Tennessee Truth or Tall Tale: Neyland Stadium

9:11 PM, Nov 3, 2011   |    comments
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Part of the plot of the movie "The Blind Side" centers on how SEC coaches recruited a high school football player. Coach Phil Fulmer even had a role.

However, UT also had another role in the film. Here is how the high school player's tutor talked him out of signing with UT. 

"They have an outstanding science department. You know what they're famous for? They work with the FBI to study the effects of soil on decomposing body parts. What's that mean? When the police find a body, the fine folks at the University of Tennessee help them out. Oooh. They have lot of body parts, arms and legs and hands from hospitals and medical schools. And you know where they store them? Right underneath the football field. So while it's fine and dandy to have a 100,000 fans cheering for you, the ones you should be worried about are the ones right under the turf. They're said to poke up through the ground and grab ya!"

Neyland Stadium is one of Tennessee's most iconic landmarks, an SEC sanctuary which is rick in tradition both old and new.

However, does the gameday home to more than 100,000 hold a secret? For the answer, we look through the shadows of the stadium walls, through a side door east of the field and down an old hallway hidden under the stands.

"The people think there are bodies buried under the, under the field - that's not true," said Dr. Bill Bass. 

However it is not entirely fiction. The skeletons are stored at Neyland Stadium in the offices of UT's forensic anthropology department. Shelf after shelf, box after box, each contain a complete human skeleton and there are a lot of them.

"There are - in the football stadium there probably 5,000 skeletons," said Bass.

Those 5,000 sets of remains make up the largest modern skeleton collection in the United States. It started in Knoxville more than three decades ago by world famous anthropologist and author Dr. Bill Bass. 

What does Bass think about his department's role in the Blind Side? "It's a good movie - it's a very good movie, there are a few things in there that are not true..There are skeletons under the stadium, but it's not under the field and the hokey part of it was, - she told him if he running down a field a hand will reach up out of the field and grab his leg - well you know, that's not true," said Bass. 

Neyland's 5,000 skeletons came from a place hidden away under lock and key at a confidential location in Knox County. Behind a fence is UT's world renowned forensic anthropology center and outdoor research facility also known as The Body Farm. 

It is the first of its kind in the country and is the birthplace of Dr. Bass's ground breaking research that has forever changed law enforcement in America. 

"This facility really is a national treasure from the FBI's perspective - both with Dr. Bass and the size and scope of the human remains collection that is here," said FBI Special Agent in Charge Rick Lambert. 

The FBI wants people to realize and remember the Body Farm may seem like a creepy place. It is full of decaying bodies. In fact, while our cameras were there, Dr. Bass showed us body after body in various stages of decomposition which were scattered across three acres. 

However officials said the research generated from the facility has and will continue changing people's lives and in many cases giving families answers during their darkest days. 

"A lot of criminals would not be brought to justice who otherwise aren't because of the experience and the expertise that exist right here," said Lambert. "You know, it's bad enough to be dead, people don't like for their loved ones to disappear and then they don't know where they are," said Bass. 

Bodies are not buried under Neyland's field, however, the Body Farm does store remains in the stadium. Dr. Bass said he didn't know about the Body Farm reference in the movie until the film came out. 

A teller at his bank told him about it after she saw it. Despite Fulmer's role in the film he also learned about the Body Farm reference while watching the finished product.

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