Tennessee’s spring football game this past Saturday, the 2023 Orange & White Game, had a whopping 58,473 spectators jammed inside Neyland Stadium for the final Vol Football event until the fall.
To put that number into perspective, that is 18,123 more than the stadium capacity for Vanderbilt Football’s FirstBank Stadium. And that was just for the spring game with a quarter of the stadium closed off from fans.
“Obviously, what we were doing on the field with a lot of things going on this weekend, beautiful day, over 58,000 people showing up here on Rocky Top,” head coach Josh Heupel said after the game. “Unbelievable turnout from our fanbase; absolute best in the country. I thank them for the energy they created outside the stadium with everything we had going on this week.”
Saturday’s spring game highlighted the energy and excitement that the Tennessee fanbase has towards the team and the program overall heading into the summer of 2023. And, for good reason, too. Tennessee is coming off of an 11-2 season capped off with a victory over No. 6 Clemson in the Capital One Orange Bowl.
Orange & White Game crowd just about 10 minutes before kickoff.
(South side of the stadium is closed off to sit in) pic.twitter.com/tfnCnaz49w
— Rocky Top Insider (@rockytopinsider) April 15, 2023
It isn’t just the success of last year, either. Tennessee fans have been waiting for a sign of consistent progress and feel as though Heupel and his staff may be finally bringing that to Rocky Top.
Tennessee hasn’t put up 18 combined wins in back-to-back seasons since the Vols went 9-4 in 2015 and 2016. Dark times surrounded the Tennessee football program in between then and now, and the players can sense the returning excitement from the fans.
“People can feel that UT is back,” sophomore linebacker Elijah Herring said about the nearly 60,000 people that attended Tennessee’s spring game. “They feel that everybody wants it. Everybody is expecting us to win. Everybody is expecting us to do big things. We expect the same thing out of ourselves. It really started with Coach Heupel and everybody else comes in and follows in his direction.”
Herring mentioned several reasons why the excitement around Tennessee is high. The Vols have a solid returning quarterback, pose multiple elite weapons on offense, and have revamped their defense with young and talented depth, although inexperienced. Heupel believes the energy around the Vol Football program is a mixture of all those ingredients.
“It’s a combination of everything,” Heupel said. “The spring game is the first time our fanbase has had the opportunity to congregate together. In some way, it was a time to celebrate the success of last season. They haven’t had the chance to experience that inside of Neyland Stadium together. It’s an opportunity to get their first look of what our Vols are going to look like next season, and you get an opportunity to see some of the young guys that haven’t had the opportunity to play a ton of meaningful snaps. You throw all that together and the environment that’s outside the stadium, it’s a great day on Rocky Top and can’t thank them enough for showing up the way that they do. This fanbase is truly special.”
Among those 58,000+ spectators were more than 300 former Tennessee players, according to Heupel after the game. Heupel has said multiple times during his multi-year tenure at Tennessee that having the support of former players is one of the most valuable things that the program can acquire. With numbers like what was announced on Saturday, that certainly looks to be trending in the right direction.
According to Fox Sports’ RJ Young on Twitter, Tennessee Football had the third-highest attended spring game from the previous weekend. Young reports Ohio State with 75,122, Penn State with 68,000, and Tennessee with 58,473 to round out the top three. Georgia had 54,000, South Carolina had 51,000, Clemson had 50,000, USC had 33,427, and Florida State had 33,107.