By Mark Nagi

If you’ve been around the UT campus lately you’ve likely seen a lot of construction taking place at Neyland Stadium.

Phase one renovations are expected to be complete in time for the season opener on September 1 at home against Ball State. Those improvements, which will cost a reported $180 million, include two new videoboards on both ends of Neyland Stadium. There will also be a lower-west premium club, enhanced chairback seating in some lower sections on the west side of the stadium, as well as a party deck on the upper deck of the north end.

But the most noticeable change came last week, as the iconic V-O-L-S letters have returned to the top of Neyland Stadium.

Before there was a Jumbotron on the top of the upper deck in the south end, before there was even an upper deck, the V-O-L-S letters were there. Fans and foes alike saw them when they made their way to their seats.

People on either side of the Tennessee River could see them as well, 365 days a year. They were a simple yet effective form of advertising. After all, what other college team has a VOLS nickname?

When the Jumbotron was constructed in the early 2000s, the V-O-L-S went into storage.  This was a perfect example of gone, but not forgotten.

Last season, Tennessee Athletics Director Danny White brought the old letters outside Gate 21 before the South Carolina game. Fans flocked to the location to take pictures.

Now, the new version of those letters has been installed on the top of the upper deck on the southwest and southeast sides, flanking the Jumbotron.

I took a recent trip to campus to check them out once they were in place on the southwest side and let me tell you… they’re real, and they’re spectacular. Take a right turn onto Phillip Fulmer Way, pass Thompson-Boling Arena and as you approach the stadium you are greeted by those letters.

Now orange with the lettering in white (the previous letters were in white with orange lettering), they give the grand old barn a very different look from both inside and outside their walls.

This was a big win for Danny White, the latest in a growing list of accomplishments made during his short tenure. On the fields/courts/stadiums of play, Tennessee’s basketball teams, baseball teams and non-revenue squads like women’s soccer and swimming/diving are bringing home trophies. The football team appears to be on the uptick. These are the good times in Tennessee athletics.

But why do we care so much about these letters?

I have a theory.

Those letters are a remembrance of a simpler time for many of us, a better time when Tennessee was dominating in football. You can see the letters from the YouTube clips right after Jeff Hall’s kick beat Georgia in 1995. Those letters are in the background in one of the most well-known pictures of fans tearing down the south end zone goalposts after the overtime win over Florida in 1998. You see those letters in different spots from videos and pictures as Neyland Stadium grew and with it the UT campus itself.

Time waits for none of us, but those letters bring us right back to those fleeting moments.

I can’t wait for the 2022 season (less than eight weeks to go!). I bet those letters will look even better with a full stadium to go with them.