(WBIR - Knoxville) Die-hard fans of the University of Tennessee proudly proclaim their status as a "Vol for life." But one of the newest traditions in a long list of rituals for the Volunteers takes fans to the final resting place of the program's most successful coach.
"This is Robert Neyland's grave," said UT alumnus Clint Cunningham. "On the eve before the first game to start the season, we've started coming to his grave as a good omen, to salute him, and to ask for his blessing for a great season."
Cunningham started the ritual a few years ago after reading General Neyland's biography.
"I found out he was buried in Tennessee. And I just looked up where it was and was surprised to find out it was in Knoxville, even though he did not die here," said Cunningham. "He left the school a few times when called to serve in the Army and also when he died, but he always came back to Knoxville."
Neyland's name lives on at Neyland Stadium and in the record books as the engineer of four national championships. The U.S. Army General is buried with his wife in the Knoxville National Cemetery reserved for military veterans.
Cunningham and a small group of friends began visiting the headstone of the man who is the cornerstone for the Volunteer football program and named the event, "General Neyland's Revival."
"Call it whatever you want to call it, hocus pocus. It's just to come out here, see the general, and hope for a good season. I mean, if you're a Volunteer fan, I definitely think it's important to come out here and see him. He is one of the best coaches we ever had, he created all the maxims, and he designed the entire stadium."
"He was a great man. You always need good omens for the start of the season, so why not come out here and ask the General for it? We hang out with him and toast to him the day before the start of the season," said UT fan Carl Bowers. "It's like Butch Jones says, we have great traditions here but we build upon those traditions as well."
Cunningham and Bowers said they will likely hold "General Neyland's Revival" on Saturday at around 4:00 p.m. While the event began with a small group of friends, they would be thrilled to have more UT fans pay homage to General Neyland.
"Whoever wants to come, hey come with us. Come see Neyland's grave. It's definitely something I'm not ever going to stop doing as long as I'm here. I don't care if we win or lose, I'm just glad I'm rooting for the Big Orange."
Directions to Neyland's Grave
General Robert Neyland is buried at the Knoxville National Cemetery at 939 Tyson Street in Knoxville, just north of Downtown Knoxville off Broadway Street.
Brigadier General Robert Reese Neyland and his wife Ada are interred in Section X, Grave 16A.
When entering the cemetery, General Neyland's grave is the eighth headstone to the left/south of the entrance gate. It is on the first row of headstones closest to the iron fence along Tyson Street.