Namesake: Shields-Watkins Field in Neyland Stadium

5:06 PM, Nov 4, 2011   |    comments
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Gus Manning's name does not stretch across the interior of Neyland Stadium like many football hall of famers.  However, the former sports information director looms large as an iconic figure at UT and played a direct part in the development of one of college football's greatest cathedrals.

"I worked for General Neyland and he was an engineer.  Back in those early days I was sitting in the old press boxes and they were awful. The general sent me one time to go around and visit a bunch of press boxes and see which is the best one," said Manning.  "I remember visiting Michigan and some other schools.  We eventually came up with guidelines for building press boxes."

Neyland engineered much of the stadium and Tennessee's gridiron greatness.  However, General Neyland never coached in Neyland Stadium.  The school dedicated the structure in Neyland's honor in 1962 after his death.

When Neyland claimed his championships, the UT football team called Shields-Watkins Field home.  It still calls Shields-Watkins Field home today.

"The stadium is Neyland Stadium.  The field is Shields-Watkins Field.  Colonel W.S. Shields was the president of the City National Bank in those days back in the 1920s and was a university trustee," said Manning.

Prior to 1909, Tennessee football was based at Knoxville's Baldwin Park.  Baldwin Park has its own interesting history as home to the Knoxville Reds baseball team.  It no longer exists, but was located between Dale Avenue and Grand Avenue near Western Avenue.  In 1909, the Vols started knocked heads with opposing football teams at Wait Field.

"Wait Field was over on 15th Street. They played in 1909 to 1920 there.  Then we got this new field where Neyland Stadium is now," said Manning.

Colonel Shields gave the Vols the gridiron upgrade by purchasing seven acres of land for the new field.

"Shields bought this property. It was just a big ravine down through here.  They filled in a lot of it with dirt they dug up when building Ayres Hall," said Manning. 

To prepare the proud new playing surface, the school let the students have a real field day.

"They stopped all the classes down here one day and all the students came down here and worked to clear the field," said manning.  "All of the men did the heavy labor and the women prepared food over where the west stands are," said Manning. 

The finished product was field with concrete stands on the west side of the field.  The stadium featured 17 rows with a seating capacity of 3,200.

"If you look over on the west side where the boxes are, the orange boxes you come to, that's where the 17 rows of seats were. That was it," said Manning.  "The first game here was not a football game.  It was a baseball game against Cincinnati.  The first football game here was against Emory and Henry"

Colonel Shields donated more than $40,000 for the new field with the University matching some of his donation.  In 1920 that amount was worth the modern day equivalent of a half a million dollars.  UT gladly christened the new stadium in honor of Shields and his better-half, Alice Watkins Shields.

"His wife's maiden name was Watkins. That's where the Shields-Watkins Field name came from. That's respect for his wife, I'd say," said Manning. "Colonel Shields was a really nice gentleman to give us all this money to build this gorgeous stadium."

The stadium that surrounds the playing surface has grown to gargantuan proportions.  Many names inside and outside the stadium often overshadow the original donors.  Yet, the name Shields-Watkins remains the foundation on which the University of Tennessee builds its gridiron glory.

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