RTI contributor Robert Hughes is the author of this article
“Our fans are as good or better than anybody in the country. They’re the best.”
Following Saturday’s 41-21 victory over South Carolina, Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt opened his post-game press conference by thanking those who attended the game.
“First off, I just want to say thank you to the fans. When we’re talking about the fantastic atmosphere, you feel the energy and emotion in our fanbase and how hungry everyone associated with our program is here,” Pruitt said.
Fans of the Tennessee Volunteers have been lauded as some of the best in the country by coaches, players, and other college football fans for years now because of their resilience during the program’s darkest years.
For reference, Neyland Stadium drew an average attendance of 95,779 in 2017, a year where Tennessee finished 4-8 and winless in conference play. Tennessee has been playing football since 1902, and 2017 is the only season that the Volunteers have lost eight or more games in a single season.
So, yes, it’s probably fair for Vol fans to receive the praise they have been given.
And if there was ever a night when Vol Nation proved its reputation as one of the best, it was Saturday night against South Carolina.
With an announced attendance of 87,397, Neyland Stadium wasn’t even at 90 percent capacity. Even so, the fans that attended showed up in full force.
For longtime fans of the program, Saturday’s game against South Carolina will be remembered as one of the loudest games Neyland Stadium has ever seen despite it not being a capacity crowd.
Reminiscent of the 2016 contest against Florida, Tennessee’s performance against South Carolina on Saturday featured a slow start, Jauan Jennings bobbling (and securing) catches, and a dominant defense. But even that game may not have been as loud as it was this weekend against the Gamecocks.
Perhaps the most defining moment of the game for the fans came midway through the third quarter. Coming off of Jauan Jennings’ second touchdown of the game, Vol fans were hungry for more.
After receiving the kick-off at their own 15-yard-line on the north end of the stadium, South Carolina got a delay-of-game penalty to begin the drive. As the clock was being reset, several of the Vols’ defensive players waved their arms to signal to the crowd to get even louder. The Gamecocks would go three-and-out on the drive, and in that moment, Neyland Stadium found — no, created — a new level of loud.
For a drive that only took 57 seconds off the clock, a moment felt like an eternity.
Lifelong Vol fans will think of Saturday’s game like they think of the 2015 match-up against Oklahoma or the 2013 overtime thriller against Georgia.
Yes, it was that loud.
Not bad for fans of a team that was 2-5 at the time.
And that is why Jeremy Pruitt couldn’t help but thank them following the game. But Pruitt’s post-game comments weren’t only directed toward the fans; he decided to use the crowd to help amplify his message to recruits — the same recruits who sat in the north end zone seats on Saturday.
“I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to go to Tennessee when you feel it,” Pruitt said. “You feel it walking through the Vol Walk, you feel it running through the T, when it is fourth-and-six, or you score a touchdown.”
For a fanbase that has endured a decade-plus of heartbreak, on Saturday, Vol fans finally got one of the best performances they have ever seen; on Saturday, Vol fans got what they deserved.