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Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Football fans watch the jamboree at Finley Stadium on Saturday, August 14, 2021.

When the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga hosts Austin Peay on Sept. 2 in the football opener for both teams, it will be viewed in multiple ways.

A top-25 showdown. A potential battle for Volunteer State supremacy within the FCS ranks. The start to a complete autumn season following last year's chaos resulting from the coronavirus.

And then there is this one — the 25th season of the Mocs playing at Finley Stadium.

"I can't believe this thing is still standing," Mike Davis, the Stadium Corp. board chairman, said with a smile Tuesday. "There has been a lot of effort put into it. We went so many years where we hardly didn't do anything maintenance-wise, so we have been catching up on the maintenance things. It's still a good-looking facility.

"We're not having to put our hand out to the city and county to keep us above the water. We're finally able to do that on our own, and that's a great big step. I go to other facilities in our conference, and I'll put ours up against anybody."

Through the first 24 seasons of the 20,412-seat facility, the Mocs have compiled a 67-61 record that includes a 47-47 mark in Southern Conference play. UTC has never enjoyed an undefeated run at home, going 5-1 four consecutive years from 2013-16.

Finley Stadium's 1,000,000th spectator for a UTC football contest arrived for the 2019 opener against Eastern Illinois, but the venue also has hosted Chattanooga FC soccer matches and high school football showdowns such as Baylor-McCallie and Red Bank-Soddy Daisy. This past weekend's Best of Preps Jamboree drew about 12,000 fans over three nights, according to Finley Stadium executive director Chris Thomas, and the $25,000 in concessions sales dwarfed the $14,000 total from two years ago.

The Best of Preps Jamboree did not take place last year due to the pandemic.

"It feels good right now," Stadium Corp. board member and former chairman Gordon Davenport said. "The place, I feel right now, is as solid managerially and financially as it's been in a long while. What's important is that it's getting used — whether it's the pavilion or soccer or football. We feel good about where we are as we hit this 25-year anniversary, but the challenge is that we're 25 years old.

"The maintenance issues are going to continue to grow, and the challenges to improve the facility and to improve the experience are going to get harder."

It was Davenport's father, the late Gordon Sr., who led the efforts to build a stadium that could house the Mocs and other community events, and it was Davis who oversaw the step-by-step process. The two share countless Finley Stadium memories and were asked Tuesday to pick a favorite.

"Our company (the former C & I Specialty) built it, and we built it in 52 or 53 weeks," Davis said. "I spent a lot of evenings and Saturdays out here watching it happen. To see that all come together and the atmosphere of that first game (a 28-7 win over Tennessee State on Oct. 18, 1997, before 22,640) — I also liked the first (FCS) championship game with McNeese State and Youngstown State. Those two things were the top for me."

Said Davenport: "My favorite moment was when the women's national team was here (in August 2015) after winning the World Cup. I just thought that night — everybody wanted to be here, and there was great energy in the place. We had a horrible rainstorm but almost everybody stayed. That's my favorite."

Davis believes the biggest issue facing Finley Stadium in this 25th season is water leakage in the locker rooms. For Davenport, there is one notable absence from yesteryear.

"I would love to see Baylor-McCallie come back," Davenport said. "I'll never get over that."

 

Summers praised

The Stadium Corp. board of directors is moving forward without Jerry Summers, the longtime area attorney who was an original board member.

"I can't say enough about Jerry's service to Finley Stadium over the years," Davis said. "He was often opinionated, and it was always respected. Jerry's service will be missed."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

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