When a football game is getting ready to start at the University of Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, the Vol fans often go into a cheering frenzy as the team runs out of the locker room and through the T.
But among the aggressive shouts are also a few softer “oohs” and “aahs,’ and perhaps even an “isn’t he adorable!”
Those are the people who are noticing Smokey, the bluetick hound mascot, who leads the team with his handler through the T at every home game.
Having a Smokey dog at UT games has been a tradition since 1953, with the current one – Smokey IX – having served as the official mascot since 2004.
A lot of interesting stories have existed regarding all the hound mascots the school has had, and they are now chronicled in a new book written by UT sports historian Tom Mattingly and current dog owner Earl Hudson.
The University of Tennessee Press book, “Smokey: The True Stories behind the University of Tennessee’s Beloved Mascot,” discusses the popularity of the dog among Vol fans and how the selection of the “Vols’ best friend” began.
Somewhat surprisingly, the origin of Smokey had a connection to Chattanooga.
About 1949, a Knoxville resident named the Rev. W.C. “Bill” Brooks was coon hunting in some woods in North Georgia near Chattanooga.
Mr. Hudson, the brother-in-law of the late Mr. Brooks, said over the telephone recently that Mr. Brooks and some others had let their dogs loose and were waiting to see if their animals could track down some raccoons.
“They built a fire and listened to the howls,” said Mr. Hudson, who is not sure of the exact location of the hunting excursion. “They could tell whose dog was who.”
Mr. Brooks’ dog was evidently not tracking down many raccoons, but another dog was. As a result, Mr. Brooks realized that other dog was his kind of dog.
“He said, ‘Hey, I’ve got to have that dog,’ “ Mr. Hudson recalled.
Mr. Brooks ended up buying the dog from a fellow hunter, whose identity he never divulged. Later, the special dog was selected as the first official mascot for UT following a contest during the Mississippi State football game on Sept. 26, 1953.
By then, Mr. Brooks was a 42-year-old operator of a clutch shop and was head of missions for the Knox County Baptist Association, the book reveals. He was also a veteran of the Army.
The story of the dog’s connection to UT football had evolved after the UT Pep Club under president Stuart Worden, now a financial planner in Knoxville, was to select a mascot.
At the time, UT spirit was not overly great, despite the success of the football team under legendary coach Gen. Robert Neyland, who had finished his coaching career the previous season.
Gen. Neyland was not much for coming to pep rallies or trying to get the students worked up – as UT basketball coach Bruce Pearl would later be – and this may have contributed to the lack of outward enthusiasm among the Vol faithful at the time.
So those involved thought the selection of a mascot might help improve school spirit, the book says.
A push had also been made at the time to have a Tennessee walking horse as a mascot, and the large animals did become common scenes at UT home and away games for a number of years after that. These days, a champion walking horse still takes a few laps around the Neyland Stadium field an hour or so before the homecoming game, but that is the only time they appear.
But a bluetick hound is still on the sidelines barking for his Vols every game.
According to the book, the 1953 contest in which Smokey I was selected included a parade of the approximately 20 competing dogs up the cheerleaders’ ramp. The dog that received the most cheers was the one that would be selected.
Mr. Brooks’ dog that he had first seen down near Chattanooga was the last to be paraded. His name was Brooks’ Blue Smokey, and when the contest organizers introduced him as old Smokey, the crowd started cheering a lot.
As a result, he started barking. That led to more cheering and more barking, and little doubt resulted which mascot was going to be selected.
The dog, which was to be called Smokey, was unveiled the next week at the Duke game, which was supposedly the first Tennessee game Mr. Brooks and his wife, Mildred, ever attended. Among those helping escort the dog to the middle of the field while dressed in a country-style “Li’l Abner”-themed costume was Wes Pritchard of Cleveland, Tenn.
Smokey officially began serving at Tennessee games from start to finish the next week against the University of Chattanooga.
Reportedly, Mr. Brooks initially agreed to keep and take care of the Smokeys and make arrangements to get them to the games. Later, his wife began taking care of the dogs.
More recently, Mr. Brooks’ brother-in-law, Mr. Hudson, began caring for them at his Mountaincrest Drive home in the Halls area, and now his son, Charles, keeps Smokey IX near the Beaver Brook Country Club, also in the Halls area north of Knoxville.
Since 1977, members of the school’s Alpha Gamma Rho student agricultural fraternity have accompanied Smokey to and from the games and have served as his on-field handlers.
A person with a Chattanooga connection who was associated with Smokey in the early days was the Rev. Gordon Goodgame, who went on to serve as senior minister at First-Centenary United Methodist Church in downtown Chattanooga from 1981-90.
He had been involved as pep club president and pep coordinator and helped keep Smokey when Mr. Brooks could not make the games. Mr. Goodgame is quoted several times in the book about his experiences.
The Smokey dogs have also had some events happen to them that have either been forgotten or did not make as much news outside Knoxville.
For example, Smokey I unfortunately was killed after being struck by a vehicle in January 1955 on what is now Old Rutledge Pike near the Brooks’ home in East Knox County. He had been kept in the garage during a cold night, but a door was accidentally left unfastened and he ventured out.
After direct descendant Smokey II was made the new mascot, he was “dognapped” before the 1955 Kentucky game by some Kentucky students who had stopped by the Brooks’ home claiming they were supposed to take Smokey for some pictures.
One of the students was a former UT student, Beauchamp Brogan, who was then in law school at Kentucky. The dog was returned to Mr. Brooks at Kentucky’s old Stoll Field before the game eight days later.
By then, Tennessee fans realized how important having a Smokey had become to the Vol faithful. And, as the book points out, he remains so today.
Tom Mattingly, left, and Earl Hudson at UT bookstore book signing.