Bobby Denton, the voice of Neyland Stadium since 1967, passed away Wednesday morning from his battle with cancer at 73.
During his 47 years on the job, the longest tenure for a public address announcer in college football, Denton became known for many catchphrases, but his iconic "It's football time in Tennessee" was easily the most recognizable.
"Bobby Denton is a true treasure of Tennessee football," UT head coach Butch Jones said in a university release. "Hearing him say, 'It's football time in Tennessee,' is one of the greatest traditions in the history of college football.
"His voice is as synonymous with Neyland Stadium as the checkerboard end zones, and everyone in the Tennessee family will miss him greatly."
Born and raised in Knoxville, Denton started out as a radio disc jockey for WIVK, where he would work for 36 years and reach the position of vice president and general manager, building the station into one of the most successful country music stations in the nation and helping to win four Country Music Association Awards for Radio Station of the Year.
In 1967, Denton was hired by Gus Manning to replace then-PA announcer and long-time friend John Ward, who had left to become the "Voice of the Vols" on the Vol Network.
"Bobby Denton was a true radio professional in every way," Ward said in the release. "He had a great hobby like I had, and his was the PA at Neyland Stadium. But he was first and foremost a true professional radio man. He was an on-the-air radio personality before getting into management and sales, and he understood what you had to do to answer to the audience."
"His PA effectiveness came in measure from the fact that he had been a radio on-the-air personality, and he could anticipate what people in the stadium wanted to hear," Ward continued. "His timing was done so that he would set the stadium crowd up, and then when they were collectively saying, 'He's going to say it,' he said it, and they reacted. He was very, very effective, no question."
His public address career began at a Maryville dragstrip after the regular announcer continually failed to show up. He went on to climb the ranks in the motorsports industry, eventually making it to the highest level as an announcer at Talladega Superspeedway for over 15 years.
In his time at Tennessee, however, Denton became a friend to many. He now leaves a glaring absence not only in the booth, but also in the hearts of those who had the pleasure of befriending him.
"My interaction with Bobby was always very positive and enlightening for me, and I didn't view him as just an announcer or a media guy," former UT quarterback and current assistant athletic director Condredge Holloway said in the release. "The way we had conversations were more on a personal level about everything that was going on in the world, and maybe football occasionally. I got to know him a little better when I did some sideline commentating for UT.
"It was always fun interviewing the players and getting tips from Bobby about what to ask and how to make the player feel the most comfortable. He always wanted to be player-friendly."
That player-friendly approach couldn't be any more apparent.
With Denton's voice resonating throughout Neyland Stadium for more than four decades, many players have heard his iconic introduction and catchphrases and have those moments as memories of their playing careers.
"Thinking back to those Saturday games and you could hear Bobby's voice echo throughout Neyland Stadium," former quarterback Heath Shuler said in the release. "Not only are we going to miss how he announced the game, but we are going to miss his character. I consider him a close and dear friend. I got to know Bobby in a personal relationship, and he would always do that game introduction voice when I entered the room.
"That would put a smile on your face and he would give you a big hug. It would just give you chill bumps."
Vol legend Peyton Manning added: "A couple of things I could always count on a Tennessee football Saturday as a player were the Vol Walk to the stadium, running out through the T, the band singing Rocky Top, and Bobby Denton right during pre-game warm-ups coming on the loudspeaker and saying 'It's football time in Tennessee.'
"Every time I heard that, I knew kickoff was near, and it was always kind of an exciting moment. The crowd and the players would get excited, and of course, he would go on to echo his other famous expression, 'Pay these prices and please pay no more.'"
His reference to the concession stand prices came into play as a reminder to fans to not overpay for stadium food when enterprising concession stand managers were looking to make an extra profit based on demand in the 1970s.
And while the issue has long been dealt with, the phrase remains a part of Tennessee tradition.
So will Denton.
"Bobby Denton's voice echoing throughout our iconic stadium will be forever etched in our fans' minds," athletic director Dave Hart added. "For decades, he was a key component of the tradition within Neyland Stadium. He will be greatly missed by all."