Know Your Stadiums: Neyland Stadium
University of Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium just celebrated it’s 92nd birthday on Tuesday. The Volunteers football team originally played at Baldwin Park that was once located between Grand Avenue and Dale Avenue north of Fort Sanders. Then from 1909 to 1920 the team played at Wait Field, which was once located on 15th Street.
The stadium was first conceived in 1919 when Colonel W.S. Shields, president of Knoxville’s City National Bank and a University of Tennessee trustee, provided the initial capital to prepare and equip an athletic field.
The original stadium which consists of the lower level of the current stadium’s West Stands was completed in March of 1921 and was named Shields-Watkins Field in honor of the donor and his wife. However, the project ran out of money and was unfinished temporarity until a suggestion at a meeting of the University’s Scarabbean Senior Society that the students and facult finisht the project together by MacGregor Smith.
The students and faculty finished the field over a two-day period and an invitational track meet was held as a celebration and was the first event held at Neyland Stadium.
The first football game was held on September 24, 1921 with the Vols defeating Emory & Henry 27-0.
General Robert Reese Neyland came to Tennessee as an ROTC instructor and backfield coach in 1925 and was named head football coach in 1926. He came to Tennessee as an Army captain and left as a brigadier general and brought one of the most efficient single-wing offenses in the country to go with a strong defense.
Gene McEver began the Neyland Era with a 98-yard opening kickoff return in the 1928 game against Alabama. Neyland’s 1939 team were the last to shut out each of its regular season opponents. During his career of 216 games, 112 opponents were held scoreless and the school still holds the NCAA record for holding opponents scoreless for 71 consecutive quarters.
Neyland won the Southern Conference titles in 1927 and ’32 while earning undefeated streaks of 33 and 28 games. They also won SEC Championships in 1938, ’39, ’40, ’46 and ’51 while coaching four national championship teams. His 21 year career, as coach went from 1926 through 1952 with two interruptions for military service, has a record of 173-31-12.
The Stadium was renamed Neyland Stadium in honor of General Neyland in 1962 shortly after his death. Shortly before his death, he spearheaded the stadium’s first major expansion that were so far ahead of their time that they have formed the basis for every expansion since then.
The original Shields-Watkins Field capacity was 3,200. Five years later in 1926 the East stands were added to increase the capacity to 6,800. In 1930 the original West Stands were expanded from 17 rows to 42 rows to further increase capacity to 17,860.
In 1937 a small section of seating called North Section X were constructed across the North endzone which added 1,500 seats. The following year the East stands were expanded to 44 rows to increase the capacity to 31,390.
Ten years later, in 1948, another expansion of the stadium resulted in the south endzone being enclosed in a horseshoe style adding 15,000 seats to increase seating to 46,290.
Several expansions occured in the 1960’s. The first, in 1962, was adding the West Upper Deck adding 5,837 seats and a pressbox. In 1966 North Section X was replaced by a grandstand that seated 5,895. Then in 1968 the East Upper Deck was added which sat 6,307 to raise the overall capacity to 64,429.
In 1972 and 1976 the two Upper Decks were connected to enclose the south endzone and gave contiguous upper seating around three sides of the stadium and increased the total capacity to 80,250.
In 1980, the North Stands were built enclosing the north endzone in a bowl style and further increased the capacity of 10,999 seats. In 1987, the West Executive Suites were constructed and were a net loss of seats, but a seating ajustment for students in 1990 actually increased the total seating to 91,902.
In 1996 the last major expansion was completed with the North Upper Deck to fully enclose the upper level with a net gain of 10,642. Then in 1997 seating adjustments were made to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 was followed by the addition of the East Executive Suites to make the total capacity of 104,037 in 2000.
An addition of the East and West Club Seats in 2006 and 2009 decreased the total capacity to 100,011. Then in 2010 the completion of the Tennessee Terrace raise the stadium capacity to it’s current total of 102,455.
The dedication of the stadium as Neyland Stadium occurred on October 20, 1962 with a 27-7 loss to Alabama. On September 14, 1968 in a 17-17 tie with Georgia marked the first game on artificial turf. Then on November 27, 1993 in a 62-14 win over Varnderbilt marked the final game on artificial turf.
The first night game at Neyland Stadium was on September 16, 1972 with a 28-21 win over Penn State. The largest crowd recorded at Neyland Stadium was 109,061 on September 18, 2004 with a 30-28 Tennessee win over Florida.
Tennessee set a school record by averaging 107,595 fans per home game in 2000.
If you ever want a tour of Neyland Stadium, the University offers them by appointment only Monday through Thursday between 10am and 3pm and must be scheduled 5 days in advance. The cost for the tour is $8 per person for a group up to 20 and $150 for groups of more than 20.
It has also hosted several different events including concerts, political rallies and religious gatherings. It has also hosted several NFL exhibition games.