Does it seem like Homecoming isn’t as big a deal as it once was back in the day? Perhaps that observation is merely relative to your humble correspondent’s aging. Maybe it never was that big a deal.
But Tennessee’s football history is chock full of interesting Homecoming history. Here, in observance of 2014 Homecoming, is a slice of it:
A bunch of GOOD things have happened to the Vols on Homecomings past. I picked a top five.
1. 1998. A 37-13 victory over UAB on Nov. 7 was rather humdrum. But circumstances beyond the borders of Neyland Stadium led to the Vols moving up in the next week’s AP poll from No. 2 to No. 1. It was nearly a short stay. The following week the Clint Stoerner miracle occurred and the Vols stayed No. 1 with a dramatic 28-24 win over Arkansas. In less than two months Tennessee would be crowned national champion.
2. 1990. The Vols hadn’t played Florida in five years and would not become designated SEC East rivals for two more years. In a clash of top-10 teams, it was a great night for Tennessee thanks to a 45-3 demolition of Steve Spurrier’s first Florida team.
3. 1951. Tennessee essentially won the national championship by beating Vanderbilt 35-27 before a homecoming crowd at Shields-Watkins Field. The Vols came into the game ranked No. 1 and stayed there thanks to the regular-season ending win over the Commodores. In those days, the polls closed before bowl season. The Vols were declared consensus national champions. That they lost to Maryland in the Sugar Bowl was irrelevant.
4. 1959. You’ve heard of “The Stop,” of course. Did you know it happened at Homecoming? The Vols upset No. 1 LSU 14-13 by stopping Heisman Trophy winner Billy Cannon’s two-point conversion run. Cannon still doesn’t see it that way. I’ve seen film. It’s hard to tell.
5. 1939. You’ve heard about Johnny Butler’s run, of course. Also Homecoming. The No. 5 Vols beat No. 8 Alabama 21-0. Butler’s weaving, 56-yard run was newsreel material, the equivalent of SportsCenter’s Top Plays today. Grantland Rice is said to have called it the greatest run he ever saw.
Here are five BAD ones, too.
1. 2013: No. 7 Auburn underscored the perils of scheduling SEC opponents on Homecoming. The Tigers ripped the Vols 55-23.
2. 2002: What was UT thinking scheduling Miami for Homecoming? The U just happened to be ranked No. 1 and crushed the Vols 26-3.
3. 1983: Riding a six-game win streak that included a 41-34 upset of Alabama at Legion Field, the Vols laid a Homecoming egg, losing to Ole Miss, 13-10.
4. 1979: “What are Rutgers?” Only the oldtimers get the significance of that question. If you don’t know, ask your dad. Anyway, Rutgers showed the Vols what they were with a 13-7 upset.
5. 1973: Georgia won a 35-31 thriller, an upset of the 11th-ranked Vols, that left UT fans disenchanted with Bill Battle in his fourth season. He would last three more but it was downhill.
2008. Wyoming 13-7. One of the ugliest days ever in Neyland Stadium. The shocking loss came days after UT announced Phillip Fulmer was out, effective at the end of the season.
Finally, here are a few Homecoming leftovers:
(UT’s media guide designates Homecoming games only as far back as 1919)
1945, 1951: The latest Homecoming games, both on Dec. 1 against Vanderbilt.
1958. Vols upset No. 7 Ole Miss 18-16, one week after a stunning loss to Chattanooga.
2000, 2006: The earliest Homecoming games, both on Sept. 23.
1994. Peyton Manning’s first career start, a 10-9 win over Washington State.
1997. Last time UT beat a ranked opponent on Homecoming, 44-20 over No. 24 Southern Miss.
1999. Disaster averted. UT rallied to beat Memphis 17-16.
2000. A UT scoring record, 70-3 over Louisiana-Monroe.
2007. Last time UT was ranked on Homecoming. The No. 24 Vols beat ULL 59-7.
2012. A 55-48 win over Troy set a combined scoring record (103 points) for Neyland Stadium … and produced a combined 1,439 yards.