“Battling the Bear on Even Terms”

Tennessee defensive back Jimmy Weatherford, a Vol All-America selection in 1968, will never be confused with Alabama’s Terence Cody, but they share one thing in common.

Each blocked a field goal that saved a win for their team.

Cody, you will remember, had the block in the waning seconds of the 2009 team.

Weatherford did likewise 48 years ago today at Neyland Stadium, coming from the left side to block a Mike Dean attempt that would have given Alabama a 12-10 win.

In those days, no one thought to make a poster or a painting of the play. It’s right there on the game film (they used film in those long-ago days), since transferred to videotape.

The game was a tough one for Tide partisans to swallow. That has been true on both sides in the Tennessee-Alabama series all the way back to Gene McEver, part of “Hack, Mack, and Dodd.”

Alf Van Hoose of the Birmingham News had this priceless analysis: “The stage was set to make it one of college football’s all-time classics. The scene was fitting. Perfect. Storied old Neyland Stadium on a golden October Saturday. All it took was a 36-yard field goal by little Mike Dean. But in these cruel times, there is sometimes a jagged ending. Old prince and pauper tales may have been replaced. Life is hard.”

They don’t write stories that way any more.

So, in Doug Dickey’s fifth year at Tennessee, Alabama had won twice, by one (1966, 11-10) and 11 points (1964, 19-8), Tennessee had won twice by one (1968, 10-9) and 11 points (1967, 24-13), and there had been one tie (1965, 7-7).

Dickey was battling the Bear on even terms.

The Vols laid the wood to Alabama a year later at Legion Field by 41-14.

As Vol fans looked toward the 1970s, life was good.

As history records, however, there was danger lurking in the shadows.

After a 24-0 Tennessee win in 1970, the series took an ominous turn.

Between 1971 and 1981, it was all Alabama.

Those of us who were there remember it well.

Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016

“Can’t Anybody Score?”

Lindsey Nelson did the television broadcast of the 1953 Tennessee-Alabama game with Mel Allen, better known as the “Voice of the Yankees.”

Nelson was a Tennessee grad, Allen a graduate of Alabama. So there they were calling the Oct. 17 game 63 years ago tomorrow.

The final was Tennessee 0, Alabama 0, a scoreless tie, on the verdant turf of Legion Field in Birmingham. Jimmy Wade, the Tennessee tailback from Lynchburg, Va., had a solid game, but neither team was able to score.

That’s reasonably amazing, considering the Tide quarterback that day was Bart Starr, who put up precious few goose eggs during his career with the Green Bay Packers.

Tennessee’s Roger Rotroff almost got Starr for a safety near game’s end, but officials marked the ball inches outside the end zone and the deadlock was settled.

One wonders if they had overtime in those days if either team could have scored.

One also wonders how the two announcers filled the broadcast time with so little action and how many viewers were left at the end.

Sunday, Oct. 16, 2016

“A Resigned Look on Their Face”

In the 1967 SEC championship season, the Tennessee-Georgia Tech game in Knoxville this day was on ABC, but the Alabama game the next week wasn’t.
Things were much different back then.

Tennessee won both games by a 24-13 count on the way to a 9-1 season record and the Litkenhous national championship.

There was only one game on the tube in those days and, somehow, the Texas-Arkansas clash was perceived as more important than the Vols’ clash with the Tide.

Mention to some of the younger set about the dearth of televised games back in the 1960s and even into the 1970s, and their eyes glaze over, and they endure the commentary with a resigned look on their face, wondering if you’ll ever shut up and talk about something more current.

The 1967 Tennessee-Alabama game is one of a number of games that rank as the greatest seen only by fans in the stands and the multitudes who tuned into the coaches’ show the next day.

Regardless, these old-time games were pretty important to the fans of that day.

Friday, Oct. 14, 2016

“They Didn’t Have Any”

Sometimes players have an intriguing perspective on what helps bring home a win, especially on the road.

In the 1972 Tennessee-Georgia game, Tennessee showed off a solid defense, one that gave up but 100 points in 12 games and finished 10-2. The Vols had come into the game 0-2 in the conference, with narrow losses to Auburn (10-6) and Alabama (17-10).

There were questions about the offense, but on this day, the offense got 14 points in the second quarter and rode ball control accompanied by a defensive effort without parallel to win 14-0.

It gave Vol fans who rode to the game on the train from Atlanta to Athens confidence for the rest of the season. That train trip was, by the way, quite an adventure, chock full of good memories.

The Vols didn’t lose again in the regular season and defeated LSU in the Astro Bluebonnet Bowl, 24-17. The Vols were No. 4 in the SEC, but No. 8 in the nation.

Someone from one of the Knoxville newspapers, asked one of the defensive Vols, maybe Conrad Graham, how well the Vol defenders had played.

“I don’t know,” he said, “but when we left the field, the other side didn’t have any.”

That comment typified the attitude of the 1972 defense. The other guys might have scored some, but not much.

Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2016

“Giving Your All for Tennessee”

Tennessee was 3-0 when the Vols squared off against Kansas at Memphis Memorial Stadium this day in 1973. The Vols had defeated Duke, Army, and Auburn to start the season.

The game itself was a thriller, going down to the final minutes when the Vols had to stop a two-point conversion to seal the deal. Kansas quarterback David Jaynes threw the ball all over the field, but the Vols did rally for the win.

Team captain Eddie Brown had a 74-yard interception return, a 48-yard punt return, recovered a fumble, and lost three, maybe four, teeth blocking a field goal. Talk about earning respect from your teammates.

“The ball went through my hands and pushed my facemask into my teeth,” he recalled. “It looked pretty bad. I couldn’t eat and lost eight pounds. All I could have were milkshakes.”

Talk about giving your all for Tennessee.

Thursday, Oct. 6, 2011

“No. 31 Could Play the Game”

Jamal Lewis, wearing No. 31, made his first significant action as a Vol a successful one, as he rushed for 155 yards on 22 carries to pace the Vols in a 31-17 win over Ole Miss in a game played 13 years ago this afternoon. He iced the game with 42-yard run for a score, with the Vols holding a tenuous 24-17 lead.

Lewis, an Atlanta native who went on from there to be named SEC “Freshman of the Year,” gained 1364 yards on 232 carries, with 7 touchdowns. He had a long run of 65 yards against South Carolina.

He had 2,677 yards rushing during his career, ranking No. 5 on the Vol statistical charts. He had the requisite size and speed to give opposing defenses fits.

No telling what he might have done in his career had he not been lost for the season with a knee injury in the 1998 Auburn game. There’s also no telling what he might have happened had he gotten more playing time sooner in the 1997 season. Word was he hadn’t picked up the pass protection schemes, but, when he did get into the game, Vol fans intuitively realized he was the real deal.

In a 1997 game against Kentucky, Lewis caught a TD pass and scored three times on the ground. He had 127 yards in the SEC Championship Game against Auburn, a 30-29 Vol victory.

Offensive guard Cosey Coleman joined Jamal on the All-SEC freshman team.

One conclusion is inescapable.

No. 31 could play the game.

Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016

“A Big Win in Memphis”

Doug Dickey earned his first SEC victory as head coach of the Volunteers this day, actually tonight, in 1964, defeating Mississippi State 14-13 at Crump Stadium in Memphis.

It was the Vols’ last visit to the old stadium in Memphis. A new stadium would open on the Fairgrounds in 1965, when the Vols played in the Bluff City twice.

It was the Vols’ first night game, second overall, since a 13-0 win over LSU in Baton Rouge Nov. 4, 1944.

Carl Ellis made the hit on State’s Hoyle Granger on a two-point conversion late in the contest to save the game for the Vols. Steve DeLong was a tower of strength for the Vols up front on his way to the Outland Trophy.

The Vols finished 4-5-1 that season, but better days were just around the corner. The Vol staff was all over the place recruiting, and the result was a freshman class in 1965 that included All-Americas Charles Rosenfelder, Jimmy Weatherford, and Richmond Flowers and All-SEC players Richard Pickens, Ken DeLong and Frank Yanossy.

Monday, Oct. 3, 2016

“The White Jerseys with the Orange Collar”

The No. 12 Vols showed up on Florida Field tonight in 1971 wearing the white jerseys with the orange color. That was part of an SEC “Gentlemen’s Agreement” that left the jersey color choice to the home team, with the visiting team generally wearing white, or, in the case of games at LSU, wearing their school color jerseys.

While many fans might have considered white jerseys a “jinx,” the Vols managed to win against the Gators 20-13. The game included a 99-yard drive for the winning score, Phil Pierce tossing the winning touchdown to Stan Trott, good from 20 yards out.

The Vols finished 5-3 in the jerseys with the orange collar, going to a more vanilla look in 1974, white shirts and white pants, no collar. John Majors brought the orange pants on the road, and occasionally at home, when he came to Knoxville for the 1977 season.

The white shirts with the orange collar were brought out of mothballs as “throwbacks” for the 2004 UNLV game, under very specific approval by the NCAA.

It all started, however, this day in October 1971.

Sunday, Oct. 2, 2016

“The Tie That Binds”

The scoreless tie is a long-lost relic of college football history.

The idea of a game in which neither team scores is laughable today, given the way offenses work and the marked improvements in the kicking game.

Tennessee’s last scoreless tie happened 56 years ago today at the always-lovely Crump Stadium in Memphis. Mississippi State provided the opposition.

The game is lost in the agate of Tennessee history, given very brief mention by more than one Tennessee football historian.

The first scoreless tie in Tennessee history was Nov. 3, 1894, against Maryville. Tennessee and Alabama played a scoreless tie in Birmingham in 1953, a game televised by NBC, with Lindsey Nelson and Mel Allen doing the broadcast. Nelson was a Tennessee grad, while Allen was a product of the Capstone.

There were 53 ties in Tennessee history. The tie went out with a whimper when overtime started ruling the roost in 1996.

As the saying goes, “We’re with you, win or tie, and don’t tie too many.”

Now, you can’t tie any.

Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016

“What Time Is It?”

Saw VFL and former Vol Network analyst Bill Anderson at dinner tonight and immediately thought of a special moment at Kentucky in 1997.

The kickoff was imminent, with the Vols massed at the northwest corner, ready to take the field.

John Ward set the stage as usual, but deferred to Bill at a critical juncture in his spiel.

Bill was surprised, especially when John said, “What time is it?”

That led to a momentary pause until Bill caught on and said, “I didn’t know I could say that,” and then uttered those famous words: “It’s football time in Tennessee.”

That led to more than a few smiles in the broadcast booth, as everyone realized what was transpiring.

It was a special moment of a special time in Tennessee football.

It was in the days of John Ward and Bill Anderson behind the microphones, two special people in the history of Tennessee football.

Monday, Sept. 26, 2016