But it wasn’t for a lack of fan spirit, starting with a pre-game tailgate party that ranged from a single grill to a fully outfitted mobile fan cave.
Alumni from East Tennessee State University’s football teams of the past stopped by Darren and Kortney Caldwell’s “Buc Mobile” Thursday evening to scribe their names onto his “Alumni Wall.”
Renovated to serve as a portable tailgating unit to make the trek from their home in Bluff City, the “Buc Mobile” came complete with bright green turf, a built-in bar, seating, bean-bag-toss receptacles and anything a portable party could need.
“We had 11 people in the back of that when it was raining at a baseball game,” Darren Caldwell said. He graduated from ETSU in 2009, having played on the baseball team.
One alumnus, John Walton, an All-American Buccaneer in 1969, hopped into the back of the Caldwell’s party mobile and accidentally spilled some of his red cup beverage, drawing a joke from the ship’s captain.
“Don’t worry, that isn’t the first spill we’ve had in the Buc Mobile, and it won’t be the last,” he said.
All across parking lots surrounding Kermit Tipton stadium on Science Hill High School’s campus were unloaded vehicles, with tents to cover their individual tailgate setups. The smell of grilled meats and sounds of country and rap songs from big speakers were familiar to Buccaneer fans, anticipating the restart of ETSU’s football program, which had gone away after the 2003 season.
Students and fans bounced around from tent to tent, using the social event as a way to get jacked up to watch the game.
Bobby Fee and Levi Graham, both ETSU sophomores, arrived just before the allowed 3:30 p.m. tailgating start, firing up their grill, getting their coolers and chairs ready and preparing for this first game back against Georgia’s Kennesaw State.
They were split on who they thought would win — with Fee, a Notre Dame fan, predicting a 24-7 loss for ETSU, and Graham, a Clemson fan, predicting the opposite, by a Buccaneer score of 28-27 — but were both excited to be able to say they go to a university that has a football program.
“Now we don’t have to travel for football games, spending most of the day traveling instead of tailgating,” Fee said.
Graham, 19 and from Unicoi, fondly remembers attending ETSU games with his grandfather and mother before the program was scrapped and admits getting a little sentimental about it again, having lost his grandfather since.
“When I was growing up, we’d go to games on campus,” he said. The Minidome wasn’t like the games he’s been to at Clemson or other colleges, but simply having the team means a lot for his peers. “It’s this atmosphere that makes it fun.”
In a sea of blue and gold ETSU flags and emblems there were a few University of Tennessee flags and tents set up, rubbing some Buccaneer fans the wrong way, though the atmosphere remained positive.
Murphy Fancher, given the title of “grandmaster of ceremonies” at the Kappa Sigma fraternity, called the tailgating experience a great start, but also a work in progress in that ETSU was just getting its football team back.
He was happy to see so many other Greek life and campus organizations out with their own tailgating setups.
Off-campus organizations also contributed to the ETSU atmosphere with the Carnegie Hotel, Citi call center and Food City having tents, food and beverages of their own.
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