Brilliant success of Battle at Bristol sure to inspire epic copycats
While Tennessee may have blown out Virginia Tech last Saturday in the Battle at Bristol, this event was not about the final score.
A record crowd of 156,990 was on hand to watch the Volunteers beat the Hokies, which is about 50-percent more than what is typically packed into Neyland Stadium — and that’s one of the biggest venues in the country.
From conception to kickoff, it took about two decades to make this game reality. If nothing else, transforming Bristol Motor Speedway from a race track into a football field was an engineering marvel. The game wasn’t without its flaws, but overall it made for captivating television and a once-in-a-lifetime road trip for fans.
This isn’t Pandora’s Box being opened. This is more like the Ark of the Covenant. Right now, television executives and corporate CEOs are coming up with new ways to melt your face off with pigskin-rich excitement.
With traffic along the Tennessee-Virginia border only now starting to clear, here are my Top 5 takeaways from the Battle at Bristol.
1. this is a television show
Television is the primary reason college football has grown from a regional obsession to a national treasure.
As a result, these neutral-site events are going to be manufactured with TV audiences in mind. The fan experience in the stands is secondary at best. Rights-holding networks have much deeper pockets than ticket-holding alumni.
There were numerous complaints from attendees on hand — fans and media alike — for the Battle at Bristol. Even if Bristol Motor Speedway is a small track by NASCAR standards, it’s still monstrous when compared to a football stadium. There really wasn’t a good seat in the house. Binoculars were necessary up in the press box.
But watching from the comfort of your couch, the shots from the blimp were spectacular. The images of Colossus, Bristol’s UFO-sized video hub dangling above midfield, were sensational. This was a reality show without the wife-swapping.
If you’re going to attend an event like this, come early. Stay late. Enjoy the sights and sounds. The game itself will probably disappoint.
2. anything is on the table
With the Battle at Bristol proving to be a smashing success, expect a “can you top this?” attitude to develop among organizers.
If a college basketball game can be played on an aircraft carrier, then a college football game can be played on an oil tanker — it’s not like you have to grow grass on it. Just roll out some field turf and bring in the bleachers.
For all we know, ESPN executives are in Egypt right now scouting the Great Pyramid of Giza. It’s 756 feet wide at its base, so more than enough room for today’s wide-open spread offenses. It’s 455 feet high at its peak, so the kicking game shouldn’t be affected. The King’s and Queen’s Chambers might make for cool locker rooms, too.
In the middle of Central Park. Suspended over the Grand Canyon. Aboard the International Space Station. Dare to dream.
3. new rivalries born, old ones renewed
Despite both being football schools and residing in neighboring states, Tennessee and Virginia Tech only met eight times before Week 2.
There’s no reason Volunteers-Hokies can’t turn into a regular rivalry. Imagine a three-year rotation — Knoxville, Blacksburg and then Bristol. Due to the logistics, BMS organizers can only hope to make this game happen once every three years anyway. An annual matchup would beef up each non-conference schedule, too.
What better way to bring back, say, Texas-Texas A&M than by playing it in San Antonio and calling it the Battle of the Alamo?
4. easy on the celebrations, though
Tennessee needed overtime to beat Appalachian State in Week 1. Virginia Tech trailed Liberty 13-10. Both were at home.
However, after the Volunteers took control in the second quarter and eventually buried the Hokies 45-24, the postgame celebration got a little out of hand. The Bristol brain trust took itself a bit too seriously.
The festivities on the field rivaled what we saw this past January at the College Football Playoff. There were fireworks. There was a trophy ceremony. There were hats and t-shirts being handed out liberally — with the V-Tech versions, presumably, on their way to Mali. Even red, white and blue confetti rained from the sky.
If the Vols fail to win the SEC East, any “yeah, but we won the Battle at Bristol” argument will be greeted with lots of laughs.
5. Tennessee’s goals intact
There is reason to believe that Tennessee is still the best team in the East, but a title is far from automatic.
Overlooked in the preseason, Florida appears to be every bit the threat it was a year ago. With the offense perhaps catching up to the defense, the Gators aren’t going anywhere. They’ve also owned the Volunteers for over a decade now.
As far as UT is concerned, coach Butch Jones and Co. have apparently learned their lesson with Joshua Dobbs. He’s never going to be a reliable pocket passer, but he’s a tremendous runner and a good enough thrower to give the game plan some balance. The defense and special teams lend plenty of support, too.
While the Vols have been tested, they’re 2-0. Those early tests might even come in handy later. This is a team that failed to finish several games in 2015 — including at UF. Well, it finished both Appalachian State and Virginia Tech.
Tennessee gets Ohio in Week 3 before a month-long death march (Florida, at Georgia, at Texas A&M, Alabama) that will determine the division.