Certainly No Dummy”

Interesting thing about the 1968 NFL draft. The Cincinnati Bengals made Tennessee’s Bob Johnson their first pick ever, figuring that you could build around a center. If you had an outstanding center, the reasoning went, a lot of other problems might take care of themselves.

They added to that line of thought by drafting Vol quarterback Dewey Warren in the sixth round. If your center and quarterback had already worked together, then there would be more time for learning the other aspects of a new offense.

Paul Brown was certainly no dummy and those two transactions proved it.

For Johnson, it had to have been a sense of déjà vu, given that four years earlier, Doug Dickey had made Johnson the centerpiece of his first recruiting class. Johnson was a two-time All-America selection and was honored sufficiently to have been the Peyton Manning of his day. It could have been that Peyton was the Bob Johnson of his day.

A final word about Paul Brown. Occasionally, he made a miscalculation. But not many. The Cleveland Browns were practicing at Yankee Stadium before a game in late 1959. As the Browns left the field, a maintenance man with shovel in hand yelled at the visitors: “The Giants are going to kill you tomorrow.”

Not fazed in the least, Brown looked at his team and said: “Never listen to a man with a shovel in his hand.”

Unfortunately, the maintenance man was right. The final was 48-7, New York.

All of which goes to show you can’t win them all.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

“Transition Stories”

There are some interesting “transition stories” in the history of Tennessee football.

In 1926, Capt. Neyland had to “set his jaw” with Dean Dougherty and take on the baseball and track coach to get enough players to hold spring practice.

In 1955, Bowden Wyatt lost his best running back on the second day of spring drills, when he and star running back Tom Tracy parted ways.

In 1964, Steve DeLong had a running battle with new coach Doug Dickey that’s recounted by Marvin West in “Legends of the Tennessee Vols.” Somehow, Steve and Dickey made it through the season. Steve became a two-time All-America in 1964, and, beginning in 1965, Dickey had the Vol program reaching for the stars.

Those are but three examples.

Here are some related thoughts.

On “National Signing Day,” everybody’s a hero. Everybody can play. It’s exciting. The sky’s the limit.

Then reality sets in within a year. Some young men can play.

Some can’t.

When that latter reality sets in, you can tell it by the body language. The eyes are the key. When a player is thinking about leaving, you can see it in the eyes.

Then comes the phone call and the press release, that a certain player has “left the squad.” Sometimes the head coach says, “We wish him well.” Sometimes he doesn’t. Then follows a recapitulation of that player’s career.

After that, the talk shows kick into gear, and, 99 times out of 100, the coach is the heavy, either for poor recruiting judgment or “mistreating” or “misleading” a seemingly popular player. The truth lies somewhere in between. The situation is magnified when a new coach comes in.

When you look over the list of a recruiting class as early as four years later, you’re sometimes surprised at the numbers of those who “made it” versus those who didn’t.

It’s a reflection of life as we know it.

Then and now.

Friday, April 24, 2015

“Quite a Memorable Moment”

Those fans, all 16,000 of them who attended the 1968 Orange and White Game at Neyland Stadium, were part of an historic gathering that Saturday afternoon.

They didn’t know it at the time, but they were part of history, as they witnessed the final game on the verdant turf of Shields-Watkins Field until Sept. 17, 1994.

As every Vol fan knows, much the way a schoolboy knows major league batting averages, that the turf was pulled up that summer for the first of a number of artificial surfaces over the ensuing years, termed by one Vol fan’s daughter, obviously wise beyond her years, as “pretend grass.”

Who says spring games don’t engender a number of memories that last for a lifetime?

Thursday, April 23, 2015

“How to Cope with May, June, and July”

The fallow period of the year is on the way, the time between the end of spring practice and the start of fall drills. The arrival of the football magazines will be a hopeful sign.

Can the arrival of the season tickets come soon enough?

Can the time the team reports come soon enough?

Can kickoff of the Bowling Green game come soon enough?

We always make it through, but it isn’t always easy.

Suggestions on how to cope with May, June, and July are always appreciated.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

“Don’t Let These Boys Talk Football”

There was a time that Maj. Neyland, back in the 1920s, “farmed out” his players to certain trusted friends the night before a game.

You couldn’t do that today for any number of reasons, but this was a long time ago, and things were certainly different.

The night of Oct, 18, 1929, Neyland asked Pat Roddy to take Gene McEver, Bobby Dodd, and Paul Hug to his home to get them some rest and relaxation before the Alabama game the next day.

“Don’t let these boys talk football,” Neyland told Roddy.

Here’s what happened, as reported in Tom Siler’s book titled “Tennessee: Football Greatest Dynasty” (1962).

“Right after dinner they began talking football,” Roddy recalled. “What could I do? McEver—he was a pretty good mimic, you know—began imitating Neyland on the practice field. I got ‘em to bed about midnight. Next morning I went down to get breakfast—my wife wasn’t at home. I fixed six eggs and some toast and called the boys. They ate two dozen eggs and two loaves of bread and didn’t seem a bit worried about Alabama.”

Tennessee won that October afternoon, 6-0, as McEver who scored 130 points that season to lead the nation, earned the only touchdown, and the Vols went on to a 9-0-1 record. The Vols only lost two games between 1926 and 1930, winning 43 and tying 3.

There are those timid souls who will talk about this era and offer all sorts of thoughts that this wasn’t “real” football, whatever that means. The opponents from that day weren’t up to today’s standards, they argue. The crowds weren’t that big. There was no media coverage. All the usual excuses.

If you talk to people who were there or read the newspapers of the day, you get the idea that, more than 80 years later, the games got the attention of the fans of that long-ago day. The games were important to the fans of that day, just as they are important today.

The only thing missing from the analysis was how Mrs. Roddy reacted when she found out the three players had gone through her groceries like a hot knife through butter. She and Pat probably had more than one discussion about that.

Unless, of course, she (or Pat) had the Vols on whatever qualified as a parlay card in those days. Then she might have reacted a little differently.

It was a different day back then.

Monday, April 20, 2015

“You Played Football?”

As every Vol fan knows, Tim Priest, a native of Huntingdon, Tenn., and captain of the 1970 team, holds the all-time interception mark in Tennessee football history, 18 picks for 305 yards and one score. That happened 1968-70, and Tim’s mark still stands.

He’s been with the Vol Network since 1999. That season, Deon Grant had a first-play interception for a score against Auburn. Priest was interviewing Deon on the post-game show.

“We were sitting there getting ready to go on,” Priest related, “and Glenn Thackston, the producer, was talking with us.

“He asked Deon, who was approaching my record, if he knew who held the record for the most interceptions in Tennessee history. When he said he didn’t, Glenn pointed at me.”

Deon’s response on knowing Tim Priest’s identity was vintage, perhaps reflecting the ever-changing trends in college football over the years: “You played football?”

Players today must look at the late 1960s or early 1970s as the “Dark Ages” of football.

It was, as Tim noted, a different time when he played.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

“Peyton Manning”

The University of Tennessee powers-that-be announced the creation of the Peyton Manning Scholarship this night 17 years ago. It was quite a day and night for Peyton Manning what with him being the No. 1 draft choice of the Indianapolis Colts that afternoon and returning to Knoxville for the Orange and White Game that night.

At the draft ceremonies in New York, Peyton reclaimed the famed Manning No. 18 jersey. “No. 18 has always been special to our family,” Peyton said. “The Colts had it available and I’m looking forward to wearing it.” (Peyton had worn No. 16 in Knoxville because an upperclassman already had No. 18. Incoming recruit Marcus Nash wanted No. 12, his second choice, so No. 16 it was.)

At halftime of the game, the honors came quickly. Joe Johnson and coterie of campus leaders accepted a $135,000 check from reps of Burger King for Peyton’s being named the Draddy Award winner (often called the “Academic Heisman”).

Knoxvillians Herb and Jean Brown handed a UT staffer a check for $10,000, saying they “wanted to do something for Peyton.”

The winner of the first Peyton Manning Scholarship, funded from the proceeds of awards Peyton received while on campus, was Jay Stephen Burns of Bulls Gap. One member of the Burns family, when told of the ceremony, asked simply: “Will we get to meet Peyton?”

After the scholarship presentation, Peyton signed a No. 16 jersey (“Peyton Manning, April 18, 1998”) and was presented a framed No. 16 jersey of his own.

It was quite a day for Peyton Manning and the University of Tennessee 17 years ago tonight.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

“Welcome to Campus”

The Vol Historian and Mrs. Historian once went to Maine on vacation back in 2002.

One of the dominant memories of the trip was spotting a bumper sticker that read “Welcome to Maine.”

That was good, a welcoming touch.

Then came the tag line, the next sentence.

“Now go home.”

Thought about that when the powers-that-be once offered free parking for the Orange and White Game.

That was good.

Then came the other half of the story.

Don’t stay on campus too long and expect to find your car in its appointed place. There might even be a bill on your windshield. There was a concert at TBA, $10 cash to park.

Love it when stories led logically from one to another.

Welcome to campus.

Just don’t stay too long.

Friday, April 17, 2015

“The Card Section”

Whatever happened to the card section at football games?

That was a great part of college football in the 1950s, maybe even into the early 1960s, when football on the Hill had an ambiance about it, when students perceived themselves to be a part of the game, when something we used to call “school spirit” was a part of every Saturday afternoon at Shields-Watkins Field.

Things were different back then, when enrollment was so small everybody on campus actually seemed to know each other. The Hill was the center of campus, with old-timers being able, at a moment’s notice, to tell you how much fun their college days were.

As the picture shows, students in one section held up cards according to very specific instructions that said “Welcome” or any other similar message.

It probably took a great deal of discipline to make this happen, but it did.

And it was a nice touch.

Friday, April 16, 2015

“The Importancc of Spring Games”

Someone once asked about the importance of spring games.

Someone else, with a great deal of experience with these type things, had a quick answer.

“Spring games are like a bad movie. Good enough to get your attention. Bad enough to disappoint you.”

That’s one way of saying they are full of sound and fury, but not signifying much.

That’s two clichés for the price of one.

The best line about spring games comes afterwards when the coach says, “We didn’t get anybody hurt.”

That’s one man’s definition of a good spring game.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015