March 2, 2021

‘Checker Neyland’ founder inspires trend among Vol fans

“Checker Neyland” made its debut last season when Tennessee fell late, 10-9, to the Florida Gators. It was quite a scene in the stands with over 100,000 people scattered perfectly throughout the stadium’s sections in an orange and white checkerboard pattern. But, how did this idea actually come about?

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“Checker Neyland” made its debut last season when Tennessee fell late, 10-9, to the Florida Gators. It was quite a scene in the stands with over 100,000 people scattered perfectly throughout the stadium’s sections in an orange and white checkerboard pattern.

When it happened, it had an awe effect on the fan base. Seeing that many people orchestrated into a pattern synonymous with UT just seemed natural. But how did the idea actually come about?

“It spawned on Twitter,” said Spencer Barnett. “I saw pictures of Tennessee’s game against Oklahoma [last year] and how they striped their stadium, so I figured why not Neyland?”

The idea took off when Barnett posted a photo of Neyland Stadium at full capacity and photoshopped the checkerboard pattern in.

” The next thing I knew, it went viral,” Barnett said.

While Barnett had the original idea, he couldn’t have put it into motion without the help of Tim McLeod and Jonathan Briehl, who created the website to let people know which color to wear in their section.

“More people kept sending it out on social media and eventually Tim and Jonathan called so we worked together to make it happen,” Barnett said.

It was considered a surprise to some people that Vol fans were able to pull off the feat with such a short notice last year. Barnett was somewhat concerned about it initially, but as kickoff drew closer, he had a good feeling his vision was going to become a reality.

“Anytime you do something with 102,455 people it’s kind of a flip of the coin,” Barnett said.”But with our rabid fan base and the way it kept steamrolling, I had a good feeling it was going to pan out. Seeing it all live and in color 15 minutes before the game was surreal.”

After last season’s loss to Florida, morale was down amongst the Tennessee fan base. For fans, the loss was the kind that really cuts deep, the frustrating kind that takes a few days to get over. The Vols led 9-0 at the end of the third quarter before Florida ended the game with a field goal and touchdown.

But despite the gut-wrenching feeling, the checkered stadium was one of the few bright spots. Tennessee fans began asking almost immediately when the Vols would do it again.

“At least one or two people a week asked me if we’re going to do it again. I knew we were, but I wasn’t sure when,” Barnett said.”Finally, UT made the decision to do it for the Oklahoma game. So for the last month and a half, Tim, Jonathan and I have had to answer questions without telling people which game. We left it to UT to make the official announcement.”

Tennessee’s game with the Sooners Saturday will likely be the biggest home game so far in head coach Butch Jones’ tenure. If the Vols could pull out a win against a premier program like Oklahoma it would be an even more memorable experience for Barnett.

The Vols already have a great deal of traditions, from the Vol Navy to running through the T. He hopes “Checker Neyland” becomes another longstanding Tennessee custom.

“As the originator of this and as a fan, I would love to see it happen once a year. I know a lot of other people would like to see it year after year as well,”Barnett said. “We need to win this game against Oklahoma so it isn’t seen as a curse.”

It appears “Checker Neyland” is here to stay. The tradition, developed by Barnett will return Saturday when the Vols take on No. 19 Oklahoma in one of college football’s biggest games of the weekend.

Edited by Jessica Carr

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Sports Editor, Cody McClure, has been with TNJN since January 2014. He is passionate about SEC football and basketball. To him, there's nothing better in life than game day in Neyland Stadium. Cody covers the SEC for Athlon Sports. Additionally, he co-hosts Rock Solid Sports for WUTK 90.3 FM on Fridays from 7-8 p.m. ET. Cody is also interning at Sports Radio WNML working under Jimmy Hyams. In his spare time, he plays golf, travels the country, and plays guitar, badly. Follow him on Twitter @CodyMcClureCFB.