Before 1972, night games were not part of the Tennessee football experience. There were no lights at Shields-Watkins Field/Neyland Stadium, and the Vols played sparingly under the lights on the road or in bowl games.
There were games under the lights at Florida and against Arkansas in the Liberty Bowl in 1971, at Memphis State in 1969, at Rice and against Auburn at Legion Field in 1968, against Oklahoma in the 1968 Orange Bowl, at UCLA in 1967, against Mississippi State in 1964 at Crump Stadium in Memphis, and the debut game under the lights at LSU in 1944. That’s nine night games in the first 77 years of recorded Tennessee history.
That all changed in 1972 when Tennessee and Penn State kicked off under the lights Sept. 16, in a rematch of the 1971 contest, won by Tennessee, 31-11. Tennessee was ranked No. 7, Penn State No. 6. Kickoff was 7:30 p.m.
The game was not on television and there was no ESPN, so precious few other than the 71,647 present for the history-making encounter remember exactly what it was like.
“It was just an electric situation,” Bill Battle said of the first encounter under the lights in Knoxville. “That’s the only way I can describe it. The players just looked faster and quicker.”
Tennessee won 28-21, as Condredge Holloway and Haskel Stanback made big play after big play
“This was a big game for us, but losing it doesn’t mean the end of our season,” Paterno told Glenn Sheely, sports editor of the Daily Collegian afterwards. “…Our kids came back from what could have been a disaster game. They showed their poise.”
He was right, the Nittany Lions reeled off 10 straight victories on their way to a Sugar Bowl matchup with Oklahoma. They finished 10-2 after losing to Oklahoma.
Battle praised his colleague across the field after the game.
“I was never a great Joe Paterno fan,” Bill said,” but I became one after the two games we played. After the game, he asked me if he could speak to our team.
‘After taking care of his team and the media, he came over and congratulated and shook hands with our players. His classiest line was, “I told the people in State College I was not leaving Knoxville without being in the winning dressing room, but I didn’t envision it being this way.’ Form that point on, I became a believer in Joe Paterno. He coaches the way it’s supposed to be done.”
As for night football, Vol fans have taken to the nocturnal contests with the same zeal they’ve always held for day games.
Saturday, June 27, 2105
P.S. Great story from John Adams here.