There's nothing like football in the South, and in particular, the SEC.
People who aren't from here don't understand it, but those who are, love and cherish it. During my internship at the University of Georgia this summer, all the friends I made were from the North, Midwest or California. On the first day of orientation, when we walked by Sanford Stadium, they were amazed by its size.
One girl said she thought the professional football team's stadium in her city wasn't that big. Proudly, I finally piped up and boasted how Neyland Stadium was even bigger than Sanford, and could hold almost 10,000 more people.
Prior to last Saturday, my mom had never attended a UT football game. Growing up in Florida, she had ventured into The Swamp a couple of times, but that was the extent of her in-action SEC football experience. She kept telling me that since it was my last year at UT, I must get her tickets to an SEC game. I kept putting it off, wanting to go to this tailgate or the other, until I finally pinpointed the date of the game during fall break: South Carolina.
Bringing her into the stadium, I began to feel nervous. What if she didn't like standing for four hours? I hadn't given her any forewarning of the cheers that we did, what if she felt left out? Would the wild student section overwhelm her? Crowding into our seats in lower section G, with barely enough room to squeeze by, I could only watch and wait.
She absolutely loved it. Getting to watch my mom experience Neyland Stadium in all its glory, for the very first time, allowed me to see it through her eyes and view it anew. What I saw was that, at its core, football is a religion.
The spirit team, Smokey and Smokey Jr. included, are our spiritual leaders. They guide us through the plays of the game, pointing out the right things to say, and cueing the most appropriate cheers. The band is our choir, of course, leading us through the songs that will most pump us, and the team, up.
And then the players, and the coach, well, they're the gods. No matter how much people may try to deny it, we tend to worship athletes and coaches who are performing well. Tennessee football is no exception.
But these are not really the aspects that matter, just striking similarities that line up with the traditional organization of religion. The most important similarity is the unity we all share. Waking up on gameday mornings, many times dragging ourselves out of bed even when we're on a losing streak, we have to wonder why we do it. The resounding answer is that we must be there to cheer on our Vols. That's the beauty of the football religion.
Filing into Neyland on Saturdays, our one purpose is to unequivocally support our team. There is no doubt in anyone's mind what we're there for – the shared screams of joy, mutters of disbelief, throwing of hands in the air for touchdowns and, of course, singing about a half-cat girl on Rocky Top.
Age, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation – none of these matter in the light of football. We're united in our purpose as one people, and so as one Volunteer nation.
Observing my mom get caught up in the excitement of the game, I finally put my finger on what it is that makes us so dedicated to football. We're a family, bound together not by blood, but by love and support of our team.
My mom is already begging me to get her another ticket.
Victoria Knight is a senior in microbiology. She can be reached at email@example.com