“Good Field and No Hit”

The Doug Dickey Era began this day in 1964 with a 10-6 victory over Chattanooga. It was the earliest season opener in Vol history.

The Vols finished 4-5-1, but played tough against four ranked opponents, a 3-0 loss to No. 8 Auburn, a 19-8 loss to No. 3 Alabama, a 3-3 tie with No. 7 LSU, and a 22-14 victory over No. 7 Georgia Tech. The Alabama game was at home, while the other three games were on the road.

The Vols were, to use a baseball analogy, “good field and no hit,” giving up but 121 points, while scoring a mere 80.

Even with a three-game losing streak to end the season, losses to Ole Miss, Kentucky, and Vanderbilt, thoughtful and perceptive fans could tell the “makings” were there.

As has been pointed out, the Vols were 8-1-2 the next season, and, from that point on, the sky was the limit.

Friday, Sept. 19, 2014

“Reaching for the Stars”

No one knew what to expect when Tennessee and Army opened the 1965 season this day at Neyland Stadium.

The Vols were in their second year of the “T” formation under Doug Dickey, with the “experts” predicting another so-so season.

Tennessee defeated Army 21-0 that day, on its way to an 8-1-2 season that helped the Vols move back into the nation’s elite and stamped youthful head coach Doug Dickey as a “comer” in the collegiate coaching ranks.

Russ Bebb called the 1965 campaign “one of the most extraordinary a Vol team had ever encountered, albeit a bittersweet one. Certainly no Tennessee team had ever faced a run of such triumph and tragedy, exhilaration and heartbreak.”

After a fallow period from 1958 through 1964, when the Vols didn’t grace a bowl game, this season got Vol fans’ attention in a big way, even if the Bluebonnet Bowl game, always remembered fondly by those who were there, was played in a driving rainstorm, and that’s putting it mildly.

When Vol fans ransack their memory banks for the teams that catch their fancy, this team has to be right near the top. In only his second season, Dickey had on the upswing, reaching for the stars.

The first step on that road back took place today, 49 years ago.

Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014

“Good Times”

Grass came back to the floor of Shields-Watkins Field for the first time since Dec. 2, 1967, when the Vols squared off against Florida this night in 1994. The return of real, sure enough, grass was the good news.

The bad news was having to play the No. 1-ranked Gators on ESPN. The Gators won the contest by a 31-0 count.

It wasn’t pretty.

Not at all.

The Vols did recover, however, behind rookies Peyton Manning and Branndon Stewart, to finish the campaign 8-4, with a smashing win over Virginia Tech in the Gator Bowl. The Vols were 11-1, 10-2, 11-2, 13-0 (and the national championship), and 9-3 in the ensuing seasons.

That seems like only yesterday, but it wasn’t.

As Russell Biven once said on that vintage WBIR Channel 10 commercial, while dabbing at his eyes: “Good times.”

Yes sir.

They sure were.

Are “good times” on the way back in the foreseeable future?

Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014

POSTSCRIPT: Found this little gem YouTube from the 1968-69 hoops season, in the days of Bill Hann, Bill Justus, Jimmy England, Bobby Croft, Don Johnson, Rudy Kinard, and Jim Woodall. It’s a choppy film at times, but a good look at Vol hoops many years ago. Everybody on the court was much younger then. You might also notice the team benches at the old Parker Agricultural Center in Baton Rouge were at each end of the floor, much like they still are at Vanderbilt.


“Look Carefully at the Field”

Sometimes, the players and coaches on the field are more than just players and coaches. If you look carefully, you can sometimes get a glimpse of the future.

There was a game a long time ago where the future was on display on Shields-Watkins Field. Bob Neyland, the incumbent athletic director, was on the east side, while two future ADs were on the west side.

That day was Nov. 14, 1952, when Tennessee and Florida squared off in Tennessee’s eighth game of the season.

Tennessee won 27-12, in Bob Neyland’s final home win, number 172 overall, at the much smaller stadium just north of the Tennessee River.

Let’s consider the combatants.

Neyland was leading the Vols as he had since 1926, with a year in the Canal Zone and five years in World War II interrupting his career.

Bob Woodruff, who would become athletics director 11 years later, had been head coach at Baylor and was leading the Florida Gators, who, as the visiting team, had their bench on the west side in those days.

The Gator quarterback that day was Doug Dickey, the man would Woodruff would tab as Vol head coach, also 11 years later. He would lead the Vols back to glory from 1964-69, with a record of 46-15-4, and would return as athletics director in 1985. He got two chances to lead Tennessee to the heights and succeeded both times.

Watch those sidelines carefully at Tennessee games. You’ll never know who might, a few years hence, become head coach, or even athletic director. In 1952, Vol fans got a look at three of them for the price of one.

Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014

“Stealing a Tie”

It was Sept. 14, 1968, 46 years ago yesterday, when Tennessee and Georgia squared off for the first time since 1937, when Tennessee took a 32-0 win on Shields-Watkins Field.

It was a 4 p.m. kickoff, the time being changed because of ABC’s coverage of the Olympics. A record Neyland Stadium crowd of 60,603, buoyed by the opening of the east upper deck, showed up for the late afternoon contest.

As the season began, Tennessee was defending SEC champion. Georgia had shared the crown with Alabama in 1966.

The game featured two of the best and brightest young head coaches in the game, both of whom had been on the job since 1964.

Doug Dickey was a Florida grad coaching the Vols, while Vince Dooley was an Auburn grad coaching the Bulldogs. Tennessee was 29-11-3 over that time, while Georgia was 30-12-1.

The first game was played on something called Tartan Turf, a revolutionary ersatz field made by 3M and the subject of intense pre-game controversy. In a frantic finish, Tennessee scored eight points after the final horn had sounded to steal a 17-17 tie from a Georgia team that ended up winning the SEC title.

“We were just happy to get the tie,” said an exuberant Tennessee head coach Doug Dickey. “I’ve never been prouder of any of our teams than this bunch – the way they responded in the dying moments.”`

With eyes of the nation fixed on shadow-covered Neyland Stadium and Bud Wilkinson and Chris Schenkel running out of adjectives trying to explain what was happening, Bubba Wyche led the Vols back in the final moments, tossing a controversial TD pass to Gary Kreis and a two-point conversion to tight end Ken DeLong, against a Georgia defense that had played resolutely all day. Steve Greer and Bill Stanfill had sacks that had led to the final, almost desperate, toss from the 20.

“I can still see the ball being caught, and then dropped,” Dooley said of the Wyche-Kreis connection. “That turned out to be a controversy later, but there was nothing we could do about it. A touchdown was ruled, but there was no question on the film afterward that it was not a touchdown.”

Kreis had a different take on the whole matter.

“You bet I caught the ball,” he said. “The official had his hands up. The picture in Sports Illustrated looks like I dropped it. I didn’t have a good grip on it, but had it on my hip. It never touched the ground.”

“I got hit as I threw the ball,” Wyche said, “so I didn’t see the catch. I recall hearing the clock go off while I was in the pocket.

“I had to move Jake Scott to get Kreis open. Later on, he said, ‘You completely fooled me. I went with the tight end, and you went to the receiver on the weak side.’”

Lester McClain, the first African-American player at Tennessee, made his varsity debut and had a big catch on the Vols’ last-minute drive for the tying score. It was fourth-and-3 at the Vol 38, when McClain’s catch covered 14 yards and a first down at the Georgia 48.

“Go, Bubba, Go,” said someone, maybe Beano Cook, on an ABC headset in the press box.

The game was duly chronicled in Sports Illustrated in a story written by Dan Jenkins called “A Rouser on a Rug.” Jenkins suggested that that the UT-3M connection was so tight that Tennessee might consider changing its colors from orange and white to plaid.

The game might have made the SI cover, except for events in baseball some 400 miles to the north. It was a day for the McClains or McLains, depending on your perspective.

Denny McLain won his 30th game for the Detroit Tigers about the time the Vols and Bulldogs kicked off. The Vols did get a color spread as one of the magazine’s featured stories.

There are all kinds of ties in football. Tennessee has had 53 of them in its history since 1891. Dooley put the whole matter into proper perspective.

“There are great ties, kissing-your-sister-ties and terrible ties. This was a terrible tie for Georgia because of the lead we lost, and it was great tie for Tennessee because of the way they came back at the end.”

That was a great many years ago, but the memories are still fresh.

It only seems like yesterday.

Monday, Sept. 15, 2014

“Thoughts on Tradition”

Sometimes, in the wrong hands, “tradition” takes a beating.

This is one of those times.

When Tennessee came out in last night’s game at Oklahoma in white jerseys and white pants, “A UT spokesman confirmed the combination is considered UT’s traditional road garb.”

Let’s take a peek at the facts.

Tennessee rarely wore the white jerseys before 1971, when the SEC instituted a “Gentleman’s Agreement” that the home team would have the choice of jersey color. The visiting team could wear their school color jerseys only if the home team chose white shirts as did LSU and, on occasion, Vanderbilt. Tennessee head coach Bill Battle voted against this SEC agreement, thereby defending the honor of the orange jersey.

Before that time, Tennessee wore the white jerseys in the 1953 Cotton Bowl, the 1969 Cotton Bowl, and the 1963 Alabama game, all losses.

The white jerseys have been a mix of fashion style over the years. From 1971 through 1973, the Vols wore the white jerseys with the orange collar, and white pants. Those lasted for three years, eight games, the Vols winning five and losing three. They were considered enough of a tradition that the Vols brought them back in 2004 for the season opener against UNLV. That was an intriguing reading of history.

From 1974 though 1976, the Vols wore a pure vanilla combination of white jerseys and white pants that were functional, but weren’t anything to write home about.

John Majors brought the white shirts and orange pants as the road uniform of choice to Big Orange Country in 1977, even adding the orange pants to the home uniforms on occasion.

The Vols wore white pants on the road only occasionally during that time, with the 1979 Alabama and Ole Miss games, the 1981 Georgia game, and the 1982 Vanderbilt game coming to mind quickly.

Phillip Fulmer brought out the white pants for the 1992 Georgia game when he was interim head coach, but the orange pants returned in the LSU game that season and the Vols were in orange pants on the road the rest of the way, by golly.

Fulmer made the white pants, some with stripes, some without, some with a “T” emblazoned on the front, as the road garb during his tenure. The Vols did pull out the orange pants at home in the 1999 contest against Memphis on Homecoming Day.

More recent years have seen the Vols wore the orange pants on the road most of the time, with the white ones showing up every now and then.

A final thought. You have to be careful throwing the word “tradition” around, perhaps willy-nilly.

In this case, the facts do get in the way of an otherwise good story.

Over the years, the white road uniforms have been anything but uniform, at least in the context of history.

Responsible conflicting opinion is welcomed.

Sunday, Sept. 14, 2014

“A Dangerous Circumstance”

Tennessee didn’t play on Sept. 13 until the 1975 season, when the Vols defeated Maryland 26-8 at Neyland Stadium.

The Vols had closed the 1974 season with a 7-3 win in the Liberty Bowl, and then found the Terps as the season-opening game nearly a year later.

The win over Maryland sent the Vols and their fans to Los Angeles for a game against UCLA a week later. Tennessee was ranked No. 10 in the AP poll, and all appeared to be well.

Not really.

Alas, UCLA spoiled the fun with a 34-28 win.

A 30-7 loss to Alabama several weeks later and a crushing 21-14 defeat at the hands of upstart North Texas State relegated the season to the no-so-hot category.

At about 10 p.m. tonight 39 years ago, all was well.

That can be a dangerous circumstance.

Saturday, Sept. 13, 2014

POSTSCRIPT: A not-so-hot video of Tennessee’s last contest against Oklahoma, Jan. 1, 1968.


“Anything Might Happen”

Before the 1963 season, new head coach Jim McDonald stumped the state, taking a message about the 1963 Volunteers. “You won’t be able to sit in the stands and tell what we’re going to do,” “Big Jim” said.

“With our multiple offense or modified single wing, anything might happen. Well still be basically single-wing, but I’m going to insert some T plays. We’ll put more balls in the air than you’ve ever seen at Tennessee.”

What happened?

The Vols completed 52 of 149 passes that season en route to a 5-5 season. The 149 attempts were the most dating to 1950, 16 more than in 1962. The number of completions was the same. There were 10 interceptions thrown in 1963, nine in 1962. There were 15 TDs rushing, 10 passing.

The Vols lost to Auburn, Mississippi State, Georgia Tech, Alabama, and Ole Miss, giving up 108 points all told. They defeated Richmond, Chattanooga, Tulane, Kentucky, and Vanderbilt, scoring 142 in the process.

It was an interesting season, spiced by an argument between former Vols Bob Woodruff, the U. T. A.D., and Bobby Dodd, head coach at Tech. over a “hide-out” play run by the Yellow Jackets. The argument was dicey, Dodd calling Woodruff, his one-time assistant, “the worst public relations athletic director in the United States.”

The times were a-changing in Knoxville, as Bob Dylan wrote, and this was the last gasp of the single-wing. The “T” formation would be in Knoxville the next year. Mallon Faircloth was the final single-wing tailback.

The 1963 season was the bridge between the past and the future of Tennessee football.

McDonald had said, “Anything might happen,” and he was right.

He didn’t know how right he was.

Friday, Sept. 12, 2014

“37 Years Ago Tonight”

The John Majors Era started at Tennessee 37 years ago tonight. California spoiled the party, winning 27-17.

Jimmy Streater broke loose for an 80-yard touchdown run in the first half, and Gen. Bob’s stadium has never been louder.

Up in the Vol Network booth, Bill Anderson cheered Streater on as he made his way to the north end zone. It was an electrifying moment.

Majors had been the people’s choice for the job, and, as Russ Bebb noted, anybody who thought anyone else had a chance, even the remotest chnce, was a “candidate for the funny farm.”

Twenty-two years earlier, Bowden Wyatt, Majors’ coach in 1955 and 1956, had come to Knoxville with similar support from the Vol faithful. No one else was really considered then, either.

The first win came a week later, 14-12 over Boston College.

The first year finished 4-7, but the Vols improved steadily over the years. There was a glorious period from 1985 to 1990, where the Vols won three SEC titles and defeated Miami in the Sugar Bowl, Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl, and Virginia in the Sugar Bowl.

There were (and still are) those who might put an asterisk (*) next to those years for any number of reasons, but no one raised that issue while it was happening.

All of that started 37 years ago tonight.

Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2014

“His First Game-Winner”

The 1995 Georgia game, a 30-27 Vol victory, came down to redshirt freshman kicker Jeff Hall, a native of Winchester, knocking home a 34-yard field goal with 10 seconds to play. Jay Graham had 137 yards rushing, but Hall’s boot was the key to the win.

Hall would later add game-winners against Syracuse and Florida in the 1998 season and boot the extra point that proved to be the game-winner in the SEC title game against Auburn in 1997. He would also break a 14-14 tie in the 1996 Citrus Bowl with two fourth quarter fielders.

He is the Tennessee career scoring leader and the SEC scoring champion in 1998.

He burst onto the scene, however, with his game-winner against Georgia 19 years ago tonight.

Could it have been that long ago?

On further reflection, it certainly was.

Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2014

P.S. IN MEMORIAM: The legendary Jack Cristil, “Voice of the Mississippi State Bulldogs,” dead at age 88, serving the Staters from 1953-2011.