Have you ever been to an SEC football game? It’s something to behold.
A year ago, I went to my first game–UT vs. Mizzou. It was an amazing experience. 100 points scored. The deafening cheers and the loud boos. United emotions all directed toward one object. You’re part of something that’s much bigger than yourself.
This year, I wasn’t sure I’d make it. I studied the ticket prices over and over, thinking over the dates. Could I afford it? What was a good day? A lot going on this fall.
Then, my good friend Jeremy Daley said he was going. He wanted us to go with him.
I pulled the trigger. 8 tickets for $23 a piece for the UT-UMass game. 4/4s of his family and 4/9s of mine.
The Trip to the Stadium
The days passed. Game day arrived. We left at 9:00 a.m. from our house in Sevierville to drive 45 minutes down Chapman Highway to get to Knoxville.
Knowing that it would be a long walk to the stadium, I decided to stop at Bojangles to use their restroom. Plus, I could get a country ham biscuit. I also purchased 6 Bo-Berry Biscuits for the girls at a combined total of 2,820 Calories. The fact that they were shaped like footballs made them even better.
We parked at the Kern Bakery on this side of the Henley Street Bridge. This bridge crosses the Tennessee River and leads into downtown Knoxville.
There are several advantages to doing this. It is easier to get out after the game. It only costs $10 to park. You get an amazing view of the city and the Tennessee River. In addition, you are going to walk no matter where you park. There are very few parking spaces directly next to the stadium.
Still, as children complained about the long walk across the bridge and asked to be carried, I doubted myself. Was this really the best place to park?
Then, the moment of vindication. After crossing the bridge, we turned south past Central United Methodist Church. We passed the parking lot. $45 for parking! All of a sudden, I felt good. I had saved $35 just by walking across the bridge!
From there, we followed the crowd and arrived near Gate 21 just in time to see The Pride of the Southland Marching Band marching into the stadium.
We got to our seats an hour early, and it was already hot. I looked at the three young girls baking in the heat, and I thought, “They’re going to hate this game. They don’t even like football.”
Then, the crowd began to arrive. I thought of all that happens at the game. The band. The crowd. The wild cheers as a receiver races toward the end zone. 100,000 people singing “Rocky Top.” Smokey, our beloved mascot. No, this was going to be great.
Plus, there’s the refillable souvenir cup. A continuous reminder of the joy of the game in the coming months. Nearly a half gallon of soda over the course of the game! I thought, “That’ll be great on this hot day.”
So, with a smile on my face, I and two of my daughters went down to the concession stand to purchase our souvenir cups and multiple ounces of Coca-Cola for $7 a piece.
The line moved quickly, and the attendant asked us what we wanted. “Three souvenir cups, one half Coke/half Coke Zero, one with Sprite, and one with just Coke. And, can I get a water out of the tap, too, please?” This last one was for my wife.
“You’ll have to buy the cup for water.”
“Oh.” I said. “Well, that’s OK. At least, she can get a refill later.”
“Actually, we’re not doing refills this year,” she replied.
I looked at her for a second. Then, I did some quick math in my head, “Well, I’m probably going to need a refill anyway,” I thought, “so I guess I’ll just have to pay $56 for drinks today. That’s OK. It’s once a year. Good thing I brought my credit card.”
As the attendant finished filling the cups, I pulled out my credit card.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “We aren’t accepting credit cards this year, but there is an ATM over there.”
“Wow!” is what I thought and hopefully all I said.
So, I went over to the ATM, not very happy. I don’t use a debit card very often, so I had to use my credit card to get $100 out of the ATM. Hopefully, that would be enough for my family to eat and drink at Neyland Stadium.
I got the drinks, and I went back to our seats. What did it matter? We were at a Vols game! This was fun!
I think my oldest daughter likes to come to the football games primarily because of Calhoun’s pulled pork nachos, and they are delicious.
This time, my wife made the journey to the concession stand. She came back quickly with the pulled pork nachos.
The pulled pork nachos are even messier than normal nachos. “Did you get a napkin?” She shook her head. “What about a fork?” She shook her head again.
At this point, Jeremy piped up, “I’m going to get something. I’ll get you a fork.”
Jeremy left. He didn’t come back for a long time. I sat there looking at the messy nachos. There was nothing left to eat that would not get me really messy (maybe I should’ve just taken the plunge).
I looked over at my daughter. A half hour earlier, Jeremy had brought the girls flavored ice in an 8 oz. cup. Leah was eating hers with a spoon. “I could use that spoon,” I thought.
I kept glancing over from the game to my daughter. “What is taking her so long?” I wondered.
So, I asked my wife, “Is she almost done?”
She answered, “She’s only about half way done with the cup!”
Jeremy was still not back. Then, my wife came to my rescue. She said, “I’ll go get you a fork.”
30 seconds later she was back with a fork. I finished the nachos, and I was back to enjoying the game without the anxiety of unconsumed nachos.
The Decision to Leave
At halftime, we were all hot. The younger girls had gone out with Jeremy’s wife, Maria, to walk around in the shade. You can see from the picture on the left that this was no easy feat.
The three remaining adults started talking. We all had begun to think that we were on the edge of turning a fun experience into a very bad memory. The girls had had enough.
As we were thinking, the sound of something like puke splattering on the ground hit my eardrums. It was a man who had prematurely opened a $4 Coke Zero bottle. He had put his mouth on the top trying unsuccessfully to keep the costly liquid from fizzing over and hitting the ground.
At that point, I decided that I would move out of the hallway onto the large platform at the top of the ramp leading down to ground level.
And behold! What a beautiful view of the Tennessee River!
Finally, Maria returned with the girls, and she told us that the girls had said to her, “We’re not going back in there!”
That sealed it. One half was enough. We were heading home.
We decided that since we were leaving early, we would try and walk along the Tennessee River back to the van.
It was a beautiful walk. Eventually, we came to the Volunteer Crossing and Calhoun’s on the River (the same Calhoun’s that sells those amazing nachos) on Neyland Drive.
At that point, I realized that walking up the hill and across the bridge would be a lot to ask of the already tired children. So, I volunteered to go get the van and come pick everybody up.
I actually jogged back to make sure that we would miss the game traffic. It was a beautiful jog across the Henley Street Bridge.
I arrived at the van.
I texted my wife, “Google Maps says 6 minutes. See you soon.”
Unfortunately, Google did not tell me about the closed streets that blocked my way to Neyland Drive. “No problem,” I thought. “I’ll just get on the highway and go around downtown. I’m sure the exit to Neyland Drive will be open.”
I was wrong. That was closed, too. I crossed the Tennessee River and was speeding away from downtown Knoxville.
At this point, I called my wife, “I’m not sure how I’m going to pick you up.”
Eventually, we figure out that they could walk up the hill, and I could pick them up on the street in front of the First Baptist Church of Knoxville.
I drove down West Hill Street, and there, in the shade, was my family and the Daley’s. They got in the air conditioned van, and we were on our way, beating the post-game traffic that was just beginning to build up.
As we drove back to Sevierville, I thought, “There was some moments of anxiety and challenge, but it was really a fun adventure, a story to share. SEC games are still great events to attend.”
Then, I thought, “You know what would make this even better? A stop at Chick-Fil-A!”
So, we stopped at Chick-Fil-A. I went in and put in my order. I ordered a large Frosted Coffee for $3.25. It felt like a really good deal.