Tennessee has the plans laid out to further renovate Neyland Stadium, which were recently updated. There will be stadium-wide WiFi, structural strengthening and more video displays than a Best Buy. However, the Vols are missing out on a great chance to showcase one of their best selling points: tradition.
I know stadium renovations are meant to modernize a stadium and mostly to provide more room for fans to be comfortable. The days of simply trying to have the biggest stadium is over. It’s more about the “experience” of going to the game. Well, part of that experience should be remembering the Vols’ past. Currently, that doesn’t seem to be a part of the plan.
Tennessee’s history is so rich that it should be celebrated. There aren’t many more streets to be renamed, but what about a couple more statutes – or eight? There used to be wax statues of former Tennessee quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Tee Martin in the athletic complex. Those have either melted or been thrown in a closet. Meanwhile, Tennessee fans are constantly reminded via social media whenever the Vols’ current coaching regime breaks a record, which is almost always offensively and happens quite frequently. Yet there’s little remembrance of a proud history that just happened to be played in a different era under a different set of rules.
Albeit Tennessee doesn’t have very much room around Neyland Stadium, there’s enough for a “Home of Legends” in the immediate vicinity. There’s already a statue of General Robert E. Neyland. How about adding some notables to the showcase?
There are some pretty good candidates out there. I’ve long said that Phillip Fulmer should be immortalized with a statue near Neyland Stadium. Fulmer is second all-time in wins at UT and won a national championship in 1998. After that, I’d have a statue of former Tennessee linebacker Al Wilson, who was the heart of the 1998 team. That’s a good start.
There are other candidates, such as former defensive back Eric Berry and running back Gene McEver, as suggested by Off The Hook Sports writer Caleb Calhoun. Those make sense. Both were unanimous All-Americans. According to Neyland, McEver was, “the best player I ever coached … the best I ever saw,” .
Fellow journalist Caleb Jarreau suggested Manning and Martin. Both would be great candidates. Martin was a huge reason why the Vols won a national championship with Wilson and Manning is, well, Manning.
I especially like the Berry suggestion because he played at a time in which the Vols weren’t elite. Still, Berry made the best of his opportunity to play college football after showing his loyalty to Tennessee, where his father, James Berry, played running back. Eric Berry never ducked tough questions in the hard times despite being constantly asked about why the Vols may have lost this game or that. He also is a College Football Hall of Fame inductee and would have likely made the NFL Hall of Fame had it not been for a bad luck run of health issues, which included cancer.
This isn’t just a suggestion for Tennessee. Other SEC teams should take my free advice. Traditions are being stretched thin. Money, expansion, NIL and open transfers are the new norm. That’s all fine when things are going well and a team is winning. However, tradition is what separates college football from professional sports. If Tennessee or other schools don’t see that, then all the investments being made in stadium renovations are just short-term solutions to make people more comfortable.
It’s hard to be more comfortable than sitting on a couch watching every game imaginable and having a non-existent line to the concessions, which are kept in the fridge. That’s the biggest driver of stadium renovations, to placate fans who complained about a long wait at the restroom or a seat that was snugger then spandex. The other reason is that every stadium must look shiny and new because it helps in recruiting. That’s massively important.
If I were a prospect, I’d like to be remembered for “giving my all” for Tennessee. I’d like to know that you don’t have to have the stadium named after you to have a statue built in your honor. All-American status or a national championship should be enough.