By Tom Mattingly

Most Tennessee fans see visiting teams at Neyland Stadium trot onto the field to a scattered chorus of boos, but that’s just part of the story. There’s drama underneath the south end after each game precious few people get to witness.

The current visiting team area dates to the 1948 stadium expansion, with a couple of additions, including a new media room, in the more than 70 years since. This area is a continuous hub of activity on a number of fronts after the game, the corridor often being crowded with training supplies as well as food for the post-game trip to the airport and the plane home.

There’s the sound of cleats on carpet laid down over concrete. There’s the uniquely football sight and smell of blood, sweat, and grass stains, and icepacks on sore joints, occasionally slings or crutches for a wounded appendage. Trainers dole out pills of one kind or another, making notes as to who received what.

Players grumble to themselves over missed tackles, dropped passes, and bad calls. If the opponent is Alabama, Georgia, or Vanderbilt, there are occasional obscenity-laced tirades directed their way by “fans” exiting the stadium through a maze of ramps.

After the 2006 LSU game, I remember walking into the media room and spotting someone being interviewed who looked suspiciously like an offensive tackle. “Which one of the linemen is that?” I queried. The LSU rep said it wasn’t a lineman; he just looked like one. Actually, it was quarterback JaMarcus Russell.

Often it was a shock when the inside door opened and a coach such as Steve Spurrier or Mark Richt strode into the room. Spurrier always had a one-liner at the ready, something about “God looking after the Gators,” particularly after the finish of the 2000 game. One media cynic said afterwards it wasn’t really the Almighty who had aided Florida. It was the SEC official who ruled Jabar Gaffney had actually caught the game-winning TD pass.

On the other hand, Richt was generally more restrained, considering every word, speaking in measured, “coach speak” type tones. Media reps generally got better “copy” from Spurrier.

After the 1990 Notre Dame game, Lou Holtz talked to Dick Vitale and Regis Philbin in the tunnel before doing his post-game interview. A gaggle of priests greeted Fighting Irish players as they entered the dressing room, regardless of the game’s outcome.

After the 2001 South Carolina game, when there was a malfunction with the clock, Holtz told the media how easy it was to keep the time: “One thousand one, one thousand two,” he said.

Two years before, when the game ball had been delivered to midfield by a paratrooper, Holtz reminded everyone that he had also jumped out of a plane, one of the 100 or so things on his adult life to-do list, e.g., eating dinner at the White House, being coach at Notre Dame, winning a national championship, etc.

UNLV head coach John Robinson was holding court after his team lost in the 2004 season opener. In the midst of his remarks, Anthony Munoz tried to “ease into” the room, as if someone his size could do so anywhere. After spotting him, Robinson stopped in mid-sentence and told the assembled media, “There’s the greatest offensive lineman ever to play this game.”

Occasionally, coaches’ comments are more for local media consumption. In 1999, when Memphis lost a 17-16 decision, Rip Scherer, the only Tiger coach to defeat Tennessee (21-17 in 1996), tore into Tiger beat writers for doubting the courage and character of his team.

Then there was 2002, when Alabama dispatched the Vols 34-14. Coach Dennis Franchione did his interview perfunctorily, looking very much like the loneliest man in Neyland Stadium. I later found out he had been making plans to get out of Tuscaloosa, headed to College Station, Texas.

Kentucky coach Guy Morriss’ post-game comments after the 2002 game were impressive. The game with the Vols had come three weeks after a real downer for the Wildcat program. That was the so-called “Blue Grass Miracle,” when Morriss was doused with Gatorade befitting a Wildcat victory seconds before LSU completed a 74-yard “Hail Mary” pass to steal the decision.

I told Kentucky AD Mitch Barnhart how well Morriss had done in the media room, noting that Guy was a definite “keeper.” Mitch seemed surprised at my remarks, and a few days later, I found out why. Morriss left Lexington to become head coach at Baylor.

There’s never a dull moment after the game under the south end. The Vol Network is not likely to make a video of great moments in the visitors area, but that should not diminish in the least what goes on there.