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It was the biggest college football game in the history of the world, nearly 160,000 people jammed into Bristol Motor Speedway for the Tennessee-Virginia Tech game.
Millions of you watched the game on television, but what was it actually like to be at the game? Only a couple hundred thousand Vol and Hokie fans know, including yours truly.
Without further ado, here’s Outkick’s story on the Battle at Bristol.
1. We leave from a Kroger parking lot at nine in the morning on Friday.
By this time I’ve already been up five hours.
Seriously, this four am wake up call is turning me into an old man before my time. I went to Chick fil A at nine in the morning to try and order lunch. Turns out you can’t get lunch at nine in the morning at Chick fil A, which is unfortunate because I’m a lunch person and I feel like lunch people get totally discriminated against compared to breakfast people.
Look, it’s considered perfectly normal to want pancakes or waffles at ten at night and many places serve breakfast all day, but you can’t eat a chicken sandwich or a hamburger or hot dog at nine in the morning without people judging you.
It’s 2016, time for the hate to end.
While there I decide to go to the bathroom before the big drive, but everyone is ready to go but me so I move fast. In particular, my dick is still hanging out of my boxer fly — I went through the hole as opposed to over the top because I had a chicken biscuit in a bag in my hand — as I step outside the bathroom. But I’m thinking I’ll just do the walk and roll my dick back in the boxer method on the way to the van. No big deal, I’ve done that a ton of times over the years.
But, amazingly, just as I’m about to execute the maneuver, there is a table of four female Outkick readers at the Mt. Juliet Chick fil A. Literally, the first table when you come out of the bathroom.
And just as I start to talk to them I realize that my fly isn’t zipped up all the way and I’m trying to have a conversation while thinking, my dick might be hanging out of my pants. If I was Greg Oden I might be in prison right now.
So I’m standing there talking about law school with one of the girls, wondering, “Is my dick really out of my pants at the Chick fil A in Mt. Juliet? I’m not even in Antioch right now. This is totally unacceptable behavior.”
Turns out my dick was fine, and I didn’t flash anyone.
What a start to the weekend.
2. We’re riding in a huge church van and it’s packed with multiple coolers of beer and liquor.
In fact, we remove the final two seats in the van and leave them behind to ensure we can fit all the beer and liquor in the vehicle.
Chad Withrow, the midday host on 104.5 the Zone, is driving and there are seven of us total in the van/bus. It’s like we’re driving to church camp. (Except with lots of alcohol, so perfect church camp for the Baptists.)
In addition to all the alcohol, we affix four different orange Tennessee flags to the different corners of the vehicle.
Included among the flags is Alan Bean’s prized flag from 1989, aka, “Back when the Vols played like the Vols.”
The moment we get on the interstate one of the flags begins banging into the side of the vehicle loudly enough to make us think there might be a person hanging onto the roof.
Nope, just a flag, which immediately rips off the vehicle and cartwheels down the road behind us.
“Down one flag,” says Withrow.
“The important thing,” says Alan, “is that we still have my flag from 1989.”
3. Twenty minutes later there’s another loud rattle, a second flag from the rear of the vehicle has given up the ghost.
But two old ladies have pulled up beside us and shaken orange shakers in our direction.
Back when I wrote “On Rocky Top,” the older gentleman who drove the UT equipment in a big rig said girls used to pull up beside him and flash him as they drove along the interstate.
Given that we’re in a van/bus I’m hoping this might happen to us too.
The van/bus is so loud that you pretty much have to yell at anyone not sitting right next to you. If you’re trying to talk to anyone not sitting right next to you it’s like you’re trying to talk to someone while a helicopter is taking off back in Vietnam.
Withrow and I are discussing the 1998 national title season when I decide it’s the perfect time to trim my fingernails. Some men use nail clippers, but that’s way too polished for me. I just trim my fingernails by tearing them off when I think one gets too long.
So I trim my left index finger and then, because I’m a gentleman, I roll down the window and toss my fingernail out.
That’s the window that holds Alan’s Tennessee car flag from 1989.
And it just went flying down I-40 at eighty miles an hour.
There’s a stunned silence in the van/bus, like when Georgia scored on a 99 yard touchdown in Neyland back in 2003.
From Reggie Cobb — kicked off for cocaine — to Chuck Webb — tore his ACL and left early — to Craig Faulkner and Heath Shuler and Peyton and Tee and the dark days of Kiffin and Dooley and up until the present day, Alan’s car flag had a good and long and relatively decent life despite the spartan nature of recent wins. As car flags age, it was around 200 years old.
“I can’t believe what I just saw,” says Alan, eyes wide, palms facing upward, agog at my idiocy.
For once I’m speechless.
What have I done?
We have been on the road for less than an hour and only one flag now flies on the van.
“It’s okay,” says Withrow clapping his hands like a coach trying to motivate his JV girls’ basketball squad that is down forty at the half. “We’ve still got one flag.”
5. We stop for lunch at a Knoxville deli, which brings back memories of Sam and Andy’s on the strip, aka the greatest deli ever made.
This deli still has a steamer inside and I have to ask this question — why isn’t every sandwich steamed? At what point did toasting a sandwich just destroy the steamer?
I’m telling y’all, we need to bring back the sandwich steamer.
(In fact, while I’m writing this I’m craving a deli steamed sandwich so much my mouth is watering. Does Outkick need to go into the sandwich business too?)
We all eat at the deli, 100% steamed sandwiches to a man, and talk while watching SEC Network replays of this past weekend’s games. The SEC Network, only two years old, has already achieved a level of popularity with SEC fans in the South that it’s becoming the background network of choice below the Mason-Dixon line.
Lunch discussion centers on the Vol performance against App State. The deli counter guy wants to talk about it, the steamer guy wants to talk about it, the ladies in line want to talk about it, this has always been the case with SEC football, it’s the connective tissue that unites a region of disparate races, incomes, education levels, and hometowns. Whether you’re a janitor or a neurosurgeon everyone has an opinion, and right now everyone is focused on Tennessee’s mercurial eyebrowless phenom, Josh Dobbs.
Can he return the Vols to the SEC title promised land or is his erratic passing ability — he throws the football like a drunk man pees in front of a urinal, scattered, inaccurate, but with moments of transcendent perfection when you think, maybe he’s not about to fall over — a harbinger of gridiron doom?
No one knows.
“You know,” says Alan, “We didn’t play well against App State, but at least we’re not Mississippi State.”
Everyone watches the State field goal clang off the upright.
Will the Vols face a similar fate in Bristol or will they finally begin to live up to the preseason hype?
6. Back in the car, next stop Bristol.
The six guys have rented one house in a sketchy neighborhood a couple of miles from the track.
I’ve rented another house for the Outkick crew.
So they drop me off at the track, and I run inside to conduct interviews with a couple of the people responsible for putting on the Pilot Flying J Battle at Bristol game. You can watch that interview below.
Suffice it to say there’s now a decent chance that UT-Virginia Tech won’t be the only college game Bristol hosts.
7. Our Bristol house is fantastic, six miles from the race track, with a swimming pool.
It’s brand new.
And our host has left us homemade salsa and cupcakes.
Meanwhile the other six guys arrived to find that the house they are renting from a single mom of three has a three foot long bearded dragon in a cage inside one of the bedrooms.
Everyone is already scared of the lizard.
Within ten minutes of arriving they are drinking and playing cornhole in the front yard when a loud crash comes from inside the house. Being drunk guys in town for a football game they don’t bother checking to see what it is, they just keep playing cornhole and drinking.
Fifteen minutes later someone goes inside to use the bathroom and makes a terrifying discovery, the lizard’s cage has somehow crashed open and the lizard has escaped. A frantic search commences for the lizard; this is made all the more terrifying because they’ve been propping the front door open.
So it’s possible the lizard, a teenager’s pet, has escaped into the Bristol wild.
Frantic, they call the woman they rented the house from and she returns in her scrubs and begins to search the house for the lizard as well.
After twenty minutes she emerges triumphant — having found the lizard hiding underneath her own bed — and carries him outside to her car. “I knew I shouldn’t have left him here,” she says.
8. Tonight is the Kenny Chesney concert so in an effort to avoid anyone drinking and driving I declare that we’ll Uber from the Outkick house and then Uber back after the concert.
How about the fact that the tri-cities has Uber? Spectacular.
My thought is that it will be relatively easy to get an Uber after the concert if we duck out a few minutes early and beat the crowd.
Presently, by the way, I am the only guy staying in the Outkick house. Lori, Outkick’s editor, Mattie Lou, Outkick’s bachelor recap expert, and Janna, a Vol fan now living on the West Coast who is married to Ryan Abraham who runs the most popular Southern Cal site, are all staying in the house with me. We’ll eventually add two more guys, but in the meantime my wife, currently in Dallas with all three kids and our nanny, rolls her eyes over the phone when I explain who is in the house with me. (If you’re married you know exactly what an eye roll over the phone sounds like.)
Once we get in the Uber, I make a solid play and tell the Uber driver I will pay him double whatever the going Uber rate is to not turn on his Uber and to pick us up at the exact same place he drops us off.
Our Uber driver agrees — I have one of the girls text him instead of me texting him because hot girl privilege dictates that if you’re a hot girl a guy will always respond to your text — and he drops us off.
I’m really proud of myself.
But there’s a bit of an alarming warning. “I’ve got a fun night planned,” he says, “Dinner with my married friends at Carrabba’s. So I’ll try and leave my phone on.”
This sentence is delivered so earnestly that I almost choke on my tongue trying to avoid laughing.
You know how those Carrabbas’s nights can get. Almost as wild as Friday nights at Applebee’s.
9. Turns out when you have a football game between Tennessee and Virginia Tech at a NASCAR stadium there are a bunch of rednecks that show up.
I know, I know, real shocker there.
To enter the Kenny Chesney concert, you have to go through a metal detector and I kid you not, there is a pile of abandoned pocket knives of all shapes and sizes stacked at the table just in front of the entrance.
The lady at the metal detector actually says, “You have to take out your wallet and your phone and your pocket knife.”
And then when I take out my wallet and my phone and put it into a bin she says, “You don’t have a pocket knife?”
Am I the only guy in this concert of 60,000 people who isn’t carrying a pocketknife?
10. Here’s the deal, I don’t care about Kenny Chesney at all.
I just want to drink.
So we’re down on the racetrack drinking beers when Kenny Chesney eventually comes out on the stage looking like he just got dunked upside down in a pool of baby oil. Seriously, he’s got no sleeves on and tight jeans and a cowboy hat pulled down low to cover up the fact that he’s bald and 5’7″ and nearly fifty years old and thirty thousand women attending this concert right now would bang him.
The world is not fair.
I don’t know many of Kenny’s songs so I go try to buy more beer and who is directly in front of me in line?
And what does Bruce Smith order in the beer line?
Double funnel cakes.
If that’s not a hall of fame order at a country concert on a racetrack I don’t know what is. I used to go to Opryland, an amusement park outside of Nashville, just for the funnel cakes. I haven’t seen them since. And here Bruce Smith is, just housing a full size funnel cake like it’s a damn Eggo waffle.
11. We run into an ESPN producer, Josh Parcell, who looks like Ryan Lochte.
And a girl comes up, asks if he’s Lochte, he claims that he is, and then poses for a photo with him.
Amazingly, while this interaction is all happening, Ryan Lochte starts to follow me on Twitter.
The coincidence is incredible.
12. The phone reception is awful.
Alright, here’s the deal, if I ran AT&T or Verizon or Sprint or whoever the remaining cell phone companies are, I would spend one tenth of my advertising money just showing up at big events with huge mobile towers that guaranteed my cell phone customers would be able to send messages, check social media, and upload items to Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
This is the best advertising possible.
How pissed off would you be with your own company if your friends could use their networks without any trouble at all and you couldn’t?
It’s totally unacceptable that you can go to a public event and be unable to interact with your friends.
There are quite a few things I’d like to be able to upload, not to mention I’m trying to check the Louisville-Syracuse Friday night score and having zero luck.
This is me on my soap box.
This needs to get fixed everywhere.
13. Peyton Manning comes out on stage, walks around waving, and the entire crowd goes insane.
Totally a missed opportunity for Peyton to moon Kenny Chesney here though.
At this point I’m ready to go so we can beat the traffic back, but Outkick’s editor, Lori, is insisting that we stay because she wants to hear Kenny Chesney sing “Back Where I Come From.”
“I mean, he’s in east Tennessee. He’s from here. He’s definitely going to sing it,” she says.
Except he doesn’t.
Which is pretty unbelievable.
14. So now it’s a total clusterfuck trying to leave.
And next thing you know we’re all standing on Thunder Mountain Road outside the Bristol event and I’m telling the girls to hitch hike and get us a car because the Uber app isn’t working and our guy that I tried to hire is still at Carrabbas and he’s having too much fun to come pick us up.
So we’re standing around on the side of the road, all drunk, and we think we’re in pretty rough shape. But then Chad Withrow texts me what might be the saddest text I’ve ever gotten, “Can you send an Uber to me? I only have Lyft on my phone.”
First of all, who, besides the CEO of Lyft, only has Lyft on his phone and not Uber? Withrow’s like the guy back in 1988 who refuses to switch from Betamax to VHS. His loyalty to Lyft is uncanny. He’s the only person I know who always suggests we Lyft. (By the way, as soon as I write things like this, I inevitably get an email from someone at Fox like, “Welp, Lyft was all set to spend a million dollars at Outkick and then you went and were an asshole to them.” So I take it all back if Lyft likes Outkick. If someone spends money on Outkick ads I won’t just endorse their product I’ll murder their opponent too. You buy me you buy an assassin. Speaking of which, stubhub really sucks, use SeatGeek instead.)
So we’re standing on the side of the road, me and three hot girls all dressed in short shorts and heels for a concert, and you’ll never guess what happens —
A fifty year old guy gives us a ride home for free.
Hot girl privilege is undefeated.
15. I wake up at 7:30 on gameday and do a live show from the porch.
Yep, we have Outkick helmets now, bitches.
Here’s that show.
After the show I take a shower and discover the owner’s thong on the shower floor. What’s the protocol when you’re a guy and you find the woman who lives in the house’s thong in your shower. I can’t leave it because then it looks like I was taking a shower with her thong for two days and didn’t do anything about it at all. Worse, she might think I was the one who put the thong in the shower to start with.
But I also don’t want to move it because once I touch the thong then I’m responsible for it. And then I have to rummage around looking for the dirty clothes with a thong in my hand and this is definitely when one of the girls will come in and see me standing with a thong in my hand.
So what the hell do I do with the thong? This is a real Air BnB mystery.
I end up rummaging around in the closet looking for the dirty clothes with a strange woman’s thong in my hand and as I’m doing so I’m thinking to myself, this is exactly what cost Damon Evans the AD job at Georgia. Anyway, our host’s house was awesome, and she has great taste in thongs too.
We have added two guys to our house for gameday so we sit around waiting for the girls to get ready. I’ve made the bold decision to wear my orange pants and an Outkick shirt.
Lori comes downstairs and says, “You’re a walking billboard.”
And I’m like, “You’re goddamn right I am.”
I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man.
Outkick pants are fantastic and they’re only $20 and we’ve almost sold out now.
Let me say this too, I was blown away by the number of Tennessee and Virginia Tech fans who came up and said hi over the weekend at this game. For the past three years I haven’t been out to games since I’ve been on the Fox lot in LA, but it was incredible to see you guys in person.
I knew Outkick had grown a ton over the past three years, but even I was astounded by the growth. I’ve never seen anything like it. Everywhere I went I met Outkick readers, viewers or listeners and I appreciate all of you coming up and saying hi.
And I knew we were huge with UT fans, but the number of Virginia Tech fans who love Outkick was awesome to see as well.
I honestly think if we had done an official Outkick tailgate and promoted it in advance we would have had thousands of people show up for it.
For a guy who has written this entire article while sitting in his underwear and once dreamed of having 100 daily readers, it’s awesome to see.
As I said yesterday on the Outkick the Coverage radio show, “If you hate Clay Travis, this is going to be a really bad decade for you.”
16. So we tailgate.
And by tailgate, I mean drink heavily for many hours.
This is the drunkest college football game of all time and I’m not sure there’s a close second.
Even LSU fans would be saying, “Y’all need to slow down.”
Some time in the afternoon we make the walk around to different tailgate locations and every single person I pass is wobbling. I would love to see an accounting for how much alcohol is consumed before people actually enter the stadium.
It’s unbelievable, one big drunken party on a ninety degree day in Bristol.
There is no telling how many children are going to trace their lineage to drunken sex at this event, but it has to be in the hundreds, potentially in the thousands. (Coincidentally Plan B sales are skyrocketing in Knoxville and Blacksburg this week too.)
The Bristol Baby Boom is hitting in late June.
And every dad with girls in college or going to college anytime soon is absolutely terrified of the entire scene. This is a common tailgate topic every time groups of dads gather, girls on college campuses today. I’m not sure how girls keep getting hotter in the South, but it’s happening.
And they keep wearing less every year.
We’re not far from girls in SEC stadiums just showing up in bikinis.
God bless them.
17. The moment we walk in to the stadium and look out over the expansive crowd it’s jaw dropping.
The sun has not yet sunk behind the Tennessee mountains and for a moment you can see out into the distance, one rolling green hill after another, a top hat for a stadium filled with Vol and Hokie fans bedecked in different hues of orange. It’s electric in the stadium on a Saturday night in the South, an alcoholic haze combining with the first grip of evening coolness to raise pinpricks on the arms and necks of fans of all ages.
There is no better and more fun sporting event in American life than Southern college football and for all these fans this moment will linger for a long time in the memory’s attic, long after the score of the game is forgotten.
The most people in the history of the country to watch the sport this country does better than any other rise for the national anthem.
No one kneels or fails to stand.
Once again, it’s football time in Tennessee.
18. The Vols spot the Hokies a 14 point early lead and then score 24 unanswered to take a 24-14 lead into the half.
Whereupon Lee Greenwood comes out and brings down the house with “God Bless the USA.”
To say that my dad, and many others of his generation, consider Lee Greenwood to be a legend is an understatement.
In fact, my dad considers the two greatest moments in all of American history to be:
1. Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
2. Lee Greenwood’s halftime performance at the 1986 Sugar Bowl game between Tennessee and Miami.
When my dad came back from this game I was six years old and the way he described Greenwood’s performance was mesmerizing. I’ve probably watched that halftime show a dozen times.
When Greenwood says, “from the hills of Tennessee,” the Bristol stadium roars, fireworks explode, and the only thing that could make the night more American is if Greenwood himself waterboarded a terrorist while urinating on a Colin Kaepernick jersey.
19. The Vols win 45-24 and before the game ends a massive, drunken escape from Bristol begins.
We make it out within twenty minutes, but I understand some people sit in traffic for hours, the price to pay for attending a game that big.
The game is an unqualified success for Vol fans, punctuated by tshirt salesmen hawking bright orange shirts with white lettering on them.
The front of the shirt says, “Knoxville Fucking Tennessee.”
And the back of the shirt says, “If you’re not from Tennessee, take your bitch ass home.”
They are selling wildly.
Gotta say, this would have been the perfect time to sell some orange pants if we hadn’t already sold out of the UT colors.
20. The next morning we wake up early to begin the drive back.
Lori’s brother slept on the couch in the house.
“Look at this awesome shirt I got.”
It’s the shirt from outside the stadium.
Lori’s brother flies fighter jets for a living. I’m pretty sure this makes him the most awesome fighter jet pilot alive.
It’s so early that the sun’s not up yet and the lights are still turned on at the stadium from the night before as we drive by.
It’s impossible to know what will come of this season, but for a moment at least, bleary eyed and hung over, sleep deprived and hungry for Chik fil A even though those bastards won’t be open on Sunday, everything seems possible.
Even though we lost the car flag from 1989 and the Vols haven’t won an SEC title since back in 1998 and it’s possible our quarterback can’t throw and we just beat a team called Appalachian State on a fumble into the end zone in overtime, there’s magic in the early morning mountain air.
Yep, the Vols are back baby!
But just like that my reverie is broken.
“I cannot believe,” Lori says, looking over at the stadium as we drive past, “Kenny Chesney didn’t play ‘Back Where I Come From.’ What an asshole.”
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