On Saturday, I was one of 13,863 people at the ETSU, Western Carolina University football game at Bristol Motor Speedway. And the weekend before, I was one of 156,990 at the University of Tennessee, Virginia Tech game.
In the week leading up to the Bucs at Bristol game, I knew it would be nothing like the Battle at Bristol and many people took the opportunity to point that out to me.
“Oh, you went to Battle at Bristol?” someone said to me. “Bucs at Bristol will be pitiful compared to that.”
I laughed and somewhat agreed with them. ETSU isn’t in the SEC. The University of Tennessee and Virginia Tech have double the student body and fanbase. There was no way that the crowd could compare to the surreal sound of over 100,000 people singing “Rocky Top” at the top of their lungs.
But even with that attitude, I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to watch my school be one of four football teams to play at BMS – ever.
The journey to Bucs at Bristol was nothing like the journey to Battle at Bristol. I didn’t sit through horrific traffic and walk many miles to one of the gates only to wait in line with screaming, highly intoxicated fans. I didn’t push my way through what felt like the entire population of Tennessee and Virginia combined for 45 minutes to find my seat.
I didn’t even have to pay for my ticket.
Instead, my friend and I were confused on where the student parking was, so we chose to pay $10 to park right next to BMS. We walked through the tailgaters and up to the only gate open to go through security. We found an open spot to sit in with other ETSU fans quickly, with our overpriced beverages quickly heating up in the midday sun.
ETSU fans and WCU fans were intertwined, but getting along. With college football in the South, you can’t expect the fans to be anything but passionate, so much like the Battle at Bristol, fans shouted their discontent and their praise.
Even with the home field advantage, the spirit of the Buccaneer crowd was pretty low during the first half. We were down 21-3 up until the end of the 2nd quarter, when ETSU finally scored a touchdown that brought the score to 21-10.
Thankfully, the Bucs returned from halftime determined to win and racked up the points quickly, and by the fourth quarter, we were up 27-21.
As expected, the mood shifted as soon as the Bucs started gaining on the Catamounts. Children and adults alike were dancing with Bucky as he made his way through the stands to pose for photos. Intoxicated fans around me were hollering and carrying on in excitement, but weren’t too rowdy (surprise: BMS sold beer at the game).
The pure joy radiating off of ETSU fans when the scoreboard read 34-31 – an ETSU win – felt just as euphoric as when the Vols beat the Hokies the week before.
The entire experience was just a teaser for what Bucs can expect in our new football stadium next fall, and honestly, I cannot wait.
Sure, the crowd at Bucs at Bristol was significantly smaller and the atmosphere was different. The game lacked the dazzling spectacle of College Game Day and the absurdly large countdown clock, but to be a part of ETSU’s largest home game ever was an experience I will never forget.