“Finding Its Bearings”

After a 1-4-1 start to the 1978 season, Tennessee found its bearings by winning four of its last five games.

The only loss was at No. 14 Notre Dame, where a fellow named Montana was under center. The Vols led 7-6 at the half, but the “Fighting Irish,” wearing their green jerseys, found its stride in the second half and pulled away for the win.

The Vols, incidentally, came in orange, adding a festive look for the Nov. 11 game.

Vol alum Lindsey Nelson did play-by-play for the Notre Dame delayed broadcast that had brought him fame over the years. His play-by-play also highlighted the pay-per-view telecast back to Knoxville.

The finish to the 1978 season brought hope that 1979 would be better… and it was.

The close to the season brought the following assessment from head coach John Majors, probably for the first time since his return to Knoxville, said, “Tennessee is a good football team.”

Sunday, Aug. 2, 2015

“The Story Behind the Scores”

Sometimes you look through the scores season by season and all you see are numbers.

Sometimes the numbers leap off the page, recharging the memory banks.

Some examples:







20-14 (Jan. 1, 1951, and Jan. 1, 1996)






We’ll acknowledge those of you who can delineate the impact of each of these scores.

Saturday, Aug. 1, 2015

“A Long-Ago Sports Illustrated”

Who were the major Sports Illustrated sponsors in September 1968, particularly the issue following the Tennessee-Georgia football game?

True cigarettes got the back cover. Johnson & Murphy Shoes earned the inside front cover. Tanqueray (“Special Dry English Distilled Gin) earned the inside back cover.

There were ads inside for American Amicable Life Insurance, Avisco Fibers, and the 1969 Dodge Charger.

The Plymouth Fury had a two-page ad (“When you build a whole new car, you better go all out”).

The WCTU had to have been upset about a singnificant turn of events, given that Heineken, Galliano, and Seagrams Extra Dry Gin also made it in.

There were two ads for a Xerox Telecopier, and one for a Curlee sports jacket.

Things were a great deal different nearly 50 years ago.

Wonder how many of these advertisers might be in SI these days?

By the way, the four-page story about the Vols and Bulldogs, SI’s lead story, was four pages long, with five color pictures and unhindered by ad copy. Vols Gary Kreis, Ken DeLong, Bubba Wyche, Steve Kiner, Neal McMeans, and Mike Jones were prominently featured in the photos.

Friday, July 31, 2015


Before the 1975 season, there was a great deal of talk about “MUALA.” That strange-sounding word was really an acronym for the first five games of the season, i.e. the contests against Maryland, UCLA, Auburn, LSU, and Alabama, hence “MUALA.” The Vols went 3-2 against that gauntlet, losing to UCLA at the L.A. Coliseum and at Legion Field to Alabama.

But “MUALA” took its toll, and the Vols were done in by “NCUMKVH,” which doesn’t spell anything, but represented the final seven games of the season, North Texas State, Colorado State, Utah, Ole Miss, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, and Hawaii. The Vols went 4-3 against that slate of opponents and finished 7-5. The losses to North Texas State and Vanderbilt, both shockers, plus the loss to Ole Miss, somewhat of a shocker, made a tenuous coaching situation for Bill Battle even more tenuous.

“MUALA” does sound a lot better than “NCUMKVH,” and that’s about all you can say. You’ll find a few aging T-shirts here and there that say “MUALA,” but if you find one that says “NCUMKVH,” it’s a keeper. Mention “MUALA” to the guy sitting next to you at the games this season, and you’ll know he’s a rookie if he doesn’t remember what it meant.

Friday, July 30, 2015

“Not One of Us”

The Alabama fan base is really something.

Sometime in a recent “Paul Finebaum Show,” around 4:50 p.m. or so, a caller, obviously exercised about something and equally obviously not one of his greatest fans, called in and called Paul a “carpetbagger.”

That term is thrown around casually, usually directed at people from the north, usually way up north, who move southward and try to bring “northern ways” with them.

It is not a polite term, but is something full of sound and fury and precious little else.

One thing, however.

Paul allowed that he was born in Memphis and has lived in Alabama much, if not all, of his adult life. He is, by the way, a Tennessee grad from the mid-1970s.

That didn’t placate his caller, who said the south was South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. No Florida, no Tennessee, no Kentucky.

Everybody else was part of the unwashed, perhaps heathen (he may have said “heathern”), and otherwise not worth dealing with or even considering. You were either “one of us “or “one of them.” It was another version of political correctness gone astray.

There is always a great deal of interesting commentary on Paul’s show.

By the way, in this case, Paul was “one of them.”

His caller said so.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

“Thoughts about Redshirting”

No media type, not even a columnist, has likely ever had an in-depth discussion with a coach about redshirting, the process by which a player is allowed to sit out a year and come back bigger and stronger than ever, with the requisite number of years available. It’s a subject that’s not likely to come up in recruiting, unless the player brings it up.

That thought came up after talking to Keith DeLong one day and remembering that his uncle, Ken, was a sophomore in 1966. He was a talented receiver and blocker, with a great deal of potential, but Austin Denney’s exceptionally long shadow loomed over the tight end position.

Ken DeLong, the reasoning went, was too good a prospect for mere mop-up duty.

No one knows how Doug Dickey, or even one of his assistants, maybe, brought up the prospect of sitting out a year, but Ken did, and the rest is history. Denney made All-America in 1966. Ken started in 1967, 1968, and 1969 and was an All-SEC selection his junior and senior seasons.

Vol fans may have worried when Denney turned in his jersey No. 84 after the 1966 Gator Bowl. They shouldn’t have.

Here came Ken DeLong in jersey No. 82, with three years eligibility remaining.

If you work things right, there’s a “new version” of nearly everybody in the wings. There are exceptions, of course, but you get the idea.

Monday, July 27, 2015

“Offense by Defense”

The 1971 season was highlighted by the “offensive defense,” which set NCAA records for yardage off interception returns (782), average interception returns (25 for 782 yards, 31.3 yard average), touchdowns off interception returns (7). This bunch could turn a game around in an instant.

Carl Johnson and Conrad Graham did it against Kentucky and Penn State, respectively, taking fumbled pitches in for scores.

The Kentucky heist came in the Vols’ last appearance at Stoll Field, while Graham’s run took place in front of the ABC cameras Dec. 4 at Neyland Stadium.

Johnson’s might have been more dramatic, coming when it looked as if Kentucky were poised to tie or take the lead late in the game.

Graham’s theft set the tone for an amazing upset that, in retrospect, may not have been so amazing.

Also in 1971, Condredge Holloway, a freshman from Huntsville, Ala., led the rookie Vols to a 4-1 season and a win over the Notre Dame rookies, 30-13, a game that drew in the neighborhood of 30,000 fans. For freshman games, contests that disappeared the next year with the advent of freshman eligibility for varsity play, that was a pretty good neighborhood.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

“Considerable Bravado”

In October 1969, it took some considerable bravado for Vol fans to charter a small plane and fly it over Legion Field just before kickoff of the Tennessee-Alabama game, with a banner wafting in the breeze reading “This is Big Orange Country.” It had to have caught the attention all 71,000-plus gathered for the contest.

That may be an understatement, given that Tennessee had only won once against Alabama at Legion Field since Bear Bryant returned to the Capstone, and that was two years earlier.

In this context, with the gauntlet thrown down, what happened?

Tennessee scored on a TD pass to Oliver Springs wideout Gary Kreis, a 71-yard punt return by Bobby Majors, and a fumbled pitch returned for a score by Jackie Walker.

In fact, the Vols led 21-0 at the quarter, and school was out. That all probably happened before the pilots could land the plane and motor back to Legion Field.

All in all, a great day for Tennessee fans in the northeast corner and elsewhere at the legendary stadium.

Friday, July 24, 2015


“It Always Looks Easier When Someone Else Does It”

Found a copy of the “Monday Morning Quarterback” at an antique store on the road to Townsend just outside of Maryville. This came from Andy Kozar’s collection and was dated 1951.

It’s a compilation of the Monday Morning Quarterbacks, a little missive sent out to Tennessee alums after each game that included a copy of Bill Dyer’s DyerGram, a brief story the game at hand, and an equally brief look at the next week’s game.

This is how the whole process unfolded, how the university communicated with its alums during football season back in the 1950s.

“First effort is made by Tom Greene, Jr., an editor in the U-T Public Relations Office. Tom assigns art theme to John Brichetto for the cover drawing. While ‘Brick’ is drawing, Tom is writing copy for the rest of the MMQ. Then, copy and art is pasted up and photographed by Bob Greene who is, like Brick, a U-T student. After the plate is made, D.C Mannis, the U-T machine operator, turns out the finished copies. They are then folded, and turned over to John Hastings, who addresses each one and turns them over to the post office. Then it’s up to the postman – until you get them the next morning, or so. All of these operations start early Sunday morning – to assure you of getting your ‘Monday Morning Quarterback’ while it is still news.”

The Vol Historian knows whereof the editor of the MMQ speaks. Wish it were that easy. Dealing with the post office ain’t that easy.

“Then it’s up to the postman – until you get them the next morning, or so.” That’s an optimistic view, not grounded in any reality we’re aware of.

There are a number of stories about the way this all works.

It probably wasn’t as hard in the early 1950s.

Furthermore, it always looks easier when someone else does it.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

“Looking for the Cue”

There was a time at Mississippi State in September 1987, when whoever was in charge of the pre-game festivities forgot to cue the minister for the invocation.

That event was not forgotten in the stories of the Vols’ 38-10 victory that day.

More than one sportswriter took note of the omission, noting in their stories that, “Even before the game started, it was obvious that the Bulldogs didn’t have a prayer.”

That may be reaching for a lead, as some journalists might say, but when deadlines are approaching, you take genius from whatever source it might come.

Sometimes you just have to look a little harder than usual.

You can see a lot by observing, Yogi Berra once said.

That’s for sure.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015