“A Part of History”

For those of you who live on Valley View Road, somewhere near Whittle Springs Golf Course in Northeast Knoxville, you are a part of history and probably don’t know it.

Sometime in the mid- to late-1940s, Lindsey Nelson needed to assemble an audition tape for an assignment broadcasting sports for Knoxville’s WKGN Radio.

One afternoon, with trusty tape recorder in hand, he began doing play-by-play of an imaginary scrimmage at Shields-Watkins Field some distance away. He didn’t tell the staff minions at the radio station it was imaginary, saying he was away from the field enough so he would not to intrude on the festivities.

He delivered his tape to a man named Charlie DeVois in a plain brown wrapper on a street corner downtown, much the way spies do in the movies. It was all cloak and dagger, all top-secret stuff. Or that’s the way it appeared.

With that little exchange, a career was born. He got a nightly 15-minute gig and a chance to do high school football.

After that first game, DeVois grabbed Lindsey, excitedly, and asked him what he had just done.

It was just a football game, Lindsey said.

“No, no,” DeVois said, “You have just done the best football broadcast ever heard in this town. The very best.”

“The best football broadcast ever heard in this town.” Lindsey more than likely couldn’t believe what he was hearing.

Preparation had suddenly become acquainted with opportunity. The spotting stints with Bill Stern, Lowell Blanchard, and others several years back suddenly were prologue to glory. It was akin to giving Picasso a paintbrush and a blank canvas, giving Heifetz a violin and bow, or Barney Fife a pistol. Interesting things were about to happen.

All because of an audition tape prepared in a house on Valley View Drive in northeast Knoxville. Lindsey didn’t give a street address, so you’re on your own to figure out where it was.

Friday, June 24, 2016

“A Pretty Good Field”

Remember talking with John Majors one day when the subject of the 1956 Heisman Trophy came up, with Majors remembering that Tommy McDonald and Jerry Tubbs of Oklahoma, Jim Brown of Syracuse, John Brodie of Stanford, and eventual winner Paul Hornung were in the field.

That was a pretty impressive group.

Majors said he didn’t know Hornung had won until Gus Manning told him.

Hornung was the star of a 2-8 Fighting Irish eleven, while Majors was leading the Vols to a 10-0 regular season record and berth in the Sugar Bowl.

Vol fans were exercised over Majors losing to Hornung, but had things been different, race relations-wise, in 1956, Jim Brown might have beaten both of them. He was that good.

It would be 1961 before Ernie Davis would become the first African-American winner of the Heisman.

One final note. Hornung, who was part of the Notre Dame delayed broadcast with our own Lindsey Nelson, had seen Dorsett run up and down the field against the Fighting Irish in 1975. He said he would jump out of the Notre Dame Stadium press box if Dorsett gained more than 200 yards in the 1976 season opener.

Dorsett was at 188 with Pitt leading 31-10 in the fourth quarter. That led Majors to remind Hornung in later years that he had saved Paul’s life by calling off the Dorsett dogs that day.

John got a good laugh out of that one. No telling what Hornung thought.

John Majors.

Always delightful.

A Tennessee legend.

Good guy.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

“Good Thing or Not?”

INTERESTING NOTE FROM TODAY’S KNS: “When a new chancellor is in place, Cheek will start teaching educational leadership and higher education policy to mostly doctoral students.

“He’ll be able to share practical experience with students interested in ‘getting it right from the horse’s mouth,’” said Bob Rider, the dean of the College of Education, Health and Human Sciences.

“The college is also where UT’s Center for Educational Leadership is based. Former Knox County Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre will lead that center starting Aug. 1.

“Rider said having both men on staff means ‘great things’ for the college.”

That, of course, is a matter of opinion.

Having Dr. Cheek and Dr. McIntyre under one roof means there will be no shortage of material that can lead to future columns.

Only time will tell whether that’s a good thing.

Or not.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

P.S. Wonderful story about Jimmy England by Marvin West today, perhaps one of his best.



“One of Its Favorite Sons Back Home”

Good story today by John Adams about this year’s Peyton Manning Scholarship Award winners, all four of them.

In an earlier life, the soon-to-be Vol Historian designed the plaques each of the new award winners are holding. The design of the plaques has survived the passage of time, bringing a faint smile to the Vol Historian’s face every year when Peyton comes to town.

(Notice Chancellor Cheek in the picture. Right now he’s in front of us. Soon, hopefully, he’ll be behind us.)

Otherwise, it’s a great day on campus as one of its favorite sons continues to support the University of Tennessee in fine fashion.

Thanks for all you do, Peyton.

Monday, June 20, 2016

“Trains, Trains, Trains”

Someone recently mentioned the train trip from Atlanta to Athens for the 1972 Georgia game. That was really something special.

Now that’s the way to go to a game. Tennessee won, 14-0, and the trip back to Atlanta through the gloaming of an early November evening was fun for all concerned.

It made several thoughtful people wonder about the days Tennessee traveled by train to nearly every venue, Memphis, Nashville, Lexington, North Carolina, etc. There’s even Pat Roddy’s color film, since transferred to videotape, chronicling the trip to California for the 1940 Rose Bowl.

The last passenger train rolled through Knoxville in the late 1960s, so many of the more youthful fans may wonder what all the fuss is about. Traveling by train was a big deal.

Consider the following ways the train has affected Tennessee football history.

Two of the three Tennessee team buses came perilously close to being sideswiped by a train on the way from Silver Springs to Gainesville for the 1977 Tennessee-Florida game.

Doug Dickey came to Knoxville by train for his first press conference. He was a pilot and could’ve flown from Fayetteville, Ark., but Bob Woodruff wanted to keep a proper veil of secrecy over his arrival and announcement. That meant a flight to Memphis and an overnight train ride to Knoxville to arrive at 6 a.m. via Southern Railway.

Three coaches were killed in a car-train accident, Cessna at Westland Drive, in West Knoxville in October 1965 a couple of days after the Alabama game.

The officials for the 1925 contest were late and were let off the train behind Shields-Watkins Field, with the game finishing in near-darkness. Tennessee, coached by an assistant coach named Bob Neyland, won and, when the coaching job opened up later that year, Dean Dougherty hired the youthful Neyland.

The rest is history.

Would fans ride a train to a game today? No one knows, but one thing is for sure.

The trip home, regardless of the mode of transportation, would be a lot more fun after a win.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

P.S. Didn’t have room for it, but there’s at least one more classic Jimmy England story. In the winter of 1965, Holston was playing Fulton at the Holston gym on Chilhowee Drive, with Bill Justus, then a senior, starring for the Falcons and England, then a sophomore, leading the Warriors. The place was packed, not a seat to be had.

Then a man in an orange jacket suddenly appeared at the door and walked in the gym and strode confidently into the Holston cheering section. Suddenly, there were seats for Ray and his entourage where none had been before.

Ray knew how to make an entrance.

What’s more, both Justus and England became Volunteers and had featured roles over their careers, Justus from 1966-67 to 1968-69 and England from 1968-69 to 1970-71.

Another memory of a long ago, but very special time.


“Deserving Better”

That was a perceptive piece Mike Strange wrote about Tennessee basketball talent from the local area, referencing the general lack of same since the days of Ron Widby, Bill Justus, and Jimmy England.

About England, who died Thursday in Cumming, Ga., here’s a salient piece of writing.

“England and Justus stand 1-2 as Tennessee’s most accurate free-throw shooters. Widby and Justus were named to UT’s 20-member ‘All Century Team’ in 2009. The omission of England surprised many and bothered some.”

Mike, all of us who are paying attention understand what you’re saying. It did “surprise” and “bother” those of us who pay attention to the ebbs and flows of Tennessee athletic history.

Jimmy deserved better.

Friday, June 17, 2016



“Reporters Gathering, Breathlessly”

After the 1991 Tennessee-Vanderbilt game, the losing coach, Vanderbilt’s Gerry DiNardo, strode into the media room under the south end of Neyland Stadium.

The Vols won 45-0 that afternoon, so the stage was set for an interesting round of comment from DiNardo, who, for some reason, would never say “Tennessee.”

That was the hope, at least.

DiNardo came in, sipping at a can of a well-known variety of cola. Reporters gathered breathlessly to hear his comments.

The coach asked everybody to move in closer and get their recorders where they wanted them. It appeared to be a conciliatory gesture. One reporter from a major publication decided to stay with the customary pad and pencil.

Good thing, too.

As DiNardo made his comments, there was the persistent “clank” of an aluminum can on a regulation size desk. Not loudly, but enough to be heard.

Perhaps it was a nervous habit. Who knows? So it went. That’s what most of the media probably heard when they listened to their recorders.

Taking notes in an interview is what you do, particularly if you’re good at it, particularly if you can remember the salient ones. On this day, it was a necessity, a way to make sure you got it right.

Friday, June 16, 2016

“Pulling No Punches”

In a ©1996 book by John Madden (“John Madden: Hey, I’m Talking Football”), the former Raiders coach and television personality devotes portions of two chapters to former Vols Reggie White and Bill Bates, obviously two of his favorite players.

About Reggie, he says, “Whatever you call it, Reggie does it all. Line up outside or inside. Rush the passer. Play the run. Take on a double team.”

Bates told Madden once about finding a fumble in a pile of humanity even though he got into the pile late.

His explanation? “You just scratch and claw for that ball with laser beam determination.”

Bates also told Madden about knocking Tony Dorsett cold during a half-speed drill. Bates, however, said he was going full speed.

John Madden doesn’t pull any punches in his book’s 212 pages.

John Madden has his heroes, and Reggie White and Bill Bates are two of them.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

“A Humbling Experience”

The writing business can beat down the next of them, including the Vol Historian.

Was at McKays earlier this p.m. and, in the process of looking for a bargain, found a copy of the Smokey book for $8, original retail value $30, and a copy of the second Vault book for $25, original retail price $50.

Obviously somebody read the books, couldn’t find a place for them on their books shelf or shelves, a cut a deal with McKays for cash or credit, and went on their merry way.

The Vol Historian has picked up a number of books that way, so what one hand might take, another gives.

It all balances out in the end.

Or so it seems.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

“Pulling in the Right Direction”

Is there really a movement to remove the names of Mr. William Simpson Shields and Mrs. Alice Watkins Shields (“Shields-Watkins Field”) from the outside of Neyland Stadium to be replaced by the name of a former head football coach who shall remain nameless until all this conjecture becomes reality?

That idea was suggested, it appears, on the “Sports Animal” sometime between 1 and 3 p.m. Heard that idea broached at dinner tonight from someone who had heard the show.

That would be sufficient to stir up the fan base at a time everyone needs to be pulling in the right direction.

Couldn’t have been more disappointed had the powers-that-be decided to name some athletic or other campus facility after Chancellor Dr. Jimmy Cheek whenever he decides to step down some time on or about June 30.

This year.


Monday, June 13, 2016