“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 local community. Actually, the business exec did most of the writing. The coach got his name first on the front cover, 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?”

Well, yes.

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.”

Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2016

“On the Road After a Big Win”

On occasion, bad things happen on the road to teams the week after they have a big win, usually an upset, at home.

That happened in 1959, 1979, and 1982, to name three such occasions.

After the Vols defeated LSU 14-13 in November 1959, Ole Miss took the Vols to the woodshed 37-7 the nest week in Memphis. The night before the game, Bowden Wyatt told a friend that Ole Miss would do exactly that.

After Tennessee defeated Notre Dame 40-18 in 1979, Ole Miss laid a 44-20 loss on the Vols the next week in Jackson.

Finally, after Tennessee upset Alabama in 1982, Georgia Tech knocked off the Vols 31-21 in Atlanta. John Majors told his team to get off Cloud “9” the Monday after the Alabama game, but whatever he tried must not have worked.

Conversely, Auburn knocked off Tennessee 34-10 in Knoxville in 2004, but the Vols were able to recover and beat Georgia 19-14 in Athens the next week. It can happen both ways.

It is a trend, however, that needs to be examined carefully.

Sunday, Aug. 21, 2016

“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.

A great sportswriter.

Saturday, Aug. 20, 2016

“How to Measure a Season?”

How could two Tennessee teams defeat Florida and Alabama in successive years and win 10 games each campaign, yet have the season be perceived as a disappointment or, for lack of a better word, as “underachieving”?

That’s exactly what happened in 2003 and 2004, teams that each compiled 10-3 records, went 13-3 in the SEC, and played in the SEC Championship game that latter season, yet left fans wondering what might have been.

Losses at Auburn and at home to Georgia, plus a dispiriting loss to Clemson in the “ACC Invitational,” otherwise known as the Peach Bowl, marred the 2003 season.

The Vols won at Florida and at Alabama and pulled off a major upset at Miami, but in the minds of many Vol fans, it somehow wasn’t “enough.”

The 2004 team defeated Florida and Alabama at home and won at Georgia, but lost twice to Auburn, once at home and once in the SEC title game, and somehow lost to Notre Dame a few weeks before Irish head coach Tyrone Willingham was let go. The Tennessee game was Willingham’s last victory as Notre Dame head coach.

There was also an inexplicable injury to Vol freshman quarterback Erik Ainge in the final seconds of the first half against Notre Dame that sidelined Erik for the season. It was one that many fans believed didn’t have to happen.

The Vols won the bowl game, 38-7 over Texas A&M, but, even with benefit of hindsight, the season still didn’t add up.

There are times that 10 wins in a season just aren’t enough, even if two of them are against Alabama and Florida.

That happened as recently as 2003 and 2004.

Friday, Aug. 19, 2016

“Getting Your ‘Kicks’ at Grant Field”

Must be something in the water, or perhaps in the air when the Vols have played Georgia Tech at Grant Field. Fuad Reveiz had a 60-yard field goal against Tech in 1982 (Georgia Tech 31, Tennessee 21), and Alan Duncan had a 55-yarder (Tennessee 23, Tech 10) in 1982.

Carlos Reveiz missed a chip shot field goal at the end of the 1986 game (a 14-13 loss), while brother, Fuad, had the game-winner in 1984 (Vols 24, Tech 21).

Might be nice to return to Atlanta and Grant Field sometime in the years to come.

Any takers?

Thursday, Aug. 18, 2016

“Some Mention”

Can we hold out hope that there will be some mention of Bill Gibbs somewhere in the newly named the Stokely Residence Hall on campus?

Wouldn’t have to be anything big and ornate. Just something that recognizes Bill, whose name graced a campus dormitory for more than 50 years.

That’s all.

Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2016

“The Outcome Doesn’t Matter”

Wonder if collegiate fans, 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 really are pre-season games.

The dubious distinction aside, could Tennessee or Alabama fans 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 know that Lane Kiffin called certain of Tennessee’s early 2009 games “pre-season games,” 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?

Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2016

“What About a Tie?”

Amongst 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 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.

Monday, Aug. 15, 2016

P.S. WHAT GOES AROUND, COMES AROUND, PART II: Obviously she didn’t fit the vision… or perhaps someone didn’t like her tone. Maybe a course in Constitutional Law might also be in order.

“Football and Baseball on the Same Field”

Does anybody miss the good old days when pro football exhibition (now known as pre-season) games were played on baseball fields, in the days the NFL and the major leagues shared venues?

Those were the days when the playing fields juxtaposed quickly from the diamond to the gridiron or vice versa. The football fields went from grass quickly to the “skin” portion of the infield and back very quickly.

In the old days, you probably remember that the Tigers and Lions sharing a stadium in Detroit, as did the Orioles and Colts in Baltimore, the Cardinals and Cardinals in St. Louis, the White Sox and Cardinals in Chicago at Comiskey Park, the Bears and Cubs at Wrigley Field, the Rams and Angels in Anaheim, the Dodgers and Rams in Los Angeles in the 1950s at the Coliseum, the Giants and 49ers in San Francisco, the Giants and Titans at the Polo Grounds in New York, the Yankees and New York Giants in the Big Apple, Phils and Eagles in Philadelphia, Red Sox and Patriots in Boston, Steelers and Pirates in Pittsburgh, Mets and Jets in New York, Chiefs and As in Kansas City, Bengals and Reds in Cincinnati, the Raiders and As in Oakland, and the Sea Hawks and Mariners in Seattle.

Those were the days, folks. The baseball and football connection was alive and well.

Sunday, Aug. 14, 2016

“A Great Celebration”

After a 17-14 win over Colorado State in the 1989 season opener, Vol fans didn’t know what to expect when their heroes squared off against UCLA the next week at the Rose Bowl.

The Vols were 15-point underdogs, but every dog has its day, or so the saying goes. Tennessee didn’t have a turnover or a penalty and won decisively, by a count of 24-6. The Vols and their fans celebrated after the game, in one of the great displays of appreciation between a team and its fans.

There were thought to be 5,000 Vol fans on the West Coast that night, another manifestation of the loyalty Tennessee fans have shown over the years. The Vols wore the nearly invisible numbers that night, orange numbers (without outline) on white mesh jerseys.

That would be rectified in the road games to come, but it was a problem that night, for UCLA and for the fans in the stands. The Bruins were thought to be a solid unit that season, but the Vols exposed weaknesses that would cause UCLA to fall to a 3-7-1 record.

The game marked the Vols first contest at the famed arena since Jan. 1, 1945, when the Vols lost to USC, by a 25-0 count. The Vols had been outscored 39-0 in the Rose Bowl before taking the measure of UCLA.

Saturday, Aug. 13, 2016