An obsession typically pervades every aspect of a person's life, with their devotion evident in all that surrounds them. When that obsession is University of Tennessee football, it's easy to spend your life engulfed in a sea of orange. Vols-themed gifts end up dominating birthdays and holidays — then walls, cabinets and eventually every open space available. Two area families know this fact all too well, much to their own enjoyment and that of their game-day posses.
For Hixson couple Pee Wee and Carla Kirksey, the Big Orange takeover of their home began with the creation of Pee Wee's man cave when the pair got together in 2007. Pee Wee had been a UT fan all his life. He grew up in Knoxville, where he was a paperboy with the News Sentinel and would sell lineups at the home games. He attended many home games over the years with his brother, who had season tickets up until a few years ago, and over time amassed quite a collection of memorabilia he'd been storing away. "I had a bunch of stuff stacked back. I never threw anything away," Pee Wee says.
It was Carla who came up with the idea that ended up bringing his collection into the limelight. A handful of friends typically come to watch Vols games on the TV in the basement, and she suggested painting the bathroom there in an orange-and-white checkerboard pattern similar to the end zone at Neyland Stadium.
It grew from there. They arranged smaller mementos around Pee Wee's favorite larger pieces, such as a frame containing season tickets and photos from the Vols' 1998 season, when the team won the national championship. There's a story behind every ticket, pennant, hat — of which there are hundreds — helmet and knickknack, which fill nearly every open space in the room. Orange tiles form the UT insignia on the floor, and the natural stone surrounding the fireplace has stones cut to resemble Tennessee and Smokey, the team's coonhound mascot. "I've worked hard on this for many years, and my friends enjoy it," Pee Wee says.
The collection is currently at a standstill, as adding anything would require getting rid of something else. This was made clear when the Kirkseys decided to brighten the subterranean space by painting the dark wood paneling white, and all the memorabilia had to come down. "We made pictures of each section to be sure to get it back where it was," says Carla, who worries her shot glass collection would be what gets replaced should Pee Wee find another must-have item. If he were to add one piece to his collection, he says it would be an autographed picture of him with the team's former quarterback Peyton Manning.
Obsessions are often passed from generation to generation, and when that passion is melded with one's love for the person who imparted it, it can become even more of an addiction. Dayton, Tennessee, native Bob Arnold's obsession is clearly one that affects all areas of his life — he even authored a book titled "Through Orange-Colored Glasses: Memories of a Big Orange Fan."
Arnold's collection of UT memorabilia began in 1960, when he attended his first ballgame with his father. "Some fathers and sons like to hunt or fish; the main thing we did was watch UT football," Arnold explains. He still remembers the score of that first game: Tennessee beat rival Alabama 20-7.
Although Arnold chose Tennessee Tech over UT for school, based on its size and other factors, he never lost interest in UT football. Until giving up his season tickets three years ago, he rarely missed a home game. "There had to be a death in the family or a wedding, and they would need to be pretty close [relatives] for either," Arnold says. "If they wanted us there, it couldn't be a UT football weekend." His wife Janet never missed a game either, aside from in 2000, when the breast cancer survivor was undergoing treatment. But she still insisted that Bob go, because she wanted him to have that time to himself, he says.
One factor that's further increased his love for the Vols is Dayton, Tennessee's hometown football hero, Andy Kelly, the team's quarterback from 1988-1991. Arnold had planned to be a football coach when he left Tennessee Tech, but instead allowed Kelly's father, then the human resources manager at the La-Z-Boy plant in Dayton, to convince him to work for the company, which Arnold never left. While Kelly's son was on the team, he'd take Arnold to watch team practices. "It was a fun time, but it was a tough time, too," Arnold says of the younger Kelly's time on the team, adding, "My wife is pretty vocal. If anyone said anything about Andy, she was in their face." If the team messes up during a game, he explains, it's the quarterback who usually gets blamed.
Arnold's favorite item is a pennant from the winning 1998 season, as well as his mother's sweatshirt that she wore to games. The quilt she made him, as well as a quilt the employees of the La-Z-Boy sewing department made for him, are also high on the list, he says, as is a framed piece of the artificial turf removed from Neyland Stadium in 1993, when the turf was replaced with natural grass.
The Dayton resident hangs a "Vol Navy" flag, similar to those flown by the fans who congregate by the docks near Neyland Stadium, on his dock on Richland Creek. His Christmas tree is orange, naturally, and adorned with all Vols-themed ornaments collected over the past three decades. You can probably guess the color of the Arnolds' pool table.
Like most people who find an obsession and make it known, Arnold frequently receives gifts to help grow his collection from friends and family. Among the most interesting is a set of Russian nesting dolls that depict each player on the team during Peyton Manning's final year. Then there's Arnold's collection of ceramics modeled after Smokey the mascot.
There's little room for more, but Arnold says he'd make space for something truly unique. However, what he'd really like isn't an item, but an experience: the opportunity to run across the "T" on the field before the game, typically only afforded to former players and big-time donors.