“The Name ‘Stuck’”

Sometimes long-ago nicknames “stick.” Sometimes people see talent and ability long before anybody else.

In a story from Sept. 20, 1953, article in the Knoxville Journal made reference to the Fulton-LaFollette game that night at Evans-Collins Field, noting that John “The Voice” Ward was doing the broadcast. He was just a youngster then, but he was on his way up as a communicator.

Somebody at the Journal thought he was making a wisecrack, a dig at John perhaps, but more than that, the unknown writer ended up defining a career.

This was a specific case where a nickname “stuck.”

That’s the way things seemed more than 50 years ago.

Sunday, Jan. 25, 2015

“A Way with Words”

Jerre Haskew has a way with words. He’s a good friend from Chattanooga who is a great source of information on all things Tennessee. He knows the good and the bad and the funny and the sad.

He was a good friend of the late Ray Mears, to the point he was the only non-family pallbearer at Ray’s funeral. He also remembered meeting Ray at the Delta Tau Delta house when Ray first arrived in Knoxville.

He shared a couple of intriguing anecdotes recently.

CAMPUS LIFE IN THE 1950s AND THE CUMBERLAND TRIO IN THE 1960s: “There’s the Chattanooga game in 1958 when I was a freshman student and spectator, seeing the tires slashed on the cops’ paddy wagon and then the fire hoses brought in followed by tear gas. We also sang to warm up the crowd for a Friday night pre-game pep rally in 1963 when Jim McDonald was interim head coach, singing a song to the tune of the ‘Ballad Of Jed Clampett,’ rewritten by me for Jim.”

ADOLPH RUPP: “Eddie Einhorn did his first ever Saturday afternoon TVS regional telecast in January of 1965 from UT for the Kentucky game at the old Armory Fieldhouse. He hired the Cumberland Trio to do the halftime show. On Friday night before the game, we were finishing up practicing the music. Rupp brought Kentucky on the floor for a shootaround or whatever it was, noticed us and sent Harry Lancaster over to find out just ‘Who the heck we were and what we were doing there.’

“He didn’t know Einhorn and his No. 2 guy Bob Hill from a hole in the ground and thought we were UT spies sent in by Mears. Lancaster politely asked us to leave, with Rupp across the floor scowling at us. I spoke up and told him what we were doing there. I said we would leave, but would like to meet Rupp. He took us across the floor and we shook Rupp’s hand and got a big growling, ‘You boys need to get the heck out of here.’ We did. Joe Dean was laughing like crazy!”

There are Tennessee stories all over the place if you look and listen carefully.

Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015

“A Flag on the Ground”

Never was John Majors happier to see a flag dropped. It was Nov. 5, Homecoming in Knoxville, 1988, and the Vols were the proud possessors of a one-game winning streak, after a win two weeks earlier against Memphis State.

That doesn’t sound like much, but the Vols had dropped six in a row to start the season, so a one-game streak was big news. The tally in those six games was 211-102, in favor of the other guys.

Tennessee and Boston College were squaring off in the rain at Neyland Stadium. It rained nearly every home game during the 1988 season, so that was nothing new.

Preston Warren had a 31-yard interception return for a touchdown and Chip McCallum added a 43-yard field goal to complete the Vol scoring. Warren’s pick was one of four for the Vols that afternoon, the first time the Vols had pulled that trick in a game against Miami Jan 1, 1986 in New Orleans.

Tennessee led 10-7 nearing the one-minute mark of the fourth quarter. BC had the ball, third-and-19 at the 20, 80 yards away from the south end zone, which looked like it might be in another area code. In this year, however, anything was possible.

Quarterback Mike Powers heaved the ball far down the field and wideout Marcus Cherry somehow wrestled the ball away from two Vol defenders and completed an 80-yard scoring play. It was a shocker.

Neyland Stadium was silent as a tomb, or maybe even more so. No one counted the number of fans who headed for the exits or those at home who turned off the radios, or, worse yet, flung them (the radios) or themselves through the nearest window. About that time, however, there was intervention, perhaps even from the heavens.

That came with the realization that there was a yellow flag at the line of scrimmage. The game wasn’t on television, so the word “FLAG” didn’t appear on the graphics of that or any other day.

The officials, members of a split crew (they don’t have those any more), conferred and rendered a decision.

What happened was a tight end was “covered” by the wide receiver on his side. Once he crossed the line of scrimmage, he was an ineligible receiver. That’s exactly what happened.

The line judge threw the flag, maybe before Powers even released the ball, and a penalty was finally stepped off. The touchdown was thus disallowed and there was an enormous sigh of relief from Vol partisans. The official who made the call was not an SEC type, but from the BC side.

So, the Vols won, continuing a modest winning streak that would stretch into the 1989 SEC title season.

BC was left to play the “what-if” game, wondering how things got away.

Friday, Jan. 23, 2015

“The Man in the Brown Suit”

It might have been this time of year that Ray Mears once wore a brown suit at Memorial Coliseum in Lexington for a Tennessee-Kentucky game.

Nothing wrong with brown suits, mind you, except that “Uncle Adolph,” Adolph Frederick Rupp, the “Baron of the Bluegrass,” seemed to have a patent, copyright, or some other important legal document allowing him, and him alone, to wear a brown suit.

Seeing Mears in a brown suit set Adolph off like a rocket, although he didn’t let on how much it irked him, at least publically.

Once Mears did find out that Rupp was displeased, Mears professed great love and admiration for the brown suit.

Never knew what coaches wore on the sidelines could have such an impact, did you?

When you think about it, Mears was never at a loss for finding anything that gave him an edge.

Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015

“More than 45 Years Ago?”

Tennessee’s “Fearless Five” of 1966-67, so named by Knoxville Journal sportswriter Ben Byrd, defeated No. 8 Florida for the second time in six days, 56-42, at the brand new Stokely Athletic Center in the early days of the team’s run to the SEC title.

The Vols had defeated the then-No. 10 Gators in Gainesville on Jan. 16 by 66-53. That win brought the Vols to a 4-1 record in what would be a 15-3 SEC season. The Vols would not dent the AP poll until the games of Feb. 25, coming in at No. 8 and finishing the season at that position.

The Vols would lose tight contests at Ole Miss (56-53) and Alabama (53-52) and knocked off all comers the rest of the way, including that memorable double overtime win at Mississippi State in the season finale at Starkville.

Vol fans were warming up to this team, filling Stokely Center to the rafters and then heading home to watch the taped replay on WTVK (Channel 26) at 11:30 p.m.

It was, as always, a great time to be a Tennessee fan.

Could it really have been more than 45 years ago?

Say it ain’t so.

Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2015

“Think Before You Speak”

Sometimes you have to wonder if fans really know the full import of what they’re saying, particularly on the radio.

That was the case in the Erik Ainge days (2004-07). There was rain forecast for a game early in his career, and all of Big Orange Country took a deep breath.

Could Erik play in the rain?

Erik was from Hillsboro, Ore., in a state where it seems to rain every other day. Playing in the rain seemed to be no problem.

But for Tennessee fans, it was just another way to find a cloud in every silver lining. You had to have imagined that Erik had practiced and/or played with a wet ball more than once in his lifetime.

MEMO TO CALLERS: Think before you speak.

Monday, Jan. 19, 2015

“His Time”

Back in 1966, Tennessee and Kentucky squared off at Neyland Stadium, with the game being regionally televised on ABC. History records that the other televised game that day, the one folks in Knoxville couldn’t see, was Notre Dame and Michigan State, the so-called “Tie One for the Gipper” game in East Lansing, Mich., Michigan State 10, Notre Dame 10.

There was, however, considerable history being made on the Shields-Watkins Field grass that afternoon. Johnny Mills, a wide receiver from Carter County, caught seven balls for 225 yards, all from quarterback Dewey Warren, to set a pass receiving record that stood for nearly 35 years, before it was broken in the 2001 LSU game, when Kelley Washington caught 11 for 256 yards.

Mills led the 1966 team with 48 catches for 725 yards, both record numbers to that time. Mills more than doubled what Buddy Cruze did in 1956, in terms of receptions and yardage. His performance did serious damage to the Vol record books. No Vol had caught more than 23 passes up to that time. More than that, that player who did catch 23 balls was also named Johnny Mills, based on his 1965 performance.

A number of Vols took their best shot at Mills over the years: Willie Gault with 217 against Vanderbilt in 1981, Carl Pickens with 201 against Kentucky in 1990, Stanley Morgan with a like number against TCU in 1976, and Peerless Price with 199 against Florida State in the 1999 Fiesta Bowl. The list goes on.

It’s an impressive group, but none of them could match what Mills did.

There were 33- and 41-yard receptions in the first quarter, 12- and 33-yarders in the second period, a 13-yarder in the third, and a 72- and 21-yarder in the fourth. The Vols needed every point that day to prevail by 28-19.

“I ran a 5.0 40-yard dash. Can you imagine how long that 72-yard catch would take?” he said.

Mills keeps it all in perspective. “Everybody had a time. I had my time,” he said. “They probably look at those old videos and say, ‘Boy, the guy sure is slow. He sure does run archaic routes.’ But as they mature, they’ll probably think he wasn’t bad for his time.”

His coach, Doug Dickey, was impressed with what Mills accomplished.

“Johnny was another of those route-runner, good-catcher-type guys who did not have great speed, but had the ability to maneuver himself into the openings. He knew how to fake and move, set up the defender, then end up somewhere catching the ball.”

Mills had a spectacular two-game run in 1965 and 1966, in which he caught 10 passes in the UCLA game and came back in the season opener against Auburn to catch 11. He was All-SEC in 1966, one of four Vols so named.

“I was just slow, but if I was around the ball I could catch it,” he said, “and if I was in a crowd, I could come up with it. I would tell Dewey to get it close and I would catch it.”

He held the record for 35 years. That says it all.

He wasn’t bad for his time, or anybody else’s.

Sunday, Jan. 18, 2015

“The Job I’ve Always Wanted”

It was sometime in January 1955 that Bowden Wyatt rolled into Knoxville to take the reins of the Tennessee football program. He had had great success at Wyoming and Arkansas, conference championships at both schools, with Vol fans hoping for more of the same in Knoxville.

“It’s been a rough decision for me,” Wyatt said, “but I’m going back to the job I’ve always wanted.”

Wyatt bought Skeeter Bailey, Dick Hitt, George Cafego, and LeRoy Pearce with him from Arkansas, added Ralph Chancey and Bunzy O’Neil, and completed the staff with Jim McDonald, a successful high school coach in Springfield, Ohio.

There was a magic moment at the Vol football banquet when Bowden made a presentation to 1955 team captain Jim Beutel. It was a coin he had won as captain of the 11-0 1938 team. He had kept it to give his first captain if he ever became head coach at Tennessee.

So the Wyatt years at Tennessee were off and running.

“With triumphant coaches tenures behind, Bowden Wyatt was now back home,” Russ Bebb wrote. “Ahead lay even greater triumphs and personal glory.”

There was more to it, however.

“And sadness and sorrow, too.”

Sunday, Jan. 18, 2015

“Remembered Favorably”

Jimmy England poured in 29 points, but the Vols lost to No. 2 Kentucky 68-52 this day in 1970 at Memorial Coliseum in Lexington. Yes, Virginia, there was basketball in Lexington before Rupp Arena, when a fellow named Adolph Rupp had his way hoops-wise in the SEC.

It was the fourth consecutive loss for the Vols, who finished 16-9 that season, 10-8 in the SEC.

The Vols lost twice more before rallying to win eight of their final 10 games, including a double-overtime win at Vanderbilt and a pulsating 89-88 win over LSU and “Pistol Pete” Maravich. Bobby Croft and England earned All-SEC honors that season.

The magic might have been was missing that season at Stokely Center, what with the Vols losing three home SEC contests, but the team will long be remembered favorably for its season-opening upset win at South Carolina, ranked No. 1 in the nation before Ray Mears’ team pulled off a 55-54 decision.

The Vols recovered nicely, winning 20 games in the 1970-71 season.

Saturday, Jan. 17, 2015

“Slipping”

What is insecurity?

Among the denizens of the broadcast booth, it’s receiving an award and immediately starting to worry about the next year.

Lindsey Nelson, a Tennessee grad, once noted that Mel Allen, an Alabama grad, was named “Sportscaster of the Year.”

When Lindsey offered his congratulations, Mel confided a basic feeling of insecurity to his good friend in the broadcasting business.

“But what if I don’t win it again next year?”

There was very likely a pause for effect.

Here’s the clincher.

“People will think I’m slipping.”

That’s insecurity.

Friday, Jan. 16, 2015