What city had the best police escorts for visiting teams to get into and out of town? No one knows for sure, but here are some thoughts, gleaned from many years experience.
Birmingham and Memphis top the list. It’s not that far from Legion Field or from Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium to those cities’ respective airports, but they do it first-rate. So does Tuscaloosa, for that matter.
Hunker down in your seat on the bus and enjoy the show, complete with motorcycle cops coming at you from nearly every direction, front and back, sirens a-blazing. There are the obligatory “one-finger salutes” from the fans, more prevalent if the Vols won than if they hadn’t.
They do a better job at Georgia once the powers-that-be decided that the team would fly back in several small planes out of Athens, rather than a multi-hour trip to Atlanta for a fewer than 30 minute flight from beautiful Hartsfield to Knoxville. The radio talk shows after the games were always a hoot.
(When the team buses would pull up to the entrance to Hartsfield, usually V-E-R-Y early in the a.m., there was always great scurrying about, what with everyone in charge seeming to be surprised when the buses arrived.)
Arkansas was always fun, whether going to the old airport, one where Delta wouldn’t land one year, or a newer version a considerable distance from town, where Delta would. So was Little Rock.
The airport in Gainesville wasn’t bad, although the team plane once had to wait for the U.T. plane to take off one year before it did. There’s a scary story about the trip from Ocala to Gainesville in 1977, one to be saved for another day.
The worst was in Boston one year, when the escort seemed to stop for every red light, railroad crossing, or crosswalk, timed, it seemed, by the same folks who set up the Knoxville system on Kingston Pike just past Western Plaza. It took an interminably long time to get to the airport, and that was nearly 30 years ago.
The conclusion? Give Birmingham and Memphis a pat on the back. They take the prize, getting the team to and from the stadium and the hotel and the airport.
That’s the way things seem looking back.
Thursday, Jan. 13, 2017