The clang's the thang

Tennessee's football players won't have to wait till the first big hit of Saturday's game at Mississippi State to experience a ringing in their ears.

That's because Bulldog faithful have the bizarre habit of ringing cowbells to show their support. The practice has been banned but that hasn't stopped fans from using this unique method to motivate their team.

Tennessee last visited Starkville in 2002, so none of the Vols' current players have encountered the odd atmosphere at Davis Wade Stadium. While the experience will be a new one for them, it will not be for UT offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe. As head coach at Ole Miss from 1999-2004, he visited Starkville every other season. During that time he became more familiar with MSU's weird ritual than he probably would've preferred.

"The cowbells are pretty derned loud," he recalled this week. "Of course, I was going in there as the ultimate enemy (head man at Ole Miss), so it was loud in that era."

The cowbells aren't the only factor contributing to the decibel level at Mississippi State's home games, however.

"It's a real high stadium, and the crowd feels really close to the game because there's really not a bad seat in there," Cutcliffe noted. "They've always played well in Starkville, so you'd better be well prepared to play in a hostile environment."

Tennessee routinely pipes taped crowd noise into its practice area in an effort to simulate game conditions. None of these tapes feature cowbells, however.

"I think noise is noise," head coach Phillip Fulmer said. "Once you get to a certain decibel level, it's all just noise."

Then, flashing a slight grin, he added, "But maybe we can find some cowbells."

Even without cowbells, Starkville would not project to be an easy trip for the Vols. Mississippi State is 4-2 this fall, including an impressive upset win at Auburn.

"There's no doubt that this is the best Mississippi State team Coach (Sylvester) Croom has had," Cutcliffe said. "This is what they've been building toward. You can see the hard work paying off."

You can hear it, too.

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