Professional Sports in Tennessee Since 1975

DURATION: two 45 minute sessions

  • Computers with Internet access
  • Examples of sports team “memorabilia” (if available)
  • Poster-making supplies


Fans in Tennessee enjoyed a resurgence in sports as professional teams moved to the state in this era.
Tennessee Titans Football:
In 1997, the Houston Oilers professional football team relocated from Texas to Tennessee, first using the name Tennessee Oilers and then changing its name to Tennessee Titans. While waiting for its new Nashville stadium to be built, the Titans played in Memphis in 1997, and then at Vanderbilt stadium in 1998. The Titans opened in the new stadium, now known as LP Field, in 1999 and had a 13-3 record, never losing a game at home that year.

In the first round playoff game, the Buffalo Bills went up by one point with only 16 seconds left. The Titans responded with a play on the Bills kickoff with Frank Wycheck making a lateral pass to Kevin Dyson. Dyson took the ball 75 yards for a touchdown and the win, which soon became known as the “Music City Miracle.”  The play is still listed by sports publications as one of the best football plays of all times.
The Titans went to Super Bowl XXXIV the same season, where they were defeated by the St. Louis Rams. Time ran out as Titans quarterback Steve McNair completed a pass to Kevin Dyson who was tackled one yard short of a touchdown that would have tied the game.
Since then, the Titans have won their division and made the playoffs several times including playing in the AFC Championship game in 2002. In 2008, the team again finished with a franchise best record of 13-3, but lost their home playoff game. The team has been embraced by sports fans across the state. Every home game since the Titans started playing at LP Field has been sold out.
 Other Professional Teams:
The Nashville Predators are a professional hockey team that has played in the National Hockey League (NHL) since 1998. Although professional hockey teams have played in the state, the Predators were the first from the NHL. The team has struggled to regularly bring in large crowds. New ownership in 2007 succeeded in increasing attendance.
 Memphis captured the third professional team to move to the state when Vancouver Grizzlies team owners petitioned the National Basketball Association (NBA) to move the team because of disappointing ticket sales. The NBA approved the request, and the team relocated to Memphis in 2001, keeping the Grizzlies name.
Tennessee still has several minor league professional baseball teams. The teams, sometimes called farm teams, are usually associated with a major league team, and staffed with players from that team who need more practice before major league play. Even though the players can be called up (moved to the major league team) at any time, fans of minor league teams still enjoy the games.
Minor league teams have been around for decades and often change team association and names. Currently in the state, the Redbirds are playing in Memphis, the Diamond Jaxx in Jackson, the Sounds in Nashville, the Lookouts in Chattanooga, and the Smokies in Knoxville.
Stock Car Racing:
Going to stock car races or watching them on television was a favorite pastime for Tennesseans in this era.
Stock car racing supposedly had its beginnings in bootlegging during Prohibition. Drivers would pick up bootlegged (illegally-made) liquor made in the Appalachian area of the U.S., where they could hide stills in the mountains, and drive it to businesses who sold it illegally.  Drivers used small, fast vehicles that they modified in order to escape law enforcement officers.
Even after Prohibition ended, bootleggers still ran illegal whiskey on which taxes hadn’t been paid. Young men who learned to drive fast while bootlegging discovered they could also make money racing their cars on a track. 

It was called “stock” car racing because they used cars that came off car lots--the “stock” that car dealers had. It began as a mostly Southern sport, but by 1990 stock car racing fans could be found all over the U.S.  NASCAR, originally a family-owned business, is the largest sanctioning (sponsoring) body of stock car racing in the U.S.  Only professional football games pull in more television viewers than NASCAR races.
 One of the better-known tracks is the Bristol Motor Speedway. Built in 1960, the track has been expanded over the years. By 2000, it could hold 147,000 fans making it the largest sports venue in the state.  Bristol hosts two annual Winston Cup events. Tennessean Darrell Waltrip holds the record for the most Winston Cup victories at the track at 12.

The Nashville Superspeedway, near Lebanon, was built in 2001, and hosts three major races each year.  It has a seating capacity of 50,000.

Guiding Questions: 

  • What professional sports have flourished in Tennessee since 1975 and why?

Objectives:  Students will 

  1. Identify several major league and minor league sports teams in Tennessee.
  2. Explore the reasons for the popularity of professional sports through interviews of students, relatives, and adult friends.


  • Have students create a mural or exhibit on a specific Tennessee professional sports team.


  1. Create a scoring rubric for the posters, if desired.
  2. Confer with your librarian to gather available resources. (Information on minor league baseball teams in Tennessee is available in the Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture here)
 Session 1:
  1. Ask students to name as many professional major league or minor league sports teams from Tennessee as they can.
  2. Explain that they will be divided into teams to research one of these teams.
  3. Divide the class into teams.
  4. Assign each research team a different sports team or allow them to select one.
  5. Provide time for research teams to do their research and create posters. Or allow them to each create posters at home and bring to school.
  6. Have research teams share their posters with the rest of the class.
 Session 2:
  • Have students work in teams to create a list of questions to ask other students, relatives, and adult friends to identify reasons for the popularity of professional sports.
  • Provide time for students to gather interview results.
  • Have teams combine the results of their interviews.
  • Lead a class discussion of their findings. Identify why people enjoy professional sports so much.

Extensions:Have students

  • Have students trace the history of stock car racing in Tennessee.
  • Invite a professional athlete to speak to your class.


  • Tennessee Social Studies Standards:
    Grade 5 Social Studies:
    5.1.spi.1. Recognize components of American culture (i.e., holidays, language, clothing, food, art, music, and religion).


            National History Standards:
Era 10: STANDARD 2: Economic, social, and cultural developments in contemporary United States.
Standard 2D: The student understands contemporary American culture.
Grade Level
Therefore, the student is able to
Explain the reasons for the increased popularity of professional sports and examine the influence of spectator sports on popular culture. [Reconstruct patterns of historical succession and duration]