I visited an old cemetery near Old Knoxville High School last night and listened to General Neyland toss and turn in his grave.
The deceased football coach whose name adorns a 108,000-seat stadium has been trying to flip over in his grave ever since The University of Tennessee's athletic department shunned his former friends and supporters in April.
I wish I could have known Neyland.
In Jan. 2002, I didn't know anyone in this state when I left my home in Raleigh, N.C, to transfer to The University of Tennessee to become a sports writer. I came because I had felt comfortable at my first UT football game three months earlier as I listened to three hours of tradition-rich stories from the loyal Volunteer fans who had sold me a ticket.
For the first time since I hopped the Great Smoky Mountains to come to UT, I'm worried about the health of those traditions.
Mike Hamilton became UT's athletics director shortly after I enrolled and has since given disrespectful demands to thousands of longtime supporters.
One of those Vol loyalists is the son of Neyland's best friend. Along with sitting in the same seat for UT football home games his entire life, Andrew Morton III has owned Andrew Morton's Gifts, Inc., on Old Kingston Pike for 40 years and is the grandson of a former Knoxville mayor.
Morton remembers Neyland well.
"He came by the house every Sunday after a football game and talked over the game with my father," said the 73-year-old Morton. "After every football season, they had a ritual where they took a two-week deep-sea-fishing trip to Florida."
Morton's grandfather from his mother's side, Captain Ambrose Gaines, purchased the family's original 26 tickets for the stadium's inaugural season in 1921.
Although the athletic department termed Morton's tickets "grandfathered" decades ago, Morton said the word has gradually lost its meaning.
In April, Hamilton sent a letter informing all grandfathered ticket holders a donation of $1,000-per-ticket was now required for all seats, except for two they could hold on to only until 2005.
"Soon we'll be down to none, because I'm not going to give them any more (money)," Morton said, "I've been going there for 70-something years and I know what my father gave to them and I know the relationship that he and General Neyland had. Asking more from my family is an invasion of friendship."
Morton knows exactly how Neyland would respond.
"General Neyland would not go along with it," Morton said. "He would shake his head and be horrified they are turning on the people who have been with them for all those years.
"They're throwing loyalty to the wind."
Hamilton's "Ask Mike" website began receiving e-mails of dissatisfaction days after the athletic department sent out its donation notice.
The athletics director responded with a letter full of thanks-without-meaning political statements. He explained that "...In order to provide the entertainment that our fan base and alumni expect and at the level of success we expect requires significant dollars."
Apparently, Hamilton never thought about more than money.
"It's not so much that (grandfathered fans) can't give the money," Morton said. "It's that we don't think it is right.
"I take it as a punishment to have those grandfathered tickets when it should be an honor to hold on to them and be able to pass them down to my children and grandchildren...of all my (grandfathered) friends I've talked to, I haven't heard one who is going to donate that much money."
Maybe Hamilton should require loftier donations from new fans wanting to buy tickets (like myself when I graduate).
Before asking for more money from UT supporters that preceded his hiring by decades (some by almost a century), Hamilton should have cut his own salary in half.
The grandfathered ticket holders consist of the children and grandchildren of the stadium's first seat holders on the original set of bleachers by the river.
In Hamilton's dictionary, the word "grandfathered" must mean "old people responsible to correct budget problems stemming from overpaid coaches and athletics directors."
My soon-to-be alma mater's athletics director doesn't seem to understand the problem with choosing money over history. Guess I'll just go back to the graveyard and ask God to let General Neyland come back to give a history lesson.
-Matt Giles is the sports editor and a senior in journalism. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hamilton slaps history in the face
Published: Tue Jun 01, 2004 | Modified: Sat Aug 06, 2005 06:08 p.m.