Between trips to Mobile, I landed at home in the city the day before the UT/Florida game. With mixed feelings I bought an $80 ticket from a Gator fan and found myself at the game. Since this was the last thing I enjoyed in the city before I got the call that my mother had died, I think I’ll start with a description of that day as a way to re-enter the blogosphere. I’m not sure I’m all the way back, but I’ve started in that direction and I’m hoping for at least a small window of normal for a few weeks. I very much appreciate the comments on the previous post, the private e-mails and the cards. You guys are the best readers I could ever hope to have.
How residents of the city feel about game day depends to some degree on the person you ask. Some downtown residents are big fans and walk to the games which are about a mile from the heart of the city. Other residents are indifferent to college sports and a good number of us are fans of other teams. Some of my downtown friends metaphorically spit at the thought of game days. I tend to enjoy the festive atmosphere and the influx of out-of-town visitors decked out in the colors of the visiting team. Of course, as with this particular weekend, when the visiting team is mine I get an extra bump from the buzz.
Whether downtown residents feel a rush of excitement or morbid dread at the thought, game day weekends require some extra attention. While only occupying seven or eight Saturdays, the impact on those particular days weighs heavy. Kickoff time determines if moving the car from a spot in the parking garage for a grocery run or other errand is practical or insane. We’re allowed back into garages with our passes, but finding a spot may be impossible. A good spot simply will not exist.
Dinner in the city or lunch or brunch also is dependent on kickoff. Early game? Dinner crowd. Late game? Forget eating out at lunch. The crowd on Market Square is usually much larger, as well as the people on Gay Street. Traffic is much heavier and tends to involve people who don’t drive in the city often. They don’t always understand driving in a pedestrian-heavy area. After the game some of them drive aggressively if they are angry and dangerously if they are drunk.
Sometimes tensions mount between fans of the opposing teams. This particular game day, a neighbor of mine waded into a group of UT boys who were yelling, “slut” at a UF girl, telling them to mind their manners. Near fights erupted close to my house. The flip side is that I wore my Gator shirt all day and only got good-natured abuse. One young man backed off when he got in my face, telling his friends, “Oh, he’s old,” as if my age made me off limits. I preferred abuse to that statement.
From early the morning of the game with the Metlife Blimp visible over Market Square to the Gameday crew setting up on campus, I thought it was a fun day. UT could buy a clue and set up the Gameday crew in a spot where more than a few people could see the stage. They set up on Circle Park and the ground sloped off so badly that most of us could only see the backs of the heads of the people in front of us. Kenny Chesney made a shocking prediction that the Vols would win and clearly the crowd believed it. Lee Corso put on the coon-skin cap. With his record of picks, you’d think that would’ve made some UT fans a bit nervous.
I spent some time in the parking lot at Church Street United Methodist soaking up the atmosphere. Gators and Vols tailgated side-by-side and seemed to harbor no ill will. I took pictures of Gators and Vols each playing corn-hole. I’ll let you decide who won that beauty contest. I secured my ticket on site and later assumed my seat with other Gator fans, six rows from the top of the stadium facing dead into the setting sun.
The crowd worked themselves up into quite a frenzy during the first half. Rocky Top played throughout the first and second quarter. Not so much the second half. By the end, while my section remained packed with happy people, the rest of the stadium had been vacated by 80% of the fans. Tyler Bray seemed to disappear well before the rest of the crowd. I don’t remember seeing a quarterback pout quite like that on the field.
The weather remained nice throughout. A gracious cloud covered the sun at the end of the first quarter and the night air felt great for a walk back into the city. I stopped on the street to talk with neighbors about the action they had observed. I told them of the gracious fans I’d encountered and someone decked out in Vol apparel stopped on the sidewalk as if on cue to congratulate my team.
In a sense, this is not a typical game day for me, because I won’t walk over to another game for another two years. In the interim, I’ll enjoy the visiting fans, the general excitement in the city on game day and hearing the PA from Neyland Stadium on my balcony. I’ll watch each day’s games in the comfort of my home and I don’t worry about driving. I don’t like to move my car on the weekend, anyway. And while it may be crazy to try to eat in the city before or after the game, I have my choice of tables for at least three hours and that’s pretty sweet.