But right behind that figure, the most important numbers for UT might be things like 99,754 (UT’s average home attendance this season), 69,143 (the number of fans at UT’s last bowl game) and pictures like the one above that show Tennessee’s support for the Vols both in Neyland Stadium and away.
Tennessee fans were so eager for bowl tickets to UT’s first postseason appearance since 2010 that some rushed to buy them for the Liberty Bowl, a destination that was erroneously reported as UT’s landing spot earlier on Sunday afternoon. And when it became official that the Vols would be heading to Jacksonville for the TaxSlayer Bowl, online madness broke out.
“I know our fan base is energized,” said Tennessee coach Butch Jones. “I got word yesterday that our fan base actually crashed the bowl website, so I don’t know if they have it up and running yet, but that’s a tribute to them. It’s a great accomplishment to play in a January bowl game, and our fan base can take great pride in knowing that they also had a hand.
“They also were a deciding factor of that January 2 bowl game because of the loyal support, the energy that they’ve provided into this football program and the support has started for two years. But you just look at this past year of our spring game and the attendance. You look at our open practice and the attendance. You look at fan attendance up. You look at our student body and everything they’ve meant. There are special things going on here and I hope everyone realizes that, and we have concrete evidence surrounding those statements.”
With the SEC revamping its postseason process this year, six bowls – the Liberty, Belk, Music City, TaxSlayer, Outback and Belk – were all technically on equal footing and the SEC, which had the final say in the selections, wasn’t obligated to send teams places based on their final record. The league office worked with the various bowls and teams to find the best fits.
Tennessee’s strong fan support and history of traveling well clearly played into the Vols’ favor as the TaxSlayer Bowl made its pitch to the league.
“We have two fan bases that have proven over and over again, their support for their teams,” said TaxSlayer Bowl president Rick Catlett. “Not only during the regular season, but clearly at bowl time and I think that speaks for itself over the past 25 years. We’re very excited about having it and we’re looking forward to EverBank Field being the right atmosphere and being full of both Iowa Hawkeye and Tennessee Volunteer fans and just looking forward to a great football game between two great universities.”