“Time Healing All Wounds”

Sometimes, the inexorable passage of  has a way of defusing most any controversy.

Consider that it wasn’t too long ago that Alabama and Auburn were squabbling over the venue of the “Iron Bowl.” Auburn wanted to play its “home games” in Auburn, a seemingly reasonable request in some circles, an unreasonable one in others, while Alabama threatened all kinds of repercussions, including canceling the series, and supported keeping the game in Birmingham, where powers from above had seemingly ordained it.

As both teams increased their stadium capacity over the years and Legion Field being downsized thanks to the demise of the East side upper deck, the games are being played on campus and the rivalry hasn’t suffered one iota. In fact, it may be more competitive than ever, if that’s possible.

The game site controversy seems well in the past, particularly when one team wins on the other’s home field.

There was concern and trepidation in some parts of Big Orange Country, relative to trips to Auburn, Athens, Starkville, or Oxford, instead of Birmingham, Memphis, or in the case of Georgia, not playing at all. The series lay dormant for the years between 1937 and 1967. It was resumed in 1968, and, with advent of divisional play, the series between the two border states is as hot and heavy as any series Tennessee has played over the years.

Vol fans have managed to get to all of these venues with out excessive problems. Getting out has been a problem at times, but that’s part of the magic of it all.

Vol fans also worried about playing Memphis State, later Memphis, in one of those “nothing to gain, everything to lose” games. The Vols have won 21 of the 22 games played, but the 1996 game, Memphis 21, Tennessee 17, still rankles otherwise sensible Vol fans.

Time heals all wounds and all that, you know.

Some day, this year’s controversies across the conference will be safely consigned to history.

There will be others arising to take their place.

Thursday, Aug. 27, 2015

“An ‘Electrifying’ Performance”

Boy, have statistics (and the perception of the stats) changed.

More than 40 years ago, it was reported that, “Condredge Holloway turned in his most electrifying performance of the season, completing 11 of 19 passes for 94 yards and rushing for 74 yards in 19 carries, to lead the Vols past SEC rival LSU in the 1972 Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl.”

Would fans consider those stats to be “electrifying” today?

It’s doubtful they would, but, back in ’72, Condredge was a big deal (and still is, in many minds). He did so many things to “electrify” the crowd. In this case, he led the Vols to a 24-3 halftime lead that almost got away.

Guess “electrifying” is what you make of it.

That night in Houston, he was pretty darn good, yea, verily, “electrifying.”

For certain.

Monday, Aug. 24, 2015

“A Heck of a Story”

There was once a legendary football coach, name withheld, who wrote a book with a prominent writer and business executive in the community. Actually, the business exec did most of the writing. The coach got his name first, given the need to sell books.

One day, a few months after publication, the writer’s obituary appeared in the newspaper, complete with picture. One of the coach’s staffers showed him the obit.

The response was immediate: “Did he die?”

There was also the story told of a rookie sportswriter, in search of an angle for a story, maybe even a lead. He pointed in the direction of the setting sun from the press box at the Polo Grounds and posed the following question to the legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice, a native of Murfreesboro, who never seemed to lack for a lead.

“Is that west?”

Rice thought for a moment and said: “If it isn’t, son, you have a heck of a story.”

Sunday, Aug. 23, 2015

“Always Very Quotable”

Offensive guard Don Denbo was a key part of the 1970 team. He was a three-year starter and a better-than-average player.

He was always good for a snappy quote.

When asked if any of his fellow freshmen, otherwise ineligible for varsity action in 1967, could have started in their rookie seasons, Denbo thought for a moment, then said:” Other than me?”

Here’s his take on the 1970 team: “We give so much attention these days to the individual stars. We forget how important and unique a team is. The 1970 team was a team of individuals who somehow put aside their differences (and there were lots of differences) and melded into a unit. We knew we were not going to get beat. We should not have gotten beat. That team should have been national champions.”

Don always called it as he saw it.

Friday, Aug. 21, 2015

“A Great Piece of Writing”

Every now and then, you run onto a piece of sports writing that gets your attention and won’t let go. That was the case with Ben Byrd’s coverage of the 1956 Tennessee-Georgia Tech game at Grant Field in Atlanta, Tennessee 6, Tech 0.

The game was scoreless when Tech kicker Johnny Menger dropped a punt dead at the Vol 5.

Tennessee was in trouble, right?

Here’s where Ben called on all the moxie he had to explain what happened.

“And what did [Bowden] Wyatt use to bail out of trouble here? Something new and fancy just out of the Paris shops? No, he went back to horse-and-buggy football. First, the old ten play, the off-tackle power play, with [John] Majors smashing for a first down at the 15. Breathing room for the Vols now.”

Then came the paragraph of explanation.

“The next revealed the artistic touch, the quick kick, brought over on the Mayflower by Miles Standish as a possible weapon against John Alden.”

That’s a great historic analogy.

“High above the stands it rose, like an eagle in flight. Sixty-eight yards without a return, and Tech found itself on its own 17-yardline with row after row of white stripes, like hurdles, ahead.”

They don’t write game stories like that any more.

Wonderful game.

Exceptional prose.

Thursday, Aug. 20, 2015

“Bringing You the Story”

Got to thinking the other day about those wonderful folks who have brought us the story of Tennessee football over the years.

For a number of years, Vol fans anxiously awaited game stories and columns in the state’s newspapers by writers named Bob Wilson, Walter Stewart, Early Maxwell, Edgar Allen, Tom Anderson, Early Maxwell, F.M. Williams, John Bibb, Ed and Harold Harris, Tom Siler, Marvin West, Frank “Red” Bailes, Ben Byrd, Russ Bebb, David Climer, Ward Gossett, Chris Low, Jimmy Hyams, John Adams, Mike Strange, Gary Lundy, and many, many others.

You may not recognize these names, but H.I. Leyshon and Jimmy Smith were scribes who covered the Vols in the early part of the 20th century. There was a writer named Jimmy Burns who wrote about the 1922 game with Emory & Henry, a 50-0 Tennessee win, the game in which the orange and white jerseys made their debut, at least according to the Tennessee Football Record Book, once called the Tennessee Media Guide or Football Brochure

Burns’s game story had a nice literary touch, noting that the Vols “rendered the Wasps as helpless as a one-armed revenue officer in a moonshiner’s lair.” There was one minor detail missing in his story. No mention of the new orange jerseys.

There was another nice touch in the Knoxville Journal’s story of the 1909 Transylvania game (the college in Lexington, Ky., not the home of Dracula in the Carpethian Mountains). When the Vols, scoreless in their first eight games, knocked off Transy 11-0, the Journal had the following sub-head on its game story: “The Team of the Recent Past Didn’t Know Itself Yesterday, and Thereby Hangs a Pleasant Tale.”

Thos are just two examples.

On Sunday afternoons, Vol fans turned on the television at 1 p.m. on Channel 6 in Knoxville, and there was John Ward, looking straight into the camera with opening comments something like this: “It was a beautiful day yesterday afternoon at Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama, and, when it was all over, Tennessee came home with a 24-13 victory. Coach Doug Dickey, the turning point of this football game…”

It was marvelous, always high-tech by the standards of its day. Even though they might have seen the game live a day earlier, Vol fans wouldn’t have missed it for anything.

The Vol Network, the brainchild of Lindsey Nelson and Edwin Court Hustler Sr., grew into one of finest in college sports. Hustler, Jr. continued what Lindsey and his dad started, and the Vol Network stood then and stands today for class, professionalism, and dignity.

After Edwin C. Hustler Jr. died, suddenly, in the early 2000s, Steve Early took over, and the Vol Network hasn’t missed a beat. Today, Vol Network broadcasts are heard worldwide thanks to the Internet, and heroes in orange and white continue to build the Tennessee legend.

Lindsey said he had originally wanted to call it the “Volunteer Network,” as in “You’re listening to the Volunteer Network. Stand by for the kickoff.” He even rehearsed the tag line at his home on Valley View Drive in North Knoxville.

He needed Gen. Neyland’s approval. For his part, Lindsey said, Gen. Neyland preferred “Vol Network.” So the “Vol Network” it was. It’s been that way ever since.

These are not mere names. These are people who writings and broadcasting talents have helped shape our lives.

Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2015

“The Game Never Played”

The Dec. 5, 1931, Charity Bowl game at the old Yankee Stadium might be termed the “game never played,” at least according to NCAA records, but Tennessee did square off against New York University, the “Violets,” in the “House that Ruth Built” (at least for baseball). Tennessee won 13-0 and brought home a check for $18,583, worth $295,338.22 today.

(For the youngsters out there, they did play football at Yankee Stadium, the field moving from the first baseline out into left field.)

The game was set up by New York Mayor Jimmy Walker and was one of a number of contests played during the Great Depression (mainly in 1931) to raise money for the relief of the unemployed.

That day, the performance of a Vol lineman named Herman Hickman earned him a spot on Grantland Rice’s All-America team, the team’s third Vol All-America selection (after Gene McEver and Bobby Dodd). He was the first non-alumnus head football coach at Yale and was on the first staff of a new publication called Sports Illustrated. In 1959, he became a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.

Beattie Feathers had a 65-yard run for a score, while Deke Brackett had a 75-yard punt return for another, both in the second period. The Violets outgained the Vols 248 to 122, but 90 yards in penalties (against Tennessee’s 5) seemed to slow down things enough for the Vol defense to make the plays when needed.

By the end of the 1931 season, Bob Neyland was 52-2-4 at Tennessee since he arrived in 1926. The Vols gave up only 176 points in those six years.

The trip to New York was better than the one in 1923, when Army laid a 41-0 haymaker on the Vols.

Tennessee historians James Riley Montgomery, Stanley J. Folmsbee, and Lee Seifert Greene wrote about the other significant impact of the game: “The precision playing and the devastating line work of the Volunteers attracted attention of northern sports writers as the press outside Tennessee began to pay closer attention to events in the state.”

Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2015

“Balancing the Ledger”

After the 1977 game at Florida, marked by a nasty little post-game exchange of pleasantries, John Majors had said, “Our time will come.”

Majors got the Vol program on track, and Oct. 13, 1990, was a memorable evening, as the Vols downed the Gators 45-3, moving from a 7-3 halftime lead to the eventual margin.

Dale Carter returned the second half kickoff for a score, and that opened the floodgates.

It was one for the ages, as the Vols hit the Gators with everything in their arsenal, and then some. Even tight end Von Reeves, the big guy from Austin-East High School in Knoxville got in the act, heaving a TD pass to Carl Pickens.

It was one of the most enjoyable evenings in the history of Neyland Stadium.

Everybody remembers that evening.


It doesn’t seem at all as if it were 25 years ago this fall.

Monday, Aug. 17, 2015

“The Outcome Doesn’t Matter”

Have always wondered if collegiate fans, being as victory-obsessed as they are, could stand the professional slate of exhibition games. They’re not really “exhibitions,” the pro football public relations mavens say, but are really “pre-season games.”

There’s a thin line there, you know.

The dubious distinction aside, could Tennessee or Alabama fans, or any other SEC fan base, countenance games against, say, Clemson or Central Florida, contests that are merely tune-ups, a means of seeing who can and cannot play, where it doesn’t matter who wins.

“It doesn’t matter who wins.”

Can imagine the legions of college fans who follow their teams so faithfully getting used to attending games where the outcome doesn’t matter, not mention paying the full freight for the honor of watching?

We all know that Lane Kiffin once called certain of Tennessee’s early 2009 games “pre-season,” but that is irrelevant, probably just a remnant of his days in the pros.

Would Tennessee fans pay through the nose to see the Vols in games where the outcome “doesn’t matter”?

Can’t imagine it.

Not in the least.

Wonder if the day will ever come that will happen?

Sunday, Aug. 16, 2015

“What About a Tie?”

Scattered among the 9-2-2 record in 1990 were two ties that exemplified the nature of the deadlock in football.

Teams played for 60 minutes and didn’t settle anything.

Tennessee twice came from 14 points down in the fourth quarter to tie Colorado in the season opener at Anaheim Stadium. That was the “good” tie, one that left everybody feeling better.

Auburn came back from 26-9 down at Jordan-Hare Stadium to tie the game at 26-26. Auburn fans were (pretty) happy they hadn’t lost, but no one on the Auburn side was really ecstatic about the turn over events. Neither were Tennessee partisans.

For Tennessee, it was a “bad” tie.

That’s just the way it was in the history of college football when 60 minutes failed to determine a winner.

The tie went out the back door in 1996, and overtime came marching triumphantly through the front door.

Not sure overtime is the way to go, but it’s all we have right now.

In 1990, everybody survived and lived to play another day.

Like it or not.

Saturday, Aug. 15, 2015