Forget the numbers and the averages and the records that supposedly gauge a football crowd. Before a football stadium can be classified as a pit, the temperament of the fans must be considered.
Not only does a pit come packed with fans--always capacity, no matter what the number--those fans have to be willing to get into the action of the game. They come early. They come to stand up and make a lot of noise. They come to sing and stomp their feet. They come to intimidate and enjoy it.
Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium, for example, is a pit.
The numbers say that Neyland Stadium, with a capacity of 91,249, is the largest football stadium in the South and the second-largest college stadium in the nation. The Rose Bowl, which is home to the Bruins, has a capacity of 104,091, but it is not considered a college stadium. And it certainly is not a pit. The largest college stadium, therefore, is Michigan’s, with a capacity of 101,701.
But Michigan is not a pit, either. Not the way Tennessee is.
“The environment is tough at Tennessee,” UCLA Coach Terry Donahue said. “They have rabid fans. The main thing to do in Knoxville is to go and see the Volunteers play. And they are very, very supportive. They are quite vocal, quite supportive.
“The weather is usually tough, too. At this time of year, it’s hot and humid. If not that, there could be rain.
“Plus, you have to make a cross-country trip to get there.”
Donahue has spent a lot of time this week trying to get across to his players what they will be up against.
“Even hearing can be rough, real rough,” Donahue said. “You can’t hear the snap count and you can’t expect noise-consideration calls from the officials because they can’t stop the game all day. We’re working out some kind of hand signals for the plays.
“We like to audible to make things less confusing. If you’re a guard and you’ve got a hand down, you’re like a horse with blinders on. You can only see that one guy in front of you. If the defense is making changes, sometimes the quarterback is the only one who can see it and get you discombobulated.
“But if he can’t audible, there are going to be some dead plays, some plays that go right into the teeth of the defense.”
Still, Donahue managed to get out of Tennessee with a victory the only other time he brought a team here. UCLA won at Tennessee, 13-0, in 1978. Donahue is the only UCLA coach ever to win here.
Tennessee Coach Johnny Majors, agreeing with Donahue’s assessment of the Volunteers’ fans, added: “I’ve also seen opponents get very excited about coming here. It can be a neutralizing effect--unless you have better players.”
Tennessee has some very good players, starting with quarterback Tony Robinson. Majors, who has been coaching for 17 years, said: “Tony Robinson simply is the best talent I’ve seen since I’ve been around college football.”
Donahue called Robinson “a fabulous athlete, a gifted player.”
Robinson was the All-Southeastern Conference quarterback last year, throwing mostly to Tim McGee, the All-SEC split end.
Of the Tennessee wide receivers, Donahue said: “They have tremendous speed. It will be like having a track meet. Clearly, by leaps and bounds, they will have more speed on the field than anybody we’ll play this year.”
Tennessee is replacing its starting tailback of last season, Johnnie Jones, with sophomore Charles Wilson. And the two fullbacks who are returning are both coming off injuries and have missed contact practice.
All the buildup has centered on the Volunteer passing game. But Donahue warned: “They may talk about throwing, but Johnny Majors is like I am. He likes to have that element of hardball.”
Tennessee lost four starters from the offensive line.
Donahue claims to be seriously concerned about the Volunteer defense.
“They play a very complicated scheme on defense,” he said. “They’re the complete opposite of BYU, which has big, strong players who get in front of you and challenge you. Ken Donahue is just the opposite. He’ll show you a lot of different looks.”
Ken Donahue, who became Tennessee’s defensive coordinator last winter, was on the Tennessee coaching staff when Majors was a player (1954-56). But he was on Coach Paul (Bear) Bryant’s staff at Alabama for 21 years before resigning to return to his alma mater last winter.
Tennessee has the advantage of having seen UCLA play this season, when the Bruins opened at BYU. Majors said, “I was hoping they wouldn’t look that good.”
UCLA hasn’t seen Tennessee this season, since this is their opener. But, Majors said, “We’d be a little better off if we’d played.”
And UCLA would be a little better off if this game were anywhere but here.
“It’s a different atmosphere,” Donahue said. “It’s going to be rough. But good teams win on the road. You have to go into these tough places and win.”
Bruin Notes The game will be televised to most of the nation, with a smaller split of the viewers seeing Washington at BYU. . . . UCLA is 1-0 after beating BYU last Saturday. This is the opener for Tennessee. . . . UCLA has a record of 3-3-1 against Tennessee. . . . UCLA has not lost to Tennessee since 1970. . . . Coach Johnny Majors is starting his ninth season at Tennessee, where he has a record of 51-39-3. After five seasons at Iowa State and four years at Pitt, where he won the national championship in 1976, he has an overall record of 108-82-5. . . . With his next victory, Coach Terry Donahue will become the winningest coach in UCLA history. He is now tied with Bill Spaulding, who had a record of 72-51-8, compiled over 14 years, 1925-1938. Donahue has a 72-29-5 record after one game of his 10th season.
William Howard, a 6-foot, 225-pound fullback who was the Volunteers’ second-leading rusher last season, returned to Tennessee’s lineup last week after recovering from an off-season ankle injury. He is listed behind Sam Henderson and Jim Miller. Henderson had returned a week earlier from a leg injury that forced him to miss all of the ’84 season.
The 62-yard pass play from quarterback Matt Stevens to split end Mike Sherrard in the Bruins’ winning drive against BYU last Saturday was the longest for UCLA since Rick Neuheisel and Dokie Williams combined for a 75-yard touchdown play against Cal in 1982.