Price tag for Big Orange bacchanal unclear

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Source: University of Tennessee

This party was fated to happen. 

When the University of Tennessee Volunteers upset Alabama 52-49 on Saturday, a veritable sea of UT fans swarmed the field at Neyland Stadium. 

Tens of thousands of deliriously happy Big Orange fanatics cheered, danced, and partied long into the night. Fifteen years of frustration went up in a cloud of cigar smoke. The goalposts were manhandled from the stadium and reportedly ended up in the Tennessee River. 

But every party has to end sometime, and when Sunday morning finally dawned the sunlight fell upon local authorities from all levels who were in the process of tallying up the costs of the Big Orange bacchanal.

The Southeastern Conference, for instance, levied a whopping $100,000 fine against UT for allowing its fans to storm the field. (It should be noted that SEC officials apparently haven’t given much thought on how to prevent such an outcome, and it’s also a safe bet that virtually no one in the Vol Nation gives a damn about their opinions, anyway). 

Less amusingly, UT officials actually had the chutzpah to troll the school’s alumni into paying to replace the goalposts. Look, the UT’s Athletics Department reported $133 million in expenditures last year, and there’s no way the Vols aren’t raking in metric tons of cash on a daily basis right now. Plus, it was reported by numerous sources that a set of replacement posts had already been fabricated in anticipation of game day.

Gouging the fan base for having the unmitigated gaul to actually get excited about the football program is shameful and completely unnecessary. On the other hand, the Big Orange nation had pledged almost $65,000 (around 43% of the estimated cost) as of 10:45 p.m. Sunday, so apparently a lot of folks didn’t mind ponying up….

As the postgame party rolled into the early morning hours, there were reports of everything from widespread public drunkenness to numerous acts of petty vandalism on the UT campus and in the streets of the adjoining Fort Sanders neighborhood.

Fireworks erupt as the Tennessee Vols cement their upset victory over Alabama with a game-winning field goal. (Source: UT)

Interestingly enough, local police agencies kept mum about their response on Sunday. Spokespersons for the Knoxville Police Department and UT Police Department didn’t respond to requests for information about arrests, property damage, or even to confirm the ultimate fate of the uprights that were carried away.

A quick check of county jail records from the Knox County Sheriff’s Office reflected only business as usual for a Saturday night, but that could change once all the weekend’s warrants are filed with the opening of the court system today. 

The only postgame incident that was passed along by authorities was a non-fatal (but certainly painful) shooting that took place on the Cumberland Avenue “Strip” just after 11 p.m. Saturday.

Apparently, KPD officers heard gunshots coming from the parking lot of University Liquors and found a 65-year-old man who had suffered bullet wounds to both of his hands. He was taken to the University of Tennessee Medical Center for treatment, and police were still trying to figure out who was responsible the following night.

“Witnesses reported that multiple unknown black males and one unknown white male were involved in the shooting, ran from the scene and possibly blended into to the crowd. It is not believed that the victim had any connection to or prior interaction with the suspects,” a KPD spokesperson said.

It’s also worth pointing out that not everyone in East Tennessee was in a mood to celebrate after the game.

In fact, it appeared that quite a few friendships ended in a series of clashes on social media that erupted when some Knoxvillians complained that the crowd was too unruly for their comfort zones. 

One commenter even posted a now-famous photo of a fan climbing on the goalposts and appended the remark “January 6, anyone?” to it. Others complained that there had been “shoving” in the crowd, and they also passed on a rumor that a young child from Alabama had witnessed a middle-finger salute proffered by a Vols fan. 

Hard Knox Wire isn’t going to name names or reproduce everything that was said on Facebook, Twitter or other social media sites on Sunday. Doing so would be pointless and arguably petty. But we do think it’s of at least passing interest to note that a lot of people apparently spent a good chunk of their day publicly lamenting the fact that college sports have so much popular support.

Personally, we’re overjoyed the crowd was as well-behaved as it was. Around 100,000 frothing football fans (many of them inebriated) poured onto the field and then into the streets to party like it was 1998 all over again. Based on everything we’ve heard so far, no one was killed and there was only one serious injury.

It’s been a long, long time since the Vols — who are possibly the only thing that most people in our region agree upon — had something to celebrate. We appreciate the fact that most Big Orange fans apparently know how to have a whole lot of fun without causing a lot of hurt.

Who would’ve predicted that on Saturday morning?

Fans swarm the field after Saturday’s win over Alabama. (Source: UT)

J.J. Stambaugh can be reached at jjstambaugh@hardknoxwire.com.

Published on October 17, 2022.