“On to Tempe”

When Tennessee played Ole Miss Nov. 16, 1991, there was a thought the Vols might sleepwalk through the game, given the results of the previous week’s game at Notre Dame (Tennessee 35, Notre Dame 34), the famous “Miracle at South Bend.”

Tennessee won 36-25, with James Stewart, “Little Man,” not the famed actor, rushing for 215 yards, and the Vols finally putting the game away in the late going. There was a bowl announcement in the offing, the chance to go to Tempe and play Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl. Tempe was fun; Penn State wasn’t.

Tennessee, you will remember, led 17-7 in third quarter before the Nittany Lions scored 35 unanswered points to win 42-17, thanks to three interceptions, a lost fumble, and despite a mere 226 yards on the Penn State side of the ledger.

The Vols thus died by their “boots,” the baseball term for errors and other mistakes, with sports editors across the state resisting the urge to say the Vols died with their boots “on.”

There was more than a little grumbling amongst the coaching staff and among Vol fans relative to the outcome.

It was the first day of 1992, a year all kinds of things happened in the Tennessee program and family that made Vol fans long for midnight Jan. 31 and the calendar turning to 1993.

Monday, Nov. 16, 2015

“The Jackson Massacre”

Today marks the anniversary of the “Jackson Massacre,” the 38-0 loss to Ole Miss at Mississippi Memorial Stadium in Jackson that put a damper on the 1969 season.

And that’s putting it mildly.

Tennessee was No. 3 in the nation and seemed headed for bigger and better things, maybe even playing Notre Dame in the 1970 Orange Bowl.

The Vols had won seven in a row to start the season, highlighted by home wins against Auburn and South Carolina and road wins at Alabama and Georgia. There was talk of a national championship around Big Orange Country.

The Rebels, led by junior quarterback Archie Manning, had lost one-point decisions to Alabama and Kentucky and had a more decisive loss to Houston.

Uneasy, however, lies the head that is even remotely close to the crown. That’s not a direct quote from William Shakespeare, but it’s close. This would be no ordinary Tennessee-Ole Miss game.

Just before the 1969 season started, media types asked Vol linebacker Steve Kiner about Ole Miss having the “horses” to contend for the SEC title. According to Russ Bebb’s history of Tennessee football, Kiner’s response was, “They played more like mules up here last year.” Bad move. That comment would come back to haunt the Vols later that season.

Ole Miss head coach John Howard Vaught, no slouch during his career in the motivation department, took advantage of this and every other opportunity to get his team at fever pitch for the game. To be honest about it, it didn’t take much. Even a quarterback named Manning got into the act.

“We want Tennessee — more than anybody wants ‘em,” Archie said before the game. “They can be had. They weren’t 31 points better than us last year, or this year.” Manning was referring to a 31-0 Vol victory at Neyland Stadium in 1968.

Vol boosters wore orange and white buttons to the game that said “Archie Who?” Ole Miss countered with ones that said “Steve,” referencing Kiner.

Whatever happened before the game, Ole Miss, primed to a fever pitch, simply took the Vols apart once the opening whistle blew. It was 21-0 at the quarter, 24-0 at the half and the rest was anti-climactic. It was Tennessee’s worst loss since a 51-7 loss to Vanderbilt in 1923.

When Ole Miss kicked a field goal late in the first half, the ball hitting the crossbar and bouncing over, Haywood Harris had the shortest quote ever to appear in Sports Illustrated: “Dang!”

The Vols recovered to win against Kentucky by 31-26 and Vanderbilt 40-27 to annex an SEC title, second in three years. That was little consolation as the Vols lost the Gator Bowl to Florida 14-13 and then saw head coach Doug Dickey head for Gainesville a few days after New Year’s.

It might have been the worst weekend in Tennessee football to that time. The Vol rookies had lost to Alabama 35-0 the preceding afternoon.

The game story was not a total loss, however, given the passage of time.

The next year the Vols were 11-1 and No. 4 in the nation. For whatever reason, Ole Miss was not on the schedule for the first time since 1955. You wonder what the demand for tickets might have been had the Rebels been scheduled to show up at Neyland Stadium to play the 1970 Vols.

If you believe that time heals all wounds, consider this. Manning and Bobby Scott both ended up with the New Orleans Saints in 1971 and became close friends.

As the Vols prepared for spring practice in March 1976, March 24 that year, there was a birth announcement from New Orleans that caught the attention of very few Vol fans. After all, this is Tennessee football and the future is now.

That was the day that Archie Manning’s second of three sons was born, a youngster named Peyton Williams Manning.

Move ahead quickly to 1993-94. Peyton Manning was now a prized recruit, a “franchise player” for whatever school got his name on a grant-in-aid form.

Tennessee did, and the rest is history. It was a magic time.

No one who saw the 1969 game could have imagined what would take place over the next 25 years or so.

What kind of odds could you have gotten outside Mississippi Memorial Stadium 46 years ago today that Archie Manning’s son would end up playing at Tennessee down the line and become one of the most popular Vols ever?

It sounded crazy at the time, but the inexorable passage of time causes some strange (and unexpected) things to happen.

Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015

“Settling the Accounts”

You may have thought today’s game with North Texas wasn’t significant, but it was.

Tennessee did narrow the list of teams the Vols have never beaten over the years, balancing the accounts with North Texas (State) and getting the bad taste from Oct. 25, 1975, out of our system.

All that remains now is settling things with Baylor (0-1), Colorado (0-0-1), Dartmouth (0-1), Kansas State (0-1), Missouri (0-3), Nebraska (0-2), Oregon (0-2), Pittsburgh (0-2), Purdue (0-1), Southern Cal (0-4), and VMI (0-1).

Except for Dartmouth and maybe VMI, all are attainable. We’re stuck with Dartmouth forever, it seems. That’s something we’ll just have to live with. Wouldn’t mind seeing the others on future schedules.

Enjoyed having a game that started in the noon sunshine and finished three hours or so later as the shadows lengthened over Shields-Watkins Field. That brought back a number of memories from Homecoming Days past.

Thought George Bitzas knocked Mrs. Meek’s “Alma Mater” out of the park. George is a true Tennessee treasure. Good to see him on the west sideline, microphone in hand, today at halftime.

The field is still not up to par. There are major decisions that need to be made. The players deserve better, as do the fans.

Wonder why it took so long to get fannies in the seats for those folks who enter the stadium through the south upper deck ramp. Wonder how much of the early parts of the game they missed.

No glitches on the public address system today. That was encouraging.

Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015

P.S. Today’s game marked the 17th anniversary of the “Stoerner Stumble,” from the 1998 Arkansas game, Tennessee 28, Arkansas 24.

Saw Clint Stoerner as one of the talking heads on the SEC Network the other day. Wonder how much crowd reaction his appearance of the field or mention during the game might have caused.

P.S.S. Did Dustin Dopirak really write that, “Tennessee shouldn’t have had no problem moving the ball problem running the ball against a North Texas team that ranked 123rd of the 127 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision in total defense (541.3 yards per game)….”

English teachers across the state and within reach of knoxnews.com are wincing.







“The Mean Green”


Found the Associated Press wire story about the Oct. 25, 1975, Tennessee-North Texas State game at Neyland Stadium  that season.

It was titled “North Texas State Shocks Tennessee.”

The final was 21-14, Mean Green, in a game that sent shockwaves across the expanse of Big Orange Country.

The story was to the point, recounting the game in six paragraphs.

A crowd of 72,670, many disguised as empty seats, watched in amazement as North Texas scored twice after second period Tennessee turnovers.

Scores by senior running back Sears Woods gave State the lead until they held until quarterback Randy Wallace hit tight end John Murphy for a 2-yard touchdown to knot the count with 4:25 left in the game.

Then came the crusher. Woods took the ensuing kickoff at the 2 and cruised 98 yards to the north end for the decisive score.

The Vols had held State to 230 yards total offense, while amassing 469 yards of their own. However, the Vols had seven fumbles, losing three.

The game came a week after the Vols had lost 30-7 to Alabama at Legion Field in Birmingham.

Fry, who also coached against Tennessee at SMU and Iowa, had played for Vol AD Bob Woodruff at Baylor, while De Witt Weaver, an assistant AD, had been captain of Tennessee’s 1936 contingent.

It was a milestone win for North Texas State and a dispiriting loss for the Vols, who would lose twice more down the stretch against Ole Miss and Vanderbilt en route to a 7-5 record.

For his part, the 1976 season was Battle’s last at Tennessee. He later founded a company that licensed collegiate products and is now athletic director at the University of Alabama.

Friday, Nov. 13, 2015

“No One to Blame But Myself”

Tennessee, ranked No. 1 in the AP poll, defeated The Citadel today in 1939 34-0, but lost in winning, as the soon-to-be legendary George Cafego banged up a knee and was little help the rest of the season, including the 14-0 loss to Southern Cal in the Rose Bowl.

The game against the Bulldogs, called a “tune-up” for the forthcoming game against Vanderbilt, was part of the season more than 75 years ago when the Vols did not give up a point the entire regular season.

There was an apparent false sense of economy that led to Cafego’s injury.

“It rained before the game,” he said, “and they didn’t have a tarp big enough to go all the way across the field. They just put it down the middle. I was receiving a punt, and I swung wide. When I got to the sidelines, my cleats stuck in the wet turf and didn’t turn. My foot turned but my cleats didn’t. Nobody hit me. I tore the cartilage myself.”

Cafego played a minute or so in the Rose Bowl “just so I could say I played in a Rose Bowl game.”

Cafego’s career as a Vol earned him entry in the College Football Hall of Fame and the personal hall of fame of everyone who knew him. Fate struck him a blow that wet November day, but George was front and center during his time as a player and as a beloved assistant coach. Those late 1930s teams he played on were a couple of the school’s best, and Cafego led the way.

Raise a toast, or something similar, to the memory of George Cafego, the “Hurrying Hungarian,” the man Bob Neyland never saw play on the gridiron in the pre-UT days, but brought to Knoxville anyway on the recommendation of a trusted friend.

Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2015

“A Long, Long Night”

Things weren’t so hot this day 47 years ago. Tennessee and Auburn played the nightcap of a Legion Field double-header, and Auburn won 28-14.

That defeat cost Tennessee a chance at a second SEC title in as many years.

It had rained all day, with LSU and Alabama doing serious damage to the turf that afternoon.

Auburn led 21-0, before Tennessee bounced back to cut the margin to 21-14. That was as close as they would get, with Auburn adding a final score to establish the margin.

John Ward once told of riding with Dickey back to Knoxville in someone’s automobile so they could do the coaches show and get the film transmitted across the state. The team stayed in Birmingham that night.

The show aired at 1 p.m. Sunday on WATE, but was taped much earlier, in this case the moment Ward and Dickey could get back to Knoxville, probably in the wee hours of the morning.

The trip home from Birmingham wasn’t easy in those days, so it could have been 5 or 6 a.m., or even later, that morning.

Such are the memories of days before advanced technology set in. Wonder who has tapes of the shows from those days?

Monday, Nov. 9, 2015


“Sunday Evening Thoughts”

Thoughts on a Sunday Evening.

Is it too much to ask not to have a microphone check interrupting the Pride’s halftime rendition of Mrs. Meek’s University of Tennessee “Alma Mater” at last night’s game?

That was definitely bad form and more than a little embarrassing.

Why not bring Eric Berry to midfield for his introduction last night? It’s not that far from the north end to midfield, and he could have easily gotten back to the dressing room to be a part of running through the “T.”

Security somehow got ramped up at Gate 12 with a full pat down of ticket holders. Don’t remember that happening at any other game this season. “Spread your arms, please” was the request, perhaps more of a command. (At least they said “Please.”)

On another subject, there are interesting doings at Kansas State. Seems like head coach Bill Snyder likes to wear a jacket from his coaching stash that includes coats from long-ago games, all purple, of course. The rub comes when they he wears one of them with the names of bowl sponsors that are no longer sponsors. (That brings back memories of Mike Hamilton once asking what he could do with the more than orange and white 200 neckties he had accumulated during his Tennessee career.)

The Big 12 minions asked, “respectfully,” of course, that he not do that. Seems that upset a number of corporate sponsors, and that can’t be tolerated.

Unconfirmed rumor has it that a request went, through proper channels, to Kansas State AD John A. L. Currie, who had a couple of brief stops here in Knoxville, to make his head coach, Bill Snyder, see the error of his ways.

When asked, Snyder’s response was vintage: “My name’s on the stadium.” Then he left.

It should also be noted that Snyder wore a plain jacket on Saturday, thereby making the power structure happy and forestalling any more calls down the line to KSU.


Sunday, Nov. 8, 2015


“One Unique Team Stat Worth Remembering”

After losses to Georgia Tech, Alabama, and Florida, the 1977 Vols got well today against Memphis State, now Memphis (but always “Tiger High”), winning 27-14 on Homecoming Day 1977.

The Vols had last won Oct. 1 against Oregon State, and it had been nearly a month since the Vols had stepped onto Shields-Watkins Field.

Victories had been hard to come by that first season of the Majors Era at Tennessee, so Vol fans took it for what it was worth, looking hopefully to better days ahead.

It didn’t happen in the next two weeks, as the Vols lost to Ole Miss and Kentucky, but a 42-7 win over Vanderbilt in the season finale closed the season the right way.

The 1977 season had one unique team stat worth remembering. Tennessee scored 229 points, gave up 229 points.

Thursday, Nov. 5, 2015

“Still a ‘Big’ Game”

Tennessee fans got drenched today in 1969 at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Ga., but nobody seemed to care.

The game wasn’t on television, but it was still a “big” game.

The Vols won 17-3, with Curt Watson and Don McLeary racking up big yardage, Watson gaining 197 yards and McLeary 100.

The Vols would face a Waterloo of sorts in two weeks at Ole Miss, but for this day, the sun was shining and all was right with the world.

Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015

“Where Does the Team Stay?”

Here are some randomly important thoughts on a Thursday evening.

Tennessee and Kentucky are going to tee it up at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, Ky., on Saturday evening.

It will be the first non-November Kentucky game since the Vols and Wildcats opened the 1944 season in Knoxville, Sept. 30, that season. Tennessee won 26-13.

Here’s an interesting fact about the game.

Tennessee will be staying Friday night, not within the corporate boundaries of Fayette County, but in Cincinnati, the one in Ohio just across the river.

In its infinite wisdom, the SEC scheduled the Vols and Wildcats opposite to Breeder’s Cup, a major horseracing event for those who follow such things, whose attendees snapped up nearly all available rooms, except for one Vol fan who found a couple of rooms at the Clarion.

That scheduling triumph meant an extra 75 or so miles each way for the Vols to travel over and above the 170 or miles from Knoxville northward to Lexington.

IMPORTANT NOTE FOR PERSPECTIVE: It won’t be the first time the Vols have made a road trip, in which the team stayed in another city and/or another state. On an occasional trip to Auburn, the Vols have stayed in Montgomery, the one in Alabama. They have also stayed in LaGrange and Columbus, both cities across the river in Georgia. In 1996, on the trip to play Memphis, the Vols stayed in Olive Branch, Miss., thanks to a convention that booked any number of rooms in the Bluff City.

So, we’ve seen the “Third Saturday in October” contest against Alabama, played on the second and fourth Saturdays, and a border state rivalry game between the Vols and Wildcats played this year on Halloween and next year on Nov. 12.

What hath God wrought?

Some times you just have to shake your head. Some things defy rational explanation.

Thursday, Oct. 29, 2015