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Battle at Bristol officially brings in biggest crowd in American football history

It really became college football’s biggest ever.

Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

There’s a new sheriff in town when it comes to American football attendance records. On Saturday evening, as anticipated for nearly three years, the Battle at Bristol between No. 9 Tennessee and Virginia Tech officially reigned in the highest attendance for an American football game in history: a record 156,990 fans were on hand to watch the game.

The former NCAA-recognized record for attendance is 115,109, from the Notre Dame-Michigan game in 2013. The previous record was 114,804, set by Michigan in 2013. Bristol, which holds approximately 160,000 people, was expected to bring in close to that figure.

One of the highest, yet unofficial, records for attendance at a college football game was all the way back in 1927, when 120,000 people gathered at Soldier Field to watch Notre Dame-USC.

The highest record for an NFL regular season game is 105,121 — set in 2011 during the Cowboys-Giants game from Cowboy Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The largest crowd to watch any NFL game was 112,376 in a preseason matchup between the Cowboys and Houston Oilers in Mexico City in 1994.

"There has always been a desire by fans to see a football game at our historic Speedway," said Bruton Smith, the chairman and CEO of Speedway Motorsports, Inc., when the news was officially announced in 2013. "We couldn't be more excited to turn this long-time rumor into a reality and to provide sports fans with an unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be a part of the biggest college football game ever."

The transformation to make Bristol Speedway into a college football venue wasn’t an easy one — there were just 19 days to make everything complete. The speedway was last used on Aug. 20 for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

Jerry Caldwell, the Executive Vice President and General Manager of Bristol Motor Speedway, spoke with SB Nation about the arduous, rapid process:

"Every minute of every day for those 19 days will be choreographed. We have to move all the tractor trailers out, we have to raise our infield almost three and a half feet. We’ll bring in 450 dump truck loads of material to do that, and then put the field on top of it. At the same time, start building grandstands on the front stretch and the back stretch — we will add grandstands in the end zones, we will start converting some of the buildings in the infield into locker rooms."

Some Michigan fans weren’t too happy with the idea that their record would be broken, understandably.