“Destined to Become One of Tennessee’s Best Linebackers Ever”

Tennessee escaped Shields-Watkins Field with a 16-14 win over Boston College 46 years ago today, giving Doug Dickey’s Tennessee Volunteers a 3-1-0 record.

Boston College led at the half by 7-0, Tom Siler wrote, but the Vols earned a TD pass from quarterback Art Galiffa to Hal Wantland, Fred Martin kicked a field goal, and linebacker Tom Fisher, who had a school-record 24 tackles against Auburn two weeks earlier, intercepted a pass and scored from 22 yards out. That was enough to weather a final BC rally that cut the margin to 16-14, and that’s the way it ended.

The experts said that Fisher, a native of Brooksville, Fla., was destined to become one of Tennessee’s best linebackers ever, but his life and career were cut short by the car-truck wreck near Benton, Tenn., in March 1966.

The Vols would finish 4-5-1 in 1964, but the stage was set for Tennessee to return to the elite of college football.

It was 8-1-2, 8-3, 9-2, 8-2-1, and 9-2 over the next five years, with two SEC titles and the 1967 Litkenhous national title, and the Vols were “back.”

And not a moment too soon.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

“26-0 Losses at the Front and Back Ends of His Career”

What head coach at Tennessee began his Vol coaching career with a 26-0 loss to Mississippi State and ended it 21 games later with a 26-0 loss to Vanderbllt?

That piece of coaching trivia belongs to Harvey Robinson, the bridge between Bob Neyland and Bowden Wyatt, who had the thankless task of following Gen. Neyland, especially since Neyland held out the possibility he might return in 1953, Robbie’s first season, or maybe even in 1954.

Then there was Wyatt on the horizon, another Tennessee legend who was tearing things up as head coach at Wyoming and Arkansas, who seemed to be the “people’s choice,” should Neyland decide to make a change.

Robbie finished 10-10-1, with those bookend defeats making his record unique. There was also a four game losing streak at the end of 1954, in which the Vols were outscored 85-20 in games against Georgia Tech (28-7), Florida (14-0), Kentucky (14-13), and the afore-mentioned game against Vanderbilt.

On the plus side, Wyatt did bring Robbie back in 1960 to be backfield coach. The affable Robinson coached at Tennessee through the 1963 season.

It was definitely an interesting time in Tennessee football history.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

“The Food Ran Out…”

There are a number of stories that have made their way into the parlance of Tennessee football over the years, passed down from generation to generation.

One such story involves the legendary Herman Hickman, a Vol lineman (1929-31) and All-America selection (1931).

The story goes that Hickman was trying to diet and had whatever food choices were available at the time. A sympathetic friend asked how things were going, trying to be helpful.

Hickman’s response was to the point.

He allowed that he didn’t know, noting that the “food ran out after two days.”

So much for the diet.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

“Block That Kick,” “Block That Kick,”

Lost in the nothingness of 26-0 loss at Vanderbilt in the final game of the 1954 season was this little morsel.

With the Vols set to kick off to begin the second half, Russ Bebb reported that “bloodthirsty Vanderbilt fans” were yelling “Block That Kick,” “Block That Kick.”

That’s intensity.

No doubt about it.

That hasn’t been seen or heard in the years that have followed and probably never will be.

It could only happen at Vanderbilt.

Monday, May 15, 2017

“A Lost Weekend?”

There are times that nothing seems to go right on a football weekend.

Such was the case Nov. 14-15, 1969, when things seemed to really come apart.

On Friday, the Vol freshman team lost to Alabama by a 35-0 count. Several of the varsity players, killing time before the team plane left for Jackson and the next day’s game with Ole Miss, were seen at the game looking very confident as befits a team that was 7-0 and No. 3 in the nation.

That confidence was shaken the next day, when No. 18 Ole Miss laid a 38-0 haymaker on the Vols. It was 21-0 at the first quarter break, and the Rebels never looked back.

The Vols limped down the stretch, defeating Kentucky 31-26 and Vanderbilt 40-27 and losing to Florida 14-13 in the Gator Bowl. The Vols did win the SEC title, but that was little consolation. Many Vol fans put a large asterisk (*) by that year, given how things turned out.

By any definition, the weekend of Nov. 14-15 was nothing to write home about and was one of the darkest in Tennessee football history.

For sure.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

“Embellished by the Telling”

Sometimes the cheers are for someone else, even if there might be a game going on.

The year was 1928. Tennessee was playing Alabama at Tuscaloosa, the famed 15-13 win that set the Vols on the path to gridiron glory.

Lost in the depths of history was a freshman game being played in Knoxville at about the same tine.

Herman Hickman, later to be a famous coach, writer at Sports Illustrated, man about town, and member of the College Football Hall of Fame, recalled the cheers of the crowd, however sparse it might have been. The youngsters on the field had to have been impressed by level of “support” they received.

What Hickman didn’t know was that Pat Roddy had been relaying wire reports from the game at Tuscaloosa, thus causing the “cheers” that came up every so often.

Ed Harris told this story in “Golden Memories of Ed Harris: 50 Years in Big Orange Country.”

Like most of these type stories, the account might well have been embellished through the years, but there’s a good chance there’s at least a grain of truth in it.

You be the judge.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

“The Power of a Dream”

It’s often the power of a dream, or, as some say, the stuff of which dreams are made.

That was the case on Nov. 9, 1991, when the Vols overcame a 31-7 deficit to win 35-34 on the verdant turf of Notre Dame Stadium, back when grass adorned the field where so many magic moments have taken place over the years.

The magic moments were on Tennessee’s side this day. The winning extra point came from the toe of freshman placekicker John Becksvoort. In the post-game interviews, Becksvoort, a Chattanooga native, allowed that he had dreamed of kicking a game-winning field goal, but quickly allowed that an extra point provided plenty of drama on this day.

Becksvoort was likely also glad that Tennessee defensive back Jeremy Lincoln was on his side.

As every Vol fan knows, perhaps by heart, that Lincoln blocked Rob Leonard’s attempt at a field goal that would have turned the game in Notre Dame’s favor. He did it, not with his hands or arms, but with his rump. He did praise his mother for helping him do so.

That’s the way things appeared on a November day in South Bend, Ind., when the Vols overcame all sorts of trials and travail to shake down the thunder, or, better yet, wake up the echoes, and take one of the school’s most famous victories.

No living Vol fan will ever forget it, whether they were there or not.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

“Domination”

“Domination” is an intriguing word.

An unknown caller to a local sports talk show once wished Tennessee were back on the Notre Dame schedule because the “Fighting Irish” had “dominated” the Vols whenever they had played.

Must have been something in the water wherever he lives.

After Notre Dame won two of the first three games in he series (1978 and 1990, around a Vol win in 1979, Tennessee reeled off three in a row (1991, 1999, and 2001), once in Knoxville and twice at South Bend. One of those victories at South Bend came in 1991 when Notre Dame blew a 31-7 first half lead.

Notre Dame came back to win the next two games (2004 and 2005) to square the series.

Those results do not speak to domination by either side.

Check out that dictionary and try again.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

“How Tough Was jimmy Noonan”

There are tough players, and then there are tough players.

Found this little nugget from Roland James, a 1979 All-America selection, about Jimmy Noonan, the tough-as-nails defensive lineman from Dyersburg (1976-78, captain, 1980).

There were a number of players other players were seemingly scared of, such as Steve Kiner, John Boynton, Dick Huffman and Al Wilson, maybe Doug Atkins. Noonan would fit into that group.

“We played cards, and I remember Jimmy Noonan, this tough little middle guard, would cheat at 21,” said Roland. Everybody knew it, and he knew it, and it was all in fun how he would not turn his cards over and say he had 21. Nobody wanted to mess with Jimmy.”

On or off the field.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017