clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

More than 10,000 BYU fans among Neyland Stadium crowd for Cougars-Tennessee game

Thousands of blue-clad BYU supporters attended Alumni Foundation tailgating event before kickoff Saturday night.

BYU fans prepare for the game with Tennessee in Knoxville on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019.
BYU fans prepare for the game with Tennessee in Knoxville on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019.
Scott G Winterton

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Decked out in an orange Peyton Manning No. 16 jersey, Owen Hughes of Knoxville surveyed the scene Saturday afternoon at the World’s Fair Park a few blocks away from Neyland Stadium and couldn’t believe what he was seeing.

“There’s blue everywhere — here, and even driving through the downtown area this morning,” said Hughes. “It’s just an ocean of blue.”

Hughes stopped by the BYU Alumni Tailgate Party to mingle with fellow members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and to support one of the event’s organizers, his sister-in-law, Jennifer Hughes.

“I will be torn inside when the game starts,” Owen Hughes said. “I like the Vols, but I also have a lot of connections and ties to BYU, too.”

According to various local media reports, between 10,000 and 15,000 BYU fans were expected to attend Saturday night’s first meeting between BYU and Tennessee at the 103,000-seat stadium.

Seth Killingbeck, a 2003 BYU graduate who is a corporate attorney in Nashville, about a three-hour drive away, wasn’t surprised at the turnout for the tailgating party or the game.

“This is the Southeast. We do tailgating. We have been waiting for this for a long time. It is great to have the Cougars here,” said Killingbeck, who is on the Board of Directors of the BYU Alumni Association with direct responsibility over the Southeastern United States.

According to the caterer, about 5,000 fans attended the tailgating event, Killingbeck said while enjoying some of the barbecue’s offerings. The Utah-based band The National Parks were flown in from Provo and provided live music.

The Nashville Chapter of the BYU Alumni Foundation sold 3,500 tickets through an agreement it made with UT, and BYU sold out its initial allotment of 2,100 tickets months ago.

Killingbeck said the Southeastern Region includes 20,000 BYU alums. He put on a similar event a few years ago when BYU played at Middle Tennessee State in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and has another planned in three weeks in Tampa, Florida, when the Cougars visit South Florida.

That event will include live alligators, a snowball fight, and catering from Utah-based restaurant Cafe Rio.

“We are trying to set the standard,” Killingbeck said. “Tailgating is a hot topic at BYU right now, and we are trying to lead the way here in the South and show them how to do it.”

Killingbeck said the majority of BYU fans in town Saturday were from the Southeast, but at least one made the trip from Orem to witness the Cougars’ arrival in SEC country for the first time since 2017 at Mississippi State.

“I’m way surprised at how many BYU fans are here,” said Ryan Holdaway, a 40-year-old from Orem.

Darren Garcia, who went to BYU for his undergraduate and masters degrees, is in graduate school at Tennessee but was still there supporting the Cougars.

“A lot of people here at the alumni event who are from BYU would be wearing orange any other day, or tailgating elsewhere,” Garcia said. “It is great to have them here supporting BYU, if only for just this one weekend.”

Garcia said most SEC schools bring a similar number of fans to Tennessee, but doubts that any other program west of the Mississippi could pull it off.

“That’s kind of neat,” he said. “These Tennessee fans are also amazed.”

Killingbeck said the BYU alumni teamed up with a local religion-based charity called KARM — Knoxville Area Rescue Ministries — and collected canned food, coats and cash to assist in the charity’s efforts in the region.

“We are just trying to make a positive impact in the area, and support the Cougars,” he said.