Bringing the Boom to Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium

How the pyro team at Neyland Stadium takes gameday to another level
How the pyro team at Neyland Stadium takes gameday to another level
Published: Nov. 4, 2022 at 10:33 AM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - When the fireworks go off inside Neyland Stadium, you know something good has happened.

Since 1987, Pyro Shows, Inc. has been the supplier of the gameday fireworks at the University of Tennessee. The company designs and builds these world class shows at their headquarters in LaFollette, Tennessee.

Chris Honeycutt is the crew leader for the pyro team in charge of Neyland. The Campbell County native said working for Pyro Shows was never a doubt.

“Knowing that you had a large fireworks company just kind of across the street from Campbell County High School, I was kind of shocked by that myself,” said Honeycutt, who also serves as the Director of Budget and Compliance for Pyro Shows. “You just kind of start shooting fireworks and that kind of evolves into you what we do and how you get into shooting fireworks at the University of Tennessee.”

Honeycutt also gets to do what everyone dreams of as a little kid; he gets to push the button.

“It’s cool knowing that you have the opportunity to actually fire it,” said Honeycutt. “I can’t push the button unless the other members of the crew are doing their job, and we have a six man crew with two people on each roof. They they do a really good job of making sure that stuff’s right, and we communicate via radio to make sure things are are checked and rechecked so that when we get the cue to push the button, it all goes well.”

Gone are the days of using a punk to light a fuse leading to a mortar. These fireworks are high tech, built using computer software. Russ Ellis is a choreographer for Pyro Shows, who turns explosions into a symphony of light.

“The program we use is called Finale 3D,” said Ellis. “It’s a 3D scripting program that allows us to bring in 3D models and actually put our positions that we’re firing the fireworks from.”

The fireworks are placed in 32 positions atop the stadium. Every single shot that goes up is pre-planned to give the best experience

“We have the welcoming, that’s about 15 minutes before the game begins, and then we have rockets during the national anthem, then the bombs shot,” said Ellis. “And then a sequence that we do as they run through the T. It’s an “all fire” and then it chases orange and then it comes back and chases white.”

Each week the Neyland crew picks up the fireworks from the pyro shows storage facility, spanning 90 acres of Campbell County. They need this space to spread out containers, ensuring that any accidents don’t spread to other fireworks storage areas.

Pyro shows shoots over 400 4th of July shows across the country every year, and the group even runs shows for other stadiums in the South Eastern Conference. No matter where they are shooting, this team said nothing beats the ending to the Alabama game.

“That’s basically that ‘empty the gun we’re gonna shoot everything that we still got loaded,’” said Ellis. ‘I think we had six shots left at the end of the Alabama game.”

For Honeycutt, he said he doesn’t fire until a University of Tennessee official tells him to. He admits he was a little too pumped when the game winning kick was made.

“It probably was a little fast if I’m being honest!” said Honeycutt. “I got a little excited but just knowing that excitement and seeing the fans coming across the wall and just knowing that I had the opportunity to put some stuff in the air to get people even more excited, it was was pretty special.”