The short answer is the Davy Crockett & The Alamo, let me explain.
The University of Tennessee’s nickname was born out of its state’s incredible history of sacrifice and patriotism.
It screams of courage and bleeds of brave souls, who volunteered to fight for America’s freedom and wouldn’t run from a challenge.
The Tennessee Volunteers who play in Neyland Stadium try to act and play with those same qualities to win football games as if they were fighting a war.
Everywhere we travel in Tennessee, you’re sure to hear or see a reference to the state’s well-known nickname the VOLS.
Whether etched on a state license plate, home thermometer or chanted at a University of Tennessee football game, you’ll undoubtedly know that Tennessee is known as the Volunteer State. We will share with you why.
Tennessee earned the nickname after the state’s overwhelming involvement in the War of 1812. A little over 15 years after gaining statehood, patriotic Tennesseans were eager to participate in the war effort. With General Andrew Jackson – a fellow Tennessean – leading the charge, over 1,500 soldiers stepped up to the plate. This was especially true in the Battle of New Orleans, the final major battle of the war, where American troops defeated the British with overwhelming help from those helpful Tennesseans.
The Volunteers didn’t stop there, though. The nickname became even more applicable after the Mexican-American War in 1846 when, after the Secretary of War asked the state for 2,800 soldiers, Tennessee sent over 30,000. After the death of Davy Crockett (a former Tennessee congressman) at the Alamo, Tennesseans who felt passionate about getting revenge on the Mexican government saw this as the perfect opportunity.
Davy Crockett "Born on a Mountain Top in Tennessee"
The Mexican-American War centered around securing the sovereignty of the Republic of Texas, and with the help of Tennessee volunteers, Mexico ultimately relinquished 50% of its territory to the United States and forfeited all claims to Texas, the Lone Star State. Tennesseans successfully avenged the death of Davy Crockett, created a long-lasting relationship between the two Southern states and solidified in history the state’s nickname, the Volunteer State.
I personally find it interesting that today both the Tennessee Volunteers and Texas Longhorns have burnt orange as part of their team colors.
Over a half-century later, the title was solidified in 1902, when the Atlanta Constitution dubbed the University of Tennessee’s athletic team, “The Volunteers” following a football game against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. Three years later, the Knoxville Journal and Tribune began using this name to describe the state’s flagship university’s athletic teams. As you know the lady basketball team is called the The Lady Vols.
Now, the Tennessee Volunteers are just as much a part of Tennessee as Davy Crockett… who moved to Texas by the way.
The VOLS Nickname provides Inspiration
Imagine being a football player at Tennessee, opening up a history book and reading about what those original volunteers sacrificed and ultimately brought home with them. Each history lesson would be a pregame pep talk in itself.
TennesseeHistory.com described one particular welcoming to those courageous volunteers after the Mexican-American War:
“The brave Tennesseans who had ventured off to Mexico returned home to heroes’ welcomes across the state. The City of Nashville hosted a barbecue for the thousands of returning soldiers. The veterans were honored with parades in every Tennessee city and town. The men had officially brought home with them not only a tradition for strength and courage under grueling conditions, but a reputation for service under fire. One that would forever in the annals of American history earn Tennessee the ‘Volunteer’ nickname.”
The Tennessee football program has played more than a century of games since taking that honorable Volunteer name badge, and all they have ever been are just games. The players aren’t fighting wars. They are just fighting to win a game.
But the words used in praise of those original volunteers should surely have inspired a player wearing those orange-clad jerseys to gain a few extra yards or make an open-field tackle.
Strength. Courage. In grueling conditions.
Service under fire. In football terms, that would be a player’s toughness in the face of adversity.
And, maybe, like in 1998, a heroes’ welcome, not for something so enormous like a war victory but for a national championship.
At some programs, legendary coaches inspire. Or the tradition of winning inspires the next group.
In Tennessee’s wonderfully unique case, it’s the Volunteers nickname that should always provide the inspiration.
Order Your VOLS yard sign here