Tailgating Traditions: The Vol Navy on the Tennessee River
GatorTailgating.com will be doing a series on traditions in tailgating around the country that you don't want to miss the next time you travel to their stadium. This week, the tradition is in Knoxville on the Tennessee River, and it's nicknamed the Vol Navy.
When travelling to Knoxville every other September for the Gators' kick-off to their SEC schedule, there are a list of things to enjoy. Some of those are the Great Smoky Mountains, the Vol Walk, and mullets. One of those things that you shouldn't miss is the Vol Navy.
As much fun as Tennessee fans get poked at them for their faded-yellowish "creamsicle" team color, their fans' sense of fashion (which seems to always include over-alls), and their general consistency in non-forking family trees; they do have one thing Gators don't. They tailgate on water right outside their stadium.
I don't mean they back a truck up to the water either like some Gator fans do around Lake Alice. They come in Houseboats, cabin cruisers, cuddy cabins, ocean yachts, and deck boats and dock a short walk from the stadium. Those docked tailgates add up to the world’s largest collegiate floating tailgate party, not that there's much competition.
There are only two collegiate schools than can boast floating tailgates at home games: The University of Tennessee and the University of Washington in Seattle. Tennessee wins that tailgating battle hands down because everyone knows tailgating is just bigger in the south....especially in the SEC.
History says that the Vol Navy began in 1962 when then Tennessee football broadcaster George Mooney began each game day traveling to Neyland Stadium via the Tennessee River. Mooney preferred to travel via river because the traffic was so bad in Knoxville on game days. Others soon discovered the new route free from traffic and numbers continued to grow until fans took on the name “The Vol Navy”.
Members of the Vol Navy come from homes in Tellico, Watts Bar, and Fort Loudon Lake. Many fans also travel from afar as many members of the Volunteer Navy travel in yachts and cruisers from Chattanooga, Huntsville, and many other distant locations. The Volunteer Navy has grown to over 200 different boats on any given game day in Knoxville. Some members of the Volunteer Navy even arrive outside of Neyland Stadium as early as 3 days before game day, tailgating and preparing for their beloved Volunteers to play football.
Before kickoff comes, most members of the Vol Navy make the short walk from the riverfront to Neyland Stadium, which seats over 100,000 fans. The others that don't want to sit in the stadium enjoy the game from the comfort of their own boat on television.
There was even one time back in 1975 that they had to announce over the stadium's sound system asking the owner of a boat to please move because a barge couldn't get by. I guess Mr. Mooney's idea of avoiding the traffic was so popular that now there is traffic and parking issues on both the asphalt and the water.
One thing is for sure, whether you like Tennessee football or would love to see them lose every game; you will not want to miss out on seeing what the Vol Navy is all about in Knoxville. It's a once in a lifetime experience.
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