eddie George played. Maybe Jevon Kearse. Not much else in that short period of time in terms of legendary figures.
Or maybe… just maybe… it’s because it isn’t something you can compartmentalize. Maybe, it just feels different.
I’ll still attend NFL games in the years to come, but if I had my choice, I’d choose the SEC experience.
Each and every time.