By: Brad Pope
Each year when football season arrives, the Vol Navy gathers on the banks of the Tennessee River. Houseboats, cabin cruisers, cuddy cabins, ocean yachts, and deck boats gather to the sound of Rocky Top for the world’s largest collegiate floating tailgate party. The University of Tennessee and the University of Washington in Seattle, Washington are the only schools in the country to have college football stadiums adjacent to a body of water.
History says that the Vol Navy began in 1962 when then Tennessee football broadcaster George Mooney began each game day traveling to Neyland Stadium via the Tennessee River. Mooney preferred to travel via river because the traffic was so bad in Knoxville on game days. Others soon discovered the new route free from traffic and numbers continued to grow until fans took on the name “The Vol Navy”.
Members of the Vol Navy come from homes in Tellico, Watts Bar, and Fort Loudon Lake. Many fans also travel from afar as many members of the Volunteer Navy travel in yachts and cruisers from Chattanooga, Huntsville, and many other distant locations. The Volunteer Navy has grown to over 200 different boats on any given game day in Knoxville. Most members of the Volunteer Navy arrive outside of Neyland Stadium as early as 3 days before game day, tailgating and preparing for their beloved Volunteers to play football.
Photo from Meredith Savage.
By the time kickoff arrives and the Tennessee football team is running through the T, most of the Vol Navy makes their way across Neyland Drive and into the packed stadium of over 100,000 fans. Others simply watch the game from their televisions on their boats and continue to tailgate. Each score by the hometown Volunteers brings a giant fireworks show that is best seen from the Volunteer Navy’s riverfront location.
After the game, the Vol Navy returns to the docks on the Tennessee River. Some leave and return home immediately after the game while others will stay the night and head home on Sunday. Many will simply stay docked outside of the stadium and tailgate until the next home game.
During the 1975 game against the LSU Tigers there was a public address announcement made for a patron to “move your boat, please,” so a barge could make its way up the river. It is amazing how such a great tradition formed only because one man wanted a way to beat the traffic. Thanks to former broadcaster George Mooney we now have the “Vol Navy” as part of the ambience of Tennessee football.
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