By Tom Mattingly

Here’s another important question for your consideration.

Does it matter which side of the field your team stands on?

If your team’s bench is on the east side, your team is in the sun, regardless of the time of year. If your team is on the west, or press box side, it’s cooler. There may also be some element of tradition involved in the choice of bench area.

We know that the Vols, whether under the tutelage of Gen. Robert R. Neyland and other Vol coaches through Jim McDonald, occupied the east sideline of Shields-Watkins Field, the sideline closest to the Tennessee dressing room. It was a matter of convenience. Phillip Fulmer and Lane Kiffin also led the Vols from the east sideline from 1993 through 2009, even as the Vol dressing room moved to the north end.

It was possible that the Tennessee coaching staff could have been in a number of television shots and/or game photos when play went in that direction. Bear Bryant used his team’s bench area on the east side of Legion Field or Bryant-Denny Stadium to great advantage in showcasing the Alabama program.

During those days, the visitors in Knoxville were headquartered on the west side of Shields-Watkins Field.

That allowed Bill Battle to stand on that side of the field as an Alabama player in 1960 and 1962 and as Vol head coach from 1970-76. A great many things happened in the intervening seasons to help make that possible.

Doug Dickey also stood on the west side of Shields-Watkins Field in the 1952 Tennessee-Florida game. As Vol head coach 12 years later, he moved the Vol bench area to the west side. That brought about the team running through a large “T” formed by the band.

He and Dr. Jay Julian made that happen, and Dr. Julian had said there would be an uproar of epic proportions if that didn’t occur. Each man, when asked, gave the other credit for creating that tradition.

Things got a little iffy at times when the visitors were already on their sideline, and there might have been a thought to impede Tennessee’s entrance, but reason and good manners prevailed.

Moving the Tennessee dressing room to the north end in 1983 caused a few logistical problems. From the LSU game that season through the 1992 Kentucky game, the Vols ran through the “T” and turned right to the west side.

Tennessee’s bench area had moved back to the east side in 1993, thanks to an SEC crowd control directive that prohibited home team students from sitting directly behind the opposing team’s bench area. From the 1993 season opener to the 2009 season finale against Vanderbilt, there was a left turn required after coming through the “T.”

Then in 2010, the Vols moved back to the west side.

At Alabama, it was an article of faith that the Alabama bench would be on the east side of either Bryant-Denny Stadium or Legion Field in Birmingham. It was seemingly ordained from on high.

Then came Dennis Franchione (“Coach Fran”), who had a cup of coffee in Tuscaloosa and left for supposedly greener pastures in College Station, Texas. He was responsible for moving the Tide bench to the west side of Legion Field and Bryant-Denny Stadium, with Mike Shula and Nick Saban following suit.

Tide purists might not have endorsed the idea of some opposing coach, a mere mortal, walking on the same turf Bryant and the others walked on, but that’s the way it was. Ray Perkins also got rid of Bryant’s legendary coaching tower. Talk about challenges to tradition.

Finally, not only did Alabama change sidelines, but the Tide and Auburn stopped playing at Legion Field as well. The capacity crowds left the stadium on Graymont Avenue and moved to campus venues at Auburn and Tuscaloosa. The “Football Capital of the South” seemed to be a shadow of its former self.

What Birmingham considered a divine right yielded to the economic reality of larger stadiums on each campus. Somehow playing a team’s “home game” more than 50 miles from Alabama’s campus and at least 100 miles from Auburn’s seemed foolish.

The questions remain about the location of your team’s bench area: east side or west side? It’s a tough one, but what happens inside those boundaries, that rectangle measuring 120 yards long by 53 1/3 yards wide is much more important. Who stands on what side is a much lesser concern, except when fans have literally nothing else to talk about.