Sep 12

My Crazy Saturday

Posted By:Brett Haynes - Greenville, SC  Tags:

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I will never forget my first trip to Neyland Stadium - and it wasn't because of the football. College football never ceases to amaze me. From crazy plays to the antics of fans, I thought I had pretty much seen it all. Then, in the blink of an eye, I was part of an experience that I never could have imagined and will not soon forget. Fun and games flew out the window when I was caught in a rain and lightning storm with 103,000 people - surrounded by metal bleachers...

I will get to this past Saturday's football here in my next article, but first let me try (emphasize try) to describe one of the most terrifying moments in my 32 years here on planet Earth.

The drive into Knoxville should have been foreshadowing of what was to come later that evening. At 9 AM the mobile entered Knoxville, TN in a driving rain which was not allowing me to see fifty feet ahead of me. At times I was going as slow as five mph - hazard lights on - trying to find my way around a place I had never been. Miraculously, I was able to find a nice tailgating lot close to the stadium and I parked. Then, I sat in the pouring rain for another couple of hours, watching the radar on my laptop. Thanks to radar, I knew the system would blow through, and that I would in fact have a good day at UT.

The weather gave way to clear skies around lunchtime, and up until the game the festivities and people's moods just kept getting better! In fact, by 6 PM when it was time to pack up the tailgate and start to head in, I don't think anyone (at least no one I was talking to) was the least bit concerned about the weather.

After climbing a couple of million steps to get to my seat at the very top of old Rocky Top, I took my place and settled in for a nice long (cough, cough) evening of top-notch college football. The breeze was there and the temperature was in the mid-70's. It was ideal. Almost too good.

Tennessee kicked a couple of field goals, Oregon fumbled, and the place was alive with energy.

Suddenly - and I do mean suddenly - the skies turned a dark I have not seen in a long, long time. Yes, I know, it was getting to be night, and usually at night the skies get dark. I know this. But these skies were darker than dark. Blacker than my Black Lab. As dark as the 9/11 date which it happened to be.

Within seconds, lightning began to pop, rain began to fall, and the PA announcer came on to say the game had been suspended because inclement weather had been spotted "within six miles" of the Knoxville area. Within six miles?! Try on top of us!

This is when it got scary. Soaking wet fans began a mass exodus from all parts of the stadium, and this stadium just wasn't designed for this. I do not know how the lower deck was handling the situation, but in the upper deck, panic had set in. The tunnels were too small for this many people at once, and the areas underneath the stands in Neyland's upper decks were not designed for a sudden mass exodus - but that's what was happening. Thousands and thousands of fans were trying to cram through tunnels and into the concourse areas - areas that I swear are no wider than eight or ten feet in places.

Kids (and some adults) were crying. Some folks were screaming at others to get out of the way. Others just sat as tightly as they could under their ponchos or raincoats knowing there was very little chance to actually get under the stadium. It was like a scene straight out of a movie - a horror movie. I wanted to film this (actually did at the start, see below), but it was raining so hard that it would have ruined my camera had I kept it out a few seconds longer. It was NUTS.

There are three things I just don't mess with: heights, snakes and lightning. And while I was in the nose-bleed section of this stadium, the heights were the last thing on my mind. Lightning was blowing up the sky in epic fashion, and I wanted out of it so bad I can't begin to tell you. All I could do was wait with the rest - in a torrential downpour - for a half hour or so, with lighting bolts going off every 15 or 20 seconds to the "ooooh's" and "aaahh's" of the 103,000 fans.

This is where the idea of trying to capture a moment in black and white text can never describe the way it really was. It was not cool at all. It was terrifying. It was a very helpless feeling to be in a situation where there was absolutely nothing you could do but hope nobody gets struck by lightning. We were just exposed, and that is all there was to it...

Finally, I was able to get onto the concourse level under the stands, but I am not sure if this was much of an improvement. Crammed in together like sardines, Oregon and UT fans had little room to breathe without getting a whiff of some odor of a drunk breath or someone who was just plain too close for comfort. I don't know how many times I got my flip-flopped feet stepped on. Didn't matter.

After another 30 minutes or so I was able to get to the ramp to leave. The game was supposed to start back at some point, but at the time, this re-start time was unclear. Besides, I literally could have been standing in six feet of water for the last hour and it would have been absolutely no different. I was soaking, soaking wet.

Relieved that I had made it back to my car, I decided just to take it home. It was getting late, and I had a three hour drive back to Greenville. It was cold and I didnt have a single piece of dry clothing. I drove home boxers only, heat on, sitting on a towel. It was quite comical by now, and I think I even laughed out loud as I pulled out of town and hit I-40...

So here I am at my computer, knowing (just like I knew last night) that this writeup will not do justice to what this experience was really like. I thought before yesterday that I had seen just about everything the college football world had to offer.

Turns out I was wrong!


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