Stories from the Sidelines


There are sports fans, and then there are SPORTS FANS. The latter are the people who go out of their way to cheer on their team. Miles traveled adding into the thousands, a wardrobe heavily accented with a single color, and crazy adventures that land one in jail are the stories that “Big Fans” tell with pride. Something like the fisherman, the tales just keep getting bigger the later the season goes on.

Rutherford County has its own version of the “Big Fan.” These are the people who are on the sidelines, be it a high school game or a national team. Fandom to them is pure, but slightly crazy love. Tailgating is an art form, and taunting rival teams is a must. There are fan gangs, and there are fan families. And even a Grand Dame of fandom. These are their stories.

Team: Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders

When asked about his team of choice, Bud Morris said, “Blue Raiders, of course,” as if there was any doubt in what team to cheer on. Morris takes his love of his team into his daily life. His clothes are rarely any color other than MTSU blue or gray. Most of them have some type of MTSU logo on them.

Morris has traveled extensively following the Blue Raiders, including to see them play in
Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Texas Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, New York and Utah. Sometimes he has gotten so excited to get out of town and go to a game that he got a little forgetful.

“A few of us met after work to travel to a Tennessee Tech basketball game,” said Morris. “It was a cold afternoon. I was rushing to get my things, and get on the road. I drove to the game with my friends, and I left my vehicle running in the parking lot. When we returned to Murfreesboro late that night, my vehicle was still running in the parking lot! Needless to say, I didn’t need to defrost my windshield.”

Like the Reed family, Morris has found that being involved with MTSU athletics has been a wonderful experience. He has made many lifelong friendships, and created a lifetime of memories doing something he enjoys.

Team: University of Tennessee Volunteers and Tennessee Titans

Tracy Pack goes to games in style. He purchased an old ambulance and turned it into a tailgating vehicle that he has driven to games all over the south. He has traveled to almost everywhere that the Tennessee Volunteers have played, from Los Angeles, California to New York, New York, and from Indianapolis, Indiana to Miami, Florida.

“One of my goals years ago was to attend a game at each SEC stadium,” said
Pack, “and I finally accomplished that feat a few years ago when I attended the UT - Texas A&M game in College Station, TX.

My desire is to share this same experience with my son. We have completed 12 of the 14 together, so far.”

His restored ambulance gets attention wherever he goes, but during a tailgate
party in Atlanta, GA for a Tennessee Vols game, he ran into a well-known sports personality. Instead of Pack asking for an autograph, the celebrity came up during a pre-game tailgating party and asked tointerview him and see the inside of his restored ambulance.

“As I was explaining my reason for tailgating and spending so much effort to do such,” said Pack, ”I shared that my biggest enjoyment was spending time with my son and 91-year-old father on many trips. Once he found out my father had been attending Tennessee games off and on for 82 years, he no longer was interested in my interview, but desired to ask my dad a few questions. As [the] interview progressed, the sports personality … [was] mesmerized by the various stories my father described about games that occurred 40, 50 and 60 years ago. By the time the interview was nearing the end, there were fans of all ages gathered around listening to the stories my father was sharing.”

Even when he is not following the Tennessee Volunteers from stadium to stadium, he still roots on his team. According to his wife, most all of his clothes are either orange or have some orange tones to them.

“Although this is not completely true,” said Pack, “I do have numerous Tennessee themed articles of clothing. My favorite item is a pullover I purchased at the 1998 National Championship game when Tennessee beat Florida State. My most unique item is a leather jacket I purchased from a crew member of Sterling Marlin’s NASCAR team that was made for a race when he drove a car decorated with the Tennessee colors and logo.”

These are only a few of the stories and memories that Tracy Pack tells after more than 50 years of attending games.

Teams: University of Tennessee Volunteers vs. Vanderbilt Commodores

A few years ago, a friendly rivalry started in the Rotary Club of Murfreesboro between members John Dietrich and George Huddleston. The two friends began crossing swords during the weekly “sports report,” even pushing Middle Tennessee State University’s Athletic Director, Chris Massaro, out of the limelight with their antics.

“I’ve been giving sports reports on [the] Tennessee [Volunteers] in Rotary for the past four years,” said Dietrich, with a playful look in his eyes. “… George would always antagonize me with some stupid, boring joke on Tennessee since he’s a huge Vandy fan. Our sports report used to just be an MTSU report from Chris Massaro, and UT report from me. However, George always had something to say when it was my turn to talk about the Vols, so we decided to let him talk about Vandy just to appease him. My parents brought me up to have respect for my elders.”
“John has missed the past two meetings, said Huddleston. “I wore my [still shiny and pretty new] 2014 College World Series Championship shirt, and plan to rib John about needing a 2019 CWS shirt!

I then will add salt to the wound by asking him if his 1998 NCAA Football Championship sportswear (UT’s last national championship in the three major sports) has become faded!”

Both men have come to enjoy betting on the outcome of any UT-Vandy sporting event (particularly football, basketball, and now baseball). Whosever’s team loses, the loser has to wear the opposing team’s clothing of choice at the next Rotary meeting...for the whole meeting, which is an hour long.

“I haven’t done too well in football over the last four years,” said Dietrich, “but [I] have kicked George’s tail in basketball. Baseball has been fairly even with slight edge to George. I hope to recover in football this year, though.

George has gotten to wear a few of my football and basketball jerseys.” “The most fun we had was the day I had to wear an orange UT basketball jersey after Vandy lost a game,” admitted Huddleston. “I ended up needing to make an announcement and intentionally left my napkin covering the orange and white logo. John would have no part of it, walked to the podium and snatched away my napkin!”

While Huddleston was amused to wear some of Dietrich’s fan attire, he is determined to get in the last word in their game of one-upmanship. “Vandy is an academic school,” said Huddleston with a sly grin, “and we never professed to be competitive in athletics. Sports are the primary bragging rights for Vols fans, and they get quite upset in the wake of their football team losing the past three years to Vandy!”

Team: Middle Tennessee State University Blue Raiders

MTSU football is a family tradition in the Victory/ Reed/Slate family that has been going on for over 20 years,” said Mary Esther Reed. “This includes my mom and dad, Kenneth “Coon” and Esther Victory; my family, including my husband Britt Reed, and my son Parker Bell (22); and my sister’s family, Tim Slate, Leigh Ann Slate, Mary Leigh Slate (17), and Kenneth Slate (14). The sport we follow every home game and many away games is football, but we also attend basketball and baseball. It is the one thing we all do as a family every home football game. It might also include family friends but each of us knows it is our family tradition.”

The memories that Reed’s extended family have made over the years attending games have been priceless. Many of these memories include the games but many of the memories don’t. Attire has always been a big part of the family’s experience.

“My sister makes custom attire,” said Reed, “and many of the items we wear are things she has made. The kids have always loved painting their face and wearing the funny hair.”

One thing that Reed’s family has learned over the years is that no matter what team you are cheering on, being a sports fan is a family in and of itself. They traveled many times to watch the Blue Raiders play in away games, as well as many of the Bowl Games, including in Detroit, New Orleans, the Bahamas, and Birmingham, finding fellowship wherever they have gone.

“We usually get to away games early and walk around in the tailgating area of the opposing team,” said Reed. “It never fails that there will be a group that invites us in to share their food
and friendship even though we are getting ready to do battle on the field. We have made many friends over the years in parking lots of stadiums at away games.”

MTSU attire has also made them new friends when traveling to places other than to go to games. They have learned that there are MTSU fans, connections to the university, and people who know about the school all over the world. When they travel just in general, many times they will wear MTSU attire. It never fails someone will stop them to tell a story or ask a question about MTSU.

“The most unusual [experience with MTSU sports attire] was when Britt and I were on our honeymoon in Puerto Rico,” said Reed. “We had decided to do one of the half days hikes to a waterfall in the rainforest on the trip. We had been hiking for almost two hours and had not seen anybody on the trail. We were starting to get a little concerned. Then, around the curve comes this family of four. The daughter had on an MTSU shirt. We couldn’t believe it. She was a student at MTSU and her parents had both attended. We stopped and talked with them for a little while about their time at MTSU, and learned we had many mutual friends. Following your favorite team seems to make the world a little closer together, even in the rainforest of Puerto Rico.”

According to Reed, the most important thing for their entire family is not the game on the field, but the time spent together on those fall Saturdays.

“We are creating memories that have lasted a lifetime,” added Reed, “and we are looking forward to creating many more.”

Tennessee Titians and Nashville Predators

For John Roberts and his friends, being a fan is one big adventure. They pack up Robert’s tailgate trailer and hit the open road. Last year, he went to 16 Titians away games. And he has only missed two home games in 12 years.

The furthest he has traveled to root on his team is London, England. He has also gone to playoff games in Kansas City and Boston.

“I even went to a wedding in Memphis,” said Roberts, “and as soon as it was over, I caught a plane to Atlanta so I could be at a game.”

His enthusiasm is contagious. He took his tailgate trailer to one away game, and 1,000 people showed up to his party before the game.

“I usually have about 150 people that I host before a game,” said Roberts. “I have a DJ and the works, but the 1,000 people who showed up at my tailgate site at that away game was the wildest time but one. I went to a Steeler’s game with friends and our practical joke got a little out of hand.”

Roberts and some friends had bought front row seats, then dressed in their Titians fan jerseys, and then dangled large fake catfish from Steeler’s “Terrible Towels” over their seats.

“Two of us ended up with black eyes,” said Roberts, “and one of my friends ended up in jail. The Steelers fans didn’t find our humor amusing.”

SEC Teams, Local High School Teams

According to Terry Barber’s friend, Bart Fite, superintendent of Murfreesboro’s Sports*Com, the recently deceased SEC sports merchandise dealer was up for anything to root on a team. He was a referee for more than 25 years, and if he wasn’t in the middle of a game, he was on the sidelines watching.

“Myself and former Recreation Director Ray Duffy talked him into dressing up in a Leprechaun -Father Ryan Mascot- outfit when Riverdale played Father Ryan one year,” said Fite. “Lee Sadler, a former Sports writer for the DNJ, wanted a picture for the paper to hype the game.

On the way to the school Terry started saying, ‘I’m not doing this.’ [He] started cussing us, saying, ‘let me out.’ [He] caused a fit, but we finally talked him into taking the picture!” Fite noted that Barber was a big Vanderbilt fan. He would often travel to away games, including going to Omaha to the college world series when Vanderbilt won the National Championship in 2014. He also went to Tempe, Arizona when University of Tennessee won the National Championship in 1998.

“He was great in securing tickets,” said Fite, “and he wound up with two on the fifty-yard line.” Barber was more than a watcher, he was a long-time softball umpire for a local recreation league, and the TSSAA.

“Early one March,” said Fite, Terry was calling a game, and it was still very cold at the time. He was wearing long johns, and was out in the field behind second base. Nothing was wrong till a player went up to him and said, ‘Mr. Umpire your pants fell down.’ Terry immediately pulled them back up, then went on with the game. Terry called many high school games, called the state tournament in 2012, and umpired many recreation department games.”

Fite reminisced how Barber was always at a game somewhere on Friday nights when high school football was played, and Tuesday and Friday nights when the basketball season rolled around.

“He was quite a character,” added Fite, “and all his friends will surely miss him. There will never be another like Terry. Rest in Peace, My Friend.”

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