This week in Tuesday Traditions, we take a look at Tennessee’s beloved mascot, Smokey.
There are a ton of great mascots in college athletics. Some that stick out are Uga (Georgia), Sir Big Spur (South Carolina), Mike the Tiger (LSU) and definitely a certain Bluetick Coonhound that roams the sidelines of Neyland Stadium.
Smokey is affectionately loved by the Tennessee fan base and has been since 1953 when he was first selected as the UT mascot by the student body. The Coonhound can be found on Vols’ merchandise, photos and cars. Smokey even lends his name to the pets of Tennessee fans. It isn’t too farfetched to say Smokey is the most famous dog of his breed.
The pep club held a contest to find a Coonhound to be UT’s mascot. The requirements were pretty simple. It had to be a native breed of Tennessee and according to a quote on the UT’s web site, “This can’t be an ordinary hound. He must be a ‘Houn’ Dog’ in the best sense of the word.”
When news of this contest was announced in a local paper, Rev. Bill Brooks decided to enter his prize-winning Bluetick Coonhound named ‘Blue Smokey.’ The contest was held at halftime of the 1953 Tennessee vs. Mississippi State game.
Several dogs were led on to the cheerleaders’ ramps that were once on Shields-Watkins Field. Each dog had its name called and the student body was charged with cheering for their favorite.
Brooks’ ‘Blue Smokey’ was the last dog to hear his name called and when he did, he howled. Smokey’s yelp caused the students to cheer for him and he responded by throwing his head back and howling again. This continued until the whole stadium was cheering and as a result, Tennessee found its new mascot.
That was in 1953, and as the Vols play on in the 2015 season, Smokey X now calls the sidelines his home and still lets out that famous howl.
Smokey also leads the team onto the field, as they run through the ‘T’ made by The Pride of the Southland Band before each home football game.
But Smokey X isn’t the only Coonhound to grace Neyland Stadium. Every Smokey has had a special place in the hearts of Vols fans. When Smokey IX injured ligaments in both back legs, he got his own injury report daily in most local papers. He was even listed on the official injury report for the Tennessee football team.
His healing process was covered by the press almost every day in Knoxville. Unfortunately, and despite a great recovery, it was decided in the best interest of Smokey IX that he should retire. Smokey IX held his title from 2004 until 2012.
At the 2013 Orange and White spring football game, Smokey IX, who took over as a pup himself, led the Vols onto the field one last time. He was joined by a pup, Smokey X.
Smokey X officially took over at the start of the 2013 football season and despite only being in his third year on the job, he might be one of the most famous Smokey’s ever. On a cold November night when the Vols hosted rival Kentucky in Neyland Stadium, Smokey X became an internet sensation. This occurred after the SEC Network showed a picture of him wrapped up in his orange blanket on the sidelines. He later added Davy Crockett’s hat.
This sparked a social media wildfire that would go on for weeks with gifs, memes, photos and everything else one could think of featuring Tennessee Smokey.
The costumed version of Smokey made his entrance into Tennessee traditions during the 1970’s and was redesigned to look more like the dog of today in 1982. He can be found at almost every Vols’ sporting event, rocking any number of costumes, from tuxedos to jerseys.
In the early 2000’s, the Vols introduced Jr. Smokey to the trio of Smokey (the live dog), Smokey (costumed version) and The Volunteer. Both costumed versions of Tennessee’s mascots have won national awards.
In 2015, Smokey Jr. was named Mascot of the Year on the World Dog Awards show.
Regardless of which version of Smokey is being discussed, some things are just guaranteed.
They will all be found on the sidelines of Tennessee football games, leading the Vols on to the field and running across the checkerboard end zones when the Vols score.
And most importantly, Smokey will forever be a vital heartbeat among the Tennessee fan base.
Edited by Cody McClure
Sam Forman is the lead sports staff writer for the Tennessee Journalist and is a senior studying Journalism and Electronic Media with a focus on sports broadcasting and reporting. He has been with TNJN since the fall of 2014. He is also a DJ for WUTK 90.3 fm. and a member of the Rock Solid Sports team. Sam has spent six years marching in the Pride of The Southland Marching Band. When he is not covering or talking sports, you can find him outdoors, playing music or hanging out with friends. You can find him on twitter: @samWforman