Sitting in Nashville’s tedious rush-hour traffic Tuesday morning, Tennessee super-fan Martin Penny was doing anything, but wasting time counting cars. Instead, the two-time University of Tennessee graduate was pondering the displacement of residents in the Carolinas as weather experts tried to forecast the potential magnitude of Hurricane Florence.
So, naturally, Penny thought of Volunteers’ football.
“This is all about the people of North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia,” Penny told GridIronNow.com in an interview Wednesday night. “How I came up with the idea is, I’d been thinking about – because of the ETSU game – I was going to take my daughter up there and things just kind of didn’t work out. Those are kind of a lot of fans’ first UT game, watch the Vols and first time where they really start becoming a Tennessee fan. For me, in 1990, I went to the Temple game. It was 41-20, Tennessee won, and that wasn’t a steep ticket, a tough ticket, but at the end of the day, folks were able to kind of access the game, so to speak.
“So that was one of the ways I came up with it, and I was sitting here thinking about this hurricane going through the Carolinas and here I am in Nashville, the Volunteer State, Volunteer spirit, I didn’t know how to help, but I was thinking a lot of Tennessee fans live in those states and quite frankly a lot of people who just want to get away, to have a distraction; I thought Coach Fulmer’s statement said it perfectly.”
Phillip Fulmer, Tennessee’s athletics director, apparently agreed with the idea Penny spawned sitting in traffic and relayed via phone to Nate Warren, the University of Tennessee’s Director of Development for the Tennessee Fund. The Vols announced Wednesday afternoon their intention to distribute free tickets to those Carolinians displaced by the impending hurricane when Tennessee hosts UTEP Saturday at noon inside Neyland Stadium.
“Our hearts go out to all the families whose lives have been impacted by the hurricanes and tropical storms along the Atlantic coast. One of our four pillars is warmth,” Fulmer said in a UT release. “We feel this is an appropriate way to bring that to life.
“Certainly, a football game is relatively insignificant in comparison to the realities these evacuees are facing. But if we can provide just a few hours of distraction and normalcy for these families, I believe we should do all we can to make that possible for them.”
Penny called Warren with the idea on Tuesday morning, and Warren, a UT graduate, said he would take Penny’s idea to the Vols’ nationally acclaimed marketing team.
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