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December 29, 2010
Music City Hostility
Many great rhymes have come out of the city of Nashville in its long history in country music.
If North Carolina's football program was inspired to write itself an old-style country song heading into Thursday evening's Music City Bowl clash with Tennessee, it might be titled something like 'Music City Hostility.'
That's because Nashville's LP Field, which seats slightly more than 69,000 fans, is going to be filled to the brim with orange-clad Volunteer supporters cheering on their boys.
"We're excited to be here. This is our fourth different stadium (to play a game) in the state of Tennessee, and we're hoping there's a lot of orange there," said Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley Wednesday afternoon.
"I think Tennessee will definitely have a decided advantage when it comes to fans in the stadium," said Volquest.com staff writer Paul Fortenberry. "Tennessee fans have looked forward to this bowl since the Kentucky game---since knowing that they get to play in the home state one more time."
"People from Memphis, people from Knoxville---it's three hours either way---so I do think the environment is really going to be pro-Tennessee," he added.
As is the case with all bowl host cities, Nashville has really rolled out the red carpet for both the Tar Heels and the Volunteers this week.
"I think both teams have had a great week. The people at the Music City Bowl have just provided an outstanding atmosphere all week long," said UNC head coach Butch Davis.
"Our kids have had a great time with all of the functions---the showboat, the hockey game, the luncheon (Wednesday). We've just been treated spectacularly."
But that doesn't mean the stadium itself is going to be nearly as hospitable for Carolina once the game begins.
After selling out the 6,000 tickets UNC officials requested in the days immediately following the announcement for the Music City Bowl, an additional 4,000 tickets were requested to be returned by December 8 due to high demand for the tickets in the Volunteer State.
This has become a hard ticket for Tennessee fans who are used to cramming themselves a hundred thousand deep in their massive shrine to General Neyland in Knoxville.
There will likely be tens of thousands of Volunteer fans onsite in Nashville Thursday that won't be able to get into the game---and those that haven't planned ahead will likely have to pay respectably high scalper's prices on the street to find their way in.
"I think there's a lot of excitement about this game, and Tennessee has really bought up a lot of tickets. They sold out their allotment," said Fortenberry.
"It's actually a pretty tough ticket to find for a Music City Bowl from what I've been told by friends looking for them. People have been looking everywhere for tickets," he added.
"I think Tennessee fans think there's a lot to look forward to and a lot to be excited about, especially since the opponent is North Carolina and they've bought out the (home-and-home) series (with the Tar Heels) and ended that thing."
While there's obviously going to be a decidedly pro-Tennessee feel to the crowd in Thursday's matchup, Coach Dooley wants his team to avoid using that as a crutch.
"Home field stuff only helps when your team plays well---I think none of that matters if your team doesn't come out and play well, and I told our team that---so we hope we'll play our best," Dooley said.
Even though the overall fan atmosphere will almost certainly lean in Tennessee's direction, the fact that Nashville is just eight driving hours from Chapel Hill means that plenty of the Carolina players' families will be among the small but lively throng of Tar Heel supporters on hand.
"I think it's a great opportunity for both teams," Davis said. "Derek touched on this about playing in the state of Tennessee and having the opportunity to have a lot of (UT) fans here, but one of the things that excited us about playing in the Music City Bowl is that it is close."
"A lot of families of our players were able to make it to the game, and I think that adds to the experience."
The UNC players and coaches will surely take away positive memories of their collective experiences this week in Nashville, but now that the game is upon them, they have to accept that they're going to be facing a mostly hostile crowd that will be rooting heavily against them.
It surely won't be like the environment at the last two Meineke Car Bowls, where UNC had significantly more fan support.
"The environment, I think, will be a key (to the game)," said Fortenberry.
"Tennessee, they played against Vanderbilt in Nashville and it was all orange, and I think it's going to look a lot like that because of North Carolina returning those tickets."
"Tennessee fans, even before it was official, a lot of people were out buying Music City Bowl (tickets)."
"The fans have been really excited. A 6-6 team, so obviously not the best team in the world, but they finished really strong. And it's going to be a bowl game in Tennessee," he added.
Even with an atmosphere that may not be so friendly inside the corridors of LP Field, getting to play on ESPN in a primetime slot the day before New Year's Eve is what the Tar Heels must focus on as they go after a program-motivating victory.
"I think the crowd being a sell-out crowd, it's going to provide an unbelievably great atmosphere, so it's a great opportunity for both teams to showcase their programs," Davis added.
"Obviously, you like the idea of being on the big stage."
"We hope we play our best football game of the year, but we've certainly got a big challenge in front of us," said Coach Dooley.
"As much as everybody loves a bowl game---and I know Butch can speak (to that) because he's coached in a bunch of them---It's no fun losing a bowl game, because your whole offseason is affected."
"It provides a great springboard into 2011 if you're fortunate enough to win the game, and certainly I think both teams realize that," Dooley added.