A Sea Of Orange

Hard to believe that family weekend at UT had arrived.
I am happy to report that my son is settled, happy and feels like he's finding his way and making new friends.  As we pulled up to the dorm and waited to see my youngest, this was the first glimpse I got.
It's blurry because I was holding my camera phone to try to snap a quick pic.
As I watched my son who is now six feet come down the stairs and walk towards the car I thought of a time when I knew where he was at all times, was the center of his universe and made him laugh and kept his attention like no one else.   Now before me stood a young man embracing his independence and new stage in his life.  (Okay not gonna get sad now.)  

Sela Ward, whom I love wrote a poigniant book about growing up in the south called Homesick.
It is one of my favorites and I have read it twice because of my fixation with the south.  In it she talks about when she was a cheerleader for the University of Alabama.  She refers to being in the Bear Bryant Stadium for a game like going to church because of the magnitude of the fans fixation and following and how the entire state in some way worshipped the team, the place and the sport of football.
I remember feeling disconnected because I didn't go away to college or belonged to a great university.  I went to a city college and commuted daily and honestly never had an emotional tie to the school.
Sela in the middle.
(Here is an excerpt from her book)
"I WAS A CHEERLEADER at The University of Alabama in the 1970s and my memories are so rich from this chapter of my life. I can still smell the freshly cut grass of the practice field which we shared with the Million Dollar Band and feel the adrenaline rush that shot through my body as the band played and we practiced the double stunts that we were known for. And with coach Paul "Bear" Bryant at the helm, you felt as if you were participating in something larger than life. Tens of thousands of fans in a sea of red and white would weave their way into the stadium. In those days everyone got dressed up - the guys wore a coat and tie and the gals often wore dresses. Barna football was as serious as religion, and to be a cheerleader, down on the field, smack dab in the middle of it all, was a privilege of the highest order!"

Well this weekend I experienced first hand exactly what Sela was writing about.  Although I was not a student or alumni I am a parent of a student and witnessed this weekend something truly magnificent.  Here is a glimpse of what it's like to be a "Tennessee VOL"
(Except for the first three photos the rest are from my iphone because we are not allowed to bring cameras into the stadium.)
So this is Butch Jones, he is not a rockstar although he very well could be with the amount of fans he has.  He is the coach of the Tennessee Volunteers.
Before the game what feels like the entire nation lines up along the pavements around the Neyland Stadium listening to The Pride of the Southland Band as they play "Rocky Top" the unofficial State and school Anthem and various other marching band music.   If you are a fan of Peyton Manning you are probably familiar with his traditional warm up dance to Rocky Top before each game because he was the most famous VOL. 
 The cheerleaders lead the crowd in chants as the people line up for what seems like a mile long mob all sporting their orange gear from jerseys, to hats to painted orange and white checkered toenails. 
Below as the team arrives and make their way down the path the sound of cheers are almost defeaning as the band plays to greet their arrival.
(Below are my photos)
Below you can see a group of the marching band. 
 Below if you can squint and look down towards the bridge of the university the people are lined up on it and below going down until the eye can hardly see.
Below The entire Band in the traditional T formation.  On the stadium you can read Petyon Mannings name on the black border below the seating.
 Here is the stadium in all it's glory.  The sun glistening above allowing the orange to shine like nothing I've ever seen before.

Above a shot of one of the student sections where my son stood down in front of us watching the game with some of the members of his flag football team.

Here I am above hugging my soon to be Daughter-in-law as we stood before the team processed down the hill. And below the only other photo I was able to steel with my phone of my son under the Neyland Stadium sign.

I understand Sela's heartfelt words about her home, her university and her experiences at Bama in a deeper level now that I have experienced what it's like to be part of something.  My son, PA born has begun his journey and his lifelong tie, connection to Tennessee and to the university.  The friends he will make and experiences he has will shape and mold who he will be for the rest of his life.  
I can see how anyone can be captivated by such an experience and a way of life like Sela referred to it in her book.  I am so happy for him and feel fortunate to have been present in the sea of orange and all it's glory.
(My Matt, Age 6, Dancing on the beach)


Sweet Posy Dreams said...

I clicked on you from Keeping It Cozy and was so surprised to see UT! I live in Illinois but am from Tennessee and went to UT in the late '70s, early '80s. I tried to get my son to follow in my UT footsteps, but he elected to go to Univ. of Illinois.

Gina said...

How funny, I clicked on your blog from Keeping It Cozy also when I read "Sea of Orange." I thought you may be referring to Tennessee. We live in Virginia but we have many friends who are Tennessee fans including family members. Even though we are UVA and ACC fans I still love to watch SEC games too! :)

Marilyn said...

I'm so glad you had a good time visiting your son, and you are so right in your observations about football! Attending football games at any level (youth, high school, college) is a major social event in the south. :-)

Marilyn (in Dallas)

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