By Tom Mattingly
If you hang around University of Tennessee athletics long enough, there are a number of questions and events that help make life entertaining. Here are some examples.
Is it NEE-land or NAY-land?
More than a few years ago, someone called and mentioned knowing “Gen. NAY-land” when each of them served in Calcutta during World War II. No one had attempted to correct him, but we’ll try to set the record straight.
Local radio and television reporters often refer to a wreck on “NAY-land Drive” or report on a game from “ NAY-land Stadium.” Breaking them of that habit has been an impossible task. Many people have clung grimly to the name “NAY-land,” including some of his former players.
The name is pronounced “NEE-land” according to Mrs. Neyland, Ada Fitch Neyland formally, but “Peggy” to her closest friends. Their son, Bob, has also shared this perspective over the years.
Mrs. Neyland emphasized her point to UT’s Charles Brakebill, the development guru who worked with her to establish the Neyland Scholarship program in the early 1960s, shortly after the General died. She heard him refer to her as “Mrs. NAY-land” and forthrightly let him in on the family’s point of view.
She rose from her chair, stood on one leg, patted her knee “three times,” and said, “It’s ‘NEE-land,’ just like my knee.” That apparently settled that issue, at least for Brakebill.
Bob Neyland Jr. also expressed a similar opinion in a letter to The Tennessean, Nashville’s morning newspaper. It won a “three-star” designation from the newspaper’s editorial board.
“Our family has always pronounced our name ‘NEE-land,’” he wrote. “My father was a very private person, despite a very public position. He had a fairly small circle of close friends, who knew the correct pronunciation.”
John Ward, ever mindful of these things, once went straight to the source.
“General,” Ward once asked, “I’ve heard people pronounce your name NAY-land and NEE-land. What do you say?”
Neyland’s answer was direct. ‘’Where I come from, they say NEE -land.” Those are three votes from people who seemed to be in the know.
After Michigan’s Charles Woodson won the 1997 Heisman Trophy, Wolverine Watch, an independent weekly covering UM sports, termed the selection the “Not by Numbers Award.”
‘’Woodson’s victory over statistically corpulent Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning,” editor John Borton wrote, “caused the biggest uproar in the Volunteer State since the FDA’s identification of grits as hazardous waste.”
Are “free tickets” really “free”?
Every now and then, someone offers tickets for a sporting event, in some cases not requiring the exchange of cash or other considerations. It is, however, a classic case of no good deed going unpunished. “Free tickets” often come with significant strings.
We were sitting at S&S one night when a very nice lady appeared out of nowhere, offering two tickets (on the south side, right at mid-court, near the top of the lower level) and a parking pass for a Lady Vols game against Texas. Couldn’t turn that one down. In retrospect, we probably should have.
We arrived close to tip-off, and here came the questions, in roughly the tone of voice TSA agents use when they want to put the fear of God in an unsuspecting traveler. Maybe they were TSA agents in their day jobs. Maybe TSA agents were nicer. Maybe we didn’t look as if we “belonged.”
Here came the queries.
Who are you?
Where did you get these tickets?
Things, however, did get better as the game progressed. We were all on the same side, even when it might not have appeared so at the outset.
Ghosts under the Field?
There’s a rumor there are ghosts under the Neyland Stadium turf, apparitions capable of causing all kinds of dastardly occurrences for visiting teams. You want evidence?
Check out the 1981 Wichita State game. It was 21-21 in the fourth quarter, when Shocker tight end Anthony Jones caught a pass over the middle. Two Vols in pursuit collided, and Jones had a clear path to the south end zone. For no apparent reason, he started veering to his right toward the west sideline.
“I was sitting with former Vol baseball player Robbie Howard,” said Bob Campbell, the long-time caretaker of the Shields-Watkins Field turf, then a high school baseball coach. ‘’We saw him heading our way and Robbie said, ‘He’s going to run out of bounds.’ He did.”
Three plays later, the Vols intercepted a pass and marched to the game-winning field goal.
These memories, plus many others, are part of the Tennessee football experience that make being a fan so special.