Fans rush field

KNOXVILLE, TN - Thousands of UT fans rushed Shields-Watkins Field in a avalanche of celebration moments after Tennessee took down Alabama on Oct. 15, 2022. 

Following Tennessee’s 52-49 win against Alabama, students and fans celebrated both on and off the field. From storming the field to burning couches and breaking TVs, the UT fanbase was more than ecstatic about the win over Alabama.

Although the celebration of the historic victory was well-deserved, some fans took their excitement to a destructive – and expensive – level. As Vol Network legend John Ward once said, “pandemonium reigns!”

After the last-second field goal by Chase McGrath, fans rushed the field for the first time since the 1998 victory against Florida.

The entire field was covered by a sea of orange within minutes after the win. Thousands of people brought their victory cigars and lit them for the first time since 2006.

Senior Anna Cykoski described her emotions as she rushed the field with thousands of students.

“Neyland was electric. Tears streamed down my face as ‘Dixieland Delight’ blasted through the speakers and we jumped onto the field. The crowd roared as the goal posts were torn down, hands stretching out to touch them on their journey to the river,” Cykoski said. “My hands were shaking as I lit my cigar to celebrate, joining thousands of others in this special tradition.”

Cykoski said that as a lifelong Tennessee fan, this was a moment she will share with her future children and grandchildren.

Students were in disbelief that they were a part of this historic moment. Those who grew up as Vols fans had heard about the football traditions, but did not expect to ever be a part of them.

Junior Miles Bonn explained how valuable the moment was to him as a student.

“I will forever remember that Saturday night when we made that field goal. It felt like everything went numb and was moving in slow motion. The Vols are a different breed and there’s no stopping us now,” Bonn said.

Other students were happy to finally have something to celebrate. Garrett Russell, a junior and Knoxville native, explained how the victory redefined the experience of being a UT fan.

“Rushing the field was a dream come true. All the pain that has come with being a Vol fan the past 20 years was worth it. The goal posts are ours and the Vols are back,” Russell said.

UT alumni have also been waiting a long time for a win like this. Ally Willoughby (‘22) and her friends chose this game as their reunion weekend and they were not prepared for the experience that they got. She said that she was overwhelmed with emotions being back in a place that feels like home and celebrating with 100,000 fans – it felt even more special for her as an alumni.

While many people rushed the field without facing injury, some did not. Immediately after the winning kick, people in the student section were forcibly pushed down the stands to run onto the field. Junior Abby Brewer returned home with a bruise the size of a softball, but she said that she would do it again in a heartbeat to experience the joy of beating Alabama.

“When I was jumping the wall the crowd pushed into me causing me to slip slightly before jumping down onto the field. I wasn’t able to jump far enough from the wall so the side of my upper thigh smacked the wall. While it did hurt immensely when it happened, I didn’t have time to care about it. I ran onto the field and cheered with everyone else,” Brewer said.

Fans were quick to tear down the goalposts on both the north and south sides of the field. A piece of the upright was then taken out of the stadium and transported along Cumberland Avenue and thrown into the Tennessee River. This tradition first began when UT beat Alabama in 1982 and fans tore the goal posts down.

Senior Interfraternity Council President Michael Rodriguez is one of the many fans who carried a goal post out of Neyland and to the Tennessee River.

“The emotions I experienced that night are unlike any other during my time at UT. It felt as if the last four years of struggles finally just shed right off. Hearing alumni always talk about the Golden Ages of Tennessee football in the ‘90s made me envious that I’d never experience something of that nature,” Rodriguez said.

“But there I was, carrying the goalpost down Cumberland with hundreds of my fellow peers, taking a dip into the river and carrying it right back out – it just felt right.”

Only a few hours after the game, madness and chaos ensued on the Strip. According to Knoxville Police Department, around 11 p.m. following the game, gunshots were fired on Cumberland Avenue, where many fans were still out celebrating.

A man was shot in his hands and was transported to UT Medical Center with non-life threatening injuries. The police do not believe there was any connection between the victim and the multiple shooters, but the investigation into the shooting is still ongoing.

UT junior Ashley Sanderson works at University Liquors on the Strip and witnessed the shooting while she was standing behind the counter. Sanderson said she heard around seven gunshots and had to hide in the store’s cooler room.

“I just witnessed mad chaos, everyone was running … there was a mass of people standing on the other side of the tape watching everything happen,” Sanderson said.

“I was so excited to be celebrating beating Alabama, I never thought anything like that would happen … but I felt so unsafe on the Strip because I didn’t know if someone else would pull out their gun and start shooting at people … I’m glad that no one died.”

Later in the night, fans in Fort Sanders took to burning things and smashing glass as a form of celebrating the Vols’ victory.

Senior Mary Demere lives on Clinch Avenue and saw people burning furniture after returning home from the game. Demere’s neighbors set an old cabinet on fire and were standing around it playing “Rocky Top.” She said that there was a large cloud of black smoke and then firemen arrived.

Junior Chris Meyers was also in Fort Sanders with his friends and witnessed multiple fires.

“It was wild. We were in the Fort and there were burning couches in the middle of the streets, people crowded on roofs. The glow of the fires lit up everyone’s orange jerseys and orange dresses. It was a surreal experience,” Meyers said.

Some of the parties that occurred near Clinch Avenue were so large that people were blocking the entire street. There were fireworks going off, people burning doors and couches lying in the middle of the road.

With a chaotic but eventful night, Vols fans are going to remember this one for a long time.

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