I made my first visit to Thompson Boling Arena in several years this past Saturday as the top-ranked Volunteers made the Florida Gators their 18th straight victim 73-61. Now, this wasn't the first sell out crowd I have ever witnessed in the Arena but it was by far the most electric, rowdy group of fans I've ever seen at any basketball venue.
Since I retired after 30 years of working for the Vol Network as their basketball TV announcer, I have preferred to watch the Big Orange play in the comfort of my man cave, warm and free of big crowds and in front of a big-screen television. Even though I plan to watch the remainder of this magical season at home, I'm glad I went to the game.
It's an entirely different experience.
My son, two grandsons and I arrived on campus an hour and a half before the game was scheduled to start and there was already a line wrapped around the Arena, waiting for the gates to open. I've never seen this before as far as men's basketball is concerned. The last time I saw anything close to that was when the Lady Vols of Coach Pat Summitt hosted UConn in a women's game several years ago. When the gates opened the home of the Vols became the loudest venue I've ever seen.
Now I do know something about big-time college basketball Arenas. I've worked games at Rupp Arena and Memorial Gym at Kentucky. I've done games at the Dean Smith Center at North Carolina and before that opened I worked at the old Carmichael Auditorium in Chapel Hill. I have also worked games in the Allen Fieldhouse at Kansas, and I have never been in a building with as much excitement as I witnessed when the Vols beat the Gators. I'll admit I have never seen a game at Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium, but I find it hard to believe a facility that seats 12,000 fewer fans than Thompson Boling can be as loud or boisterous.
It appears that Tennessee's starving fan base has really latched onto the amazing success of this Volunteers' basketball team. Back to back losing seasons in football has allowed Tennessee to take advantage of the best team in school history as the basketball Vols enter their fourth week as the top-ranked team in the country. I have no idea how much longer they will be ranked number one but the remaining six weeks of this 2019 season promises to be the most exciting time ever for Tennessee men's basketball and every game at home for the Big Orange will be a nightmare for opposing teams.