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Tennessee Pumps Up Volume, Attendance

September 07, 1996|Allan Malamud

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — I can't even adjust the sound on the TV set in my hotel room without being reminded that I'm in University of Tennessee Volunteer country.

"VOL" it says between the arrows on my remote control.

A couple of miles away, Bud Ford, the Volunteers' sports information director, is calling the ticket office to get an estimate on the crowd for tonight's game against UCLA at Neyland Stadium.

"One hundred and six and two to three," he repeats.

That means between 106,200 and 106,300 for the second consecutive week.

Last Saturday, 106,212 saw the second-ranked Volunteers manhandle Nevada Las Vegas, 62-3.

"But we won't get the NCAA record until Sept. 21 when we play Florida," Ford says. "For that game, the sale of 1,000 standing-room tickets will put us over 107,000."

Notre Dame drew crowds estimated at 120,000 for games at Soldier Field in Chicago against USC in 1927 and Navy in 1928.

But there were no official turnstile counts, so the NCAA recognizes the 106,867 for Michigan-Ohio State at Ann Arbor in 1993 as the record.

The seating capacities for Neyland Stadium, after a 10,000-seat addition this year, and Michigan Stadium are 102,544 and 102,485, respectively.

Are they inflating their crowd figures in the grand tradition of the Clippers?

"We count everyone who has a ticket or a pass," Ford says. "That includes gate keepers, ushers, the media, first aid, security, concession workers, the bands and players and coaches."

Those who consider themselves football fans in Knoxville include nearly the entire metropolitan area population of 640,700.

On Cumberland Avenue not far from "the Hill," as the UT campus is known, a banner hangs from a souvenir shop:

"Tennessee Football Is Life And Everything Else Is Just Details."

The demand for tickets is such that there have been six stadium additions since 1962, and a spring intrasquad game once drew 73,801.

On Friday morning, an armada of more than 200 boats began docking on the shores of the Tennessee River just behind Neyland Stadium.

The only other place in college football where boatgating is as popular as tailgating is at the University of Washington's Husky Stadium, on the shores of Lake Washington in Seattle.

But it is a cinch that no Husky fan drives to games in a hearse decorated in school colors.

The owner of the orange-and-white Volmobile, neurosurgeon Joe Beals, once said that he was only trying to have some fun and had no death wish for Tennessee opponents.

Of course, it might be argued that UCLA had a death wish when it scheduled two of its first three games at Tennessee and Michigan.

Not that Athletic Director Peter Dalis knew when he scheduled tonight's game that Archie Manning's kid, Peyton, would enroll at Tennessee.

The Heisman Trophy is the junior quarterback's to lose.

He has appeared on the cover of almost every national magazine this year except Cosmopolitan.

During the summer, he made himself available for in-person and telephonic interviews every Wednesday.

And jerseys with his number, 16, are among the hottest pieces of apparel in the Southeast.

Manning has used the words national championship regularly in conversation.

No wonder that a school-record 74,200 season tickets were sold.

The average ticket price is $22, the same as it was five years ago, and $49 less than the folks charge for a good seat to a NASCAR race at nearby Bristol.

However, those who have bought season tickets since 1986 have been required to make donations to the university.

One Volunteer defeat in the late 1960s proved particularly costly to Jack Reynolds, the linebacker who later played for the Los Angeles Rams.

In disgust, he cut his car in half and forever after was known as "Hacksaw."

In pursuit of the national title, the Volunteers will play nine of 11 regular-season games in state.

Six will be in Knoxville, two in Memphis, and one in Nashville.

Already, they are showing UCLA no respect.

"Bad News For The Bears," say the T-shirts on sale in the campus shop.

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