Tennessee Football's Psychological Warfare: The Aura of "Rocky Top"

tre wellsCorrespondent IAugust 5, 2009

KNOXVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 16:  The Pride of the Southland Band, the official band of the University of Tennessee Volunteers, plays music during the game against the University of Florida Gators on September 16, 2006 at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee.  The Gators won 21-20.  (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

If you are a fan of a visiting team to Neyland Stadium, beware. Sensory overload is a common concern for those who are not accustomed to the intense passion that surrounds the mountains of East Tennessee like a low lying cloud.

The smell of hickory smoked baby back ribs basting on the grill can lure you from one tailgate party to another. Wash a few bites down with the smooth taste of a Tennessee whiskey, homemade or not, and you are instantly better off than you were a few minutes ago.

As you make your way into the stadium, pack your shades.

The sight of a certain single color will dominate your periphery like the ocean does a lone buoy. You could live amidst construction sites the rest of your life, be a guard for state inmates, and vacation in the Florida fruit groves, and you will still never see as much orange as you will be swimming in for the next three hours.

In addition, there should be a sign warning older fans who suffer from heart conditions. The first touchdown by the home team, or a goal line stand against the opponent, will launch the 108,000 plus fans into a frenzy causing you to feel as if your ribs have been shaken like a pair of maracas.

But the most intimidating sense you will experience in your trip to Knoxville, Tennessee is the sound you hear, and will hear, playing over and over...and over and over.

Ah, the Tennessee fight song you say.

Actually it’s not.

Despite common perception, Rocky Top is only the “unofficial” fight song of the Tennessee Volunteers. The true honor goes to a song entitled Down the Field, which is a version of an older Yale fight song by the same name. In case you are wondering, no it does not mention “looking for a moonshine still” as does it’s bluegrass counterpart.

And while you can hear the Pride of the Southland Band playing Down the Field from time to time, it is not the song you will be humming, willingly or not, when you leave the game.

That particular honor goes to Rocky Top.

Written in 1967 by Felice and Beaudloux Bryant (ironically, no relation to Bear), the song became a Top 40 hit in 1968. It was first played by Tennessee’s marching band in 1972 and 10 years later was adopted as the fifth Tennessee state song.

It’s a song that has been recorded by Buck Owens, The Osborne Brothers, Lynn Anderson, Terry Gibb, Dinah Shore, Chet Atkins, Boots Randolph, Glen Campbell, and Dolly Parton, and has been recorded more than any Bluegrass song in history.

But there are no royalties being paid with each rendition done in the stadium on football Saturdays.

According to Wikipedia, “The University of Tennessee has been granted a perpetual license to play the song as much and as often as success on the field dictates by the copyright holders, House of Bryant.”

“As much and as often”, is exactly how much the Pride of the Southland bands prefers to play the song to the delight of UT fans and the discomfort of opposing fans.

It’s a song that has become so beloved by UT fans not only because it is their unofficial fight song, but because it is so annoying to opposing fans.

Realistically the song is played dozens of times during the course of the game, though opposing fans would guess it’s much closer to 100.

Head coach Lane Kiffin set off fireworks his first week on the job by saying he couldn’t wait to hear Rocky Top played after they beat Florida. He has some people up on the hill believing it could happen. Of course they could just be drinking the kool-aid…..or should I say moonshine.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.