Rocky Top, you'll always be ... a real place
It's found 5,441 feet up in the thin air of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the Appalachian Trail. And while it looms large in the imagination, the real place is small: a rocky outcropping about 25 yards long by 10 yards wide.
Rocky Top is the spot glorified in the catchy tune by that name that became a state song in 1982 and is the most rousing fight song at the University of Tennessee. In this state, the anthem is sacred.
This is no sneaky plot hatched by Lane Kiffin or Peyton Manning or Phillip Fulmer. No urban legend created by overzealous Tennessee fans. The tune sung and played endlessly at Volunteer athletic events, to the annoyance of opposing teams, has a notable namesake in the park.
For disbelieving football fans, here is some evidence.
First witness, author J. Greg Johnson, who has hiked to the spot:
"There is a flat spot there that is gravelly and ringed with rocks. The amazing thing is there are gorgeous views in all directions."
Next witness: Pamela Rodgers, back country information specialist for the park. She's been there, too.
"It's a barren rocky peak with spots of grass and strewn with rocks. You'd think you were in the West."
Convinced, Gamecock and Crimson Tide fans?
The 1967 song, a bluegrass music standard, talks about how "corn won't grow at all on Rocky Top."
Johnson says that's for sure.
"There's no sign of corn up there," he said.
The song also mentions "no smoggy smoke on Rocky Top, ain't no telephone bills."
Johnson, who's written a book about the Smokies, says it's so clear that "it's one of my favorite places because of the great views to the south, north, east and west."
There are in fact no telephone bills because no one lives anywhere nearby.
And, the song says "once two strangers climbed old Rocky Top, looking for a moonshine still."
Legendary moonshiner Marvin (Popcorn) Sutton lived in nearby Cocke County. He who wrote a tell-all book called "Me and My Likker: The True Story of a Mountain Moonshiner."
Fans of Tennessee rivals may be dismayed to learn that if they've hiked the Appalachian Trail, they've probably been on Rocky Top, the very spot celebrated with full-throated vigor by Tennessee boosters.
"It's not marked," Johnson said. "It's right across the Appalachian Trail, so a lot of people have walked across it and didn't know it."
The spot on Thunderhead Mountain is some 40 miles from Tennessee's Neyland Stadium, where fans wear T-shirts proclaiming: "I can't hear you. Rocky Top is playing."
Country composers Boudleaux Bryant of Gatlinburg, Tenn., and his wife Felice, now both dead, wrote the song in 10 minutes, inspired by tales about the spot.
"They were getting a visual of it when they wrote the song," Rodgers said.
It's been recorded by dozens of performers, including Dolly Parton, Glen Campbell, the Osborne Brothers and Lynn Anderson.
For loyal fans of other schools, hearing the song so much at games grates on their partisan ears.
Sniffed Gene Chunn of Knoxville, president of the East Tennessee chapter of the Alabama Alumni Association: "It's like it's the only song they know."
Associated Press writer Beth Rucker of Knoxville contributed to this story.