“Divergent Roads”

Here’s a connection between two famous personages you might have not been aware of or had just forgotten.

Roger Kahn (“The Boys of Summer” et al.) had covered the Brooklyn Dodgers during their glory days of the early 1950s, then moved to a fledgling publication called Sports Illustrated.

Herman Hickman was a former Volunteer, an over-sized tackle in the early days, 1929-31, who earned a spot on Grantland Rice’s All-America team with a scintillating performance in the 1931 Charity Bowl.

That was the Depression-era game the Vols won 13-0 over New York University at Yankee Stadium, with the city of Knoxville receiving a check for $18,583 from game proceeds.

Herman Hickman became a member of the College Football Hall of Fame in 1958, the year of his death, April 25.

A prolific author, Kahn never really escaped the lure of writing about sports.

The duo’s paths had crossed at the new magazine, but Kahn felt some frustration in his role. “Sadly, it was no go at the magazine,” he wrote. “Sports Illustrated was improving and I was growing, but along divergent roads, and when I found myself assigned to ghost-write the football articles of Herman Hickman, my patience snapped and I resigned.”

He always said he thought about going back to cover baseball, but “I had seen carpeted offices and Marilyn Monroe.”

Lindsey Nelson once observed that students who missed journalism class were in training to become ghostwriters, facing a career of writing brilliantly conceived copy under other people’s names.

Sometimes it works.

Sometimes it doesn’t.

Friday, April 29, 2016

“Linked Inextricably”

In the course of recorded history, people and events often get linked, such as Bobby Thomson and Ralph Branca, Elvis and the Colonel, Albert Dorsey and Snake Stabler, Andy and Barney, Bill Majors, Wayne Grubb, and Charley Severance and Billy Cannon, and a whole bunch of others.

You can’t think of one without the other, kind of like love and marriage.

That’s what makes the history of sports so interesting, the myriad names, dates, and places that stick out in your mind. You can’t remember what to get at the store today, but you can remember what happened Oct. 21, 1967.

Each one pops up in the memory banks, just when you need it.

There’s no rational explanation for it.

It just happens.

By the way, Oct. 21, 1967, inextricably links Snake Stabler and Albert Dorsey. Three interceptions in the fourth quarter in the Tennessee-Alabama game have a way of doing that.

Watch this space for more such insightful little gems.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

“Some Purple Prose”

Back in 1914, when Tennessee defeated Vanderbilt 16-14 in Nashville, all Tennessee points courtesy of Alonzo “Goat” Carroll, the Knoxville Journal contained a piece of flowery prose describing the game. The Vols had been 0-11-1 to that time against the Commodores.

It was called the most “talked-about and long-awaited games in Tennessee’s history.” The Vols were undefeated, the highest scoring team in the South and the region’s No. 2 defensive team. That’s what Russ Bebb wrote in “The Big Orange: A Story of Tennessee Football.”

“It may be a long way to Tipperary,” the story began, “but the longest roads lead somewhere. For twenty years Tennessee football teams have been trying to accomplish what many thought was the impossible; for twenty years Volunteer teams have been marching up the hill, only to turn around march right down again, but today, they pulled the hill down with them.”

That’s pretty good writing, but the game was worthy of the writer’s best effort. The 1914 team, coached by Zora Clevenger, finished 9-0, outscored its opponents 374-37 and won the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association title.

Talk about fan support. Southern Railway had a train going to Nashville ($6.75 per person) for the Vanderbilt game and had two trains going to Chattanooga for the Sewanee game the next week (round trip fare $2). The season-ending game with Kentucky, played on Thanksgiving, drew a standing room only crowd of 3,500 to Waite Field.

Bebb wrote that the “UT community was in a state of bedlam.”

They just didn’t know bedlam back that well back then. Vol fans have been in that “state” many times in the years to come, and it’s a good place to be.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016


“The Elephant in the Room”

Was there an elephant in the room that George Korda ignored in his look-see into the brouhaha generated by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion’s missives across campus and the legislature’s reaction, as well as other recent missteps by the current campus leadership?

No one seems to want to discuss what might happen to Knoxville campus Chancellor Jimmy Cheek and his underling Rickey Hall as a result of Hall’s inability to manage the Office of Diversity and Dr. Cheek’s inability to manage Hall and the Knoxville campus as a whole.

It’s been an embarrassing time on the Knoxville campus, and you just have to wonder what type conversations are being held in Andy Holt Tower and between the denizens of Andy Holy Tower and the leadership of the General Assembly. If these issues are not being discussed, they should be high on the to-do list of campus leadership and those to whom the campus leadership is responsible.

Speaking of Andy Holt, it’s hard to imagine that he, Ed Boling, and/or Joe Johnson would let this situation get to this point, nor would Jack Reese, Bill Snyder, Loren Crabtree, or an other chancellor, save a couple of the lesser lights who have held the position, tolerate what has happened since last summer. And, by the way, where might the next Tom Elam be?

Somewhere, surely, there is someone who can put the campus back on track, someone who has sat in the classrooms, walked the length and breadth of its hills and valleys, and understands how the Knoxville campus should function (and flourish).

The University of Tennessee family is looking for someone to step forward and save this current campus leadership from itself and help become more reflective of what the campus has meant to all of us over the years.

All of us have a stake in this challenge. It’s time to take the Knoxville campus back.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016


“A Way with the King’s English”

Ben Byrd could really turn a phrase. In a compilation of many of his columns assembled by his daughter, here’s one that really stood out: “Tennessee football isn’t really a matter of life and death: it’s much more important than that.”

Wonder how much eternal truth there might behind that statement?

Ben’s “Free Thought Association” was a novel way to pick the winners of a Saturday’s games. There was a seemingly random set of facts, leading inexorably to a conclusion as to who might win. He got in a peck of trouble with his 1979 pick of Tennessee to defeat Rutgers (“What are rutgers?”), but somehow survived to write another day.

Try this one out for size, his final effort on Dec. 27, 1991, a few days before his beloved Knoxville Journal closed down.

“FIESTA BOWL (Tennessee vs. Penn State)—This past August a freshman football player arrived at UT carrying a kit that contained a screwdriver, a hammer, a wrench, a hatchet and a can opener. Coach John Majors was delighted. “This kid can’t miss,” he said. “He’s got all the tools!” TENNESSEE”

As is the case with Bill Dyer’s famed DyerGram, no one has figured out a way to duplicate this unique sports page feature.

One “unique sports page feature” to a customer, it seems.

Regardless, Ben definitely had a way with the King’s English.

Monday, April 25, 2016

“Interesting 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 come 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.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

“A Day to Never Forget”

It was a day—Sept. 27, 1980—Auburn fans would just as soon forget.

Tennessee fans, on the other hand, still remember it well.

It was Tennessee’s second time to play in Auburn, after years of playing Auburn’s “home games” in Birmingham, at Legion Field.

The Vols had first played at Auburn in 1974, losing 21-0. The 1976 and 1978 games, both losses, were back at Legion Field.

For Auburn, the 1980 game was a “dedication game,” highlighting the addition of 11,000 seats, a new press box, and club-level seating to Jordan-Hare Stadium. At the time, Tiger publicists billed it as the “largest stadium in the state of Alabama.”

Auburn was 2-0, ranked No. 18 by AP coming in, with wins over TCU and Duke. The university honored its “Team of the Seventies,” but there were no Terry Beasleys or Pat Sullivans dressed out in blue and white that day.

The final score was Tennessee 42, Auburn 0, in a performance head coach John Majors termed “absolutely flawless.” It was hard to tell which fan base was more shocked by the size of the margin.

A record crowd of 75,942 was in attendance, but the stadium cleared out rapidly in the third and fourth quarters, except on the Tennessee side. It was the Vols’ most dominant win over the Tigers in series history, eclipsing 28-point wins in 1956 (35-7) and 1966 (28-0).

It was the first victory for the Vols in the state of Alabama since a 41-14 decision over Alabama at Legion Field in 1969.

It was the first time since the 1966 and 1967 seasons that the Vols had knocked off Auburn back-to-back.

The Vols endured a barrage of oranges as they came onto the field for the game, not the first time that had happened, nor the last, but the unfriendly welcome seemed to galvanize the team.

George Cafego, the legendary Vol assistant coach, put the day’s events into proper perspective. After the game, he was snacking on an orange, maybe one that had been thrown at him earlier.

“These people down here don’t know you can eat these things,” George said. “They think the only thing you can do with ‘em is throw ‘em.”

The Vols and Auburn stopped playing every year after the 1991 season, ending the “Last Saturday in September” SEC hallmark game that each year separated the contenders from the pretenders.

The Vols would not win at Auburn again until 1998, a 17-9 victory in a national championship season.

It’s still hard for some Vol fans to wake up on the final Saturday in September and realize the Vols are scheduled to play someone other than Auburn.

It just doesn’t seem right.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

“That Reminds Me of the Time”

Spring practice is now over, concluding one of the essential parts of the Tennessee football calendar.

It has been said that the Volunteer football year is composed of at least six parts, much the way Julius Caesar said “Omnis Gallia est divisa in tres partes.” That calendar includes fall practice, the regular season, the bowl game, recruiting and spring practice, plus that fallow period between the end of spring practice and the start of fall drills during which most fans do their best to survive, particularly those fans who don’t have access to the football boards.

Each year fans somehow make it, but it’s never easy. The arrival of the football magazines in mid-June (or sooner, sometimes) is a harbinger.

The fans remember carefully what has transpired over the years, harking to the drama and excitement that are part of Vol football. There are stories, stories, and more stories, some embellished over the years and some not needing to be. There are memories by the bushel, memories of a passel of influential people who wore orange and white. It doesn’t take much to get the memory banks cranked up.

Someone says, “That reminds me of the time,” and we’re off and running. Everyone has a favorite Tennessee story. Most are true. Some are close.

The heritage of Tennessee Volunteer football is composed of equal doses of intensity and effort, poise and confidence, love and loyalty, tradition and legend. We celebrate it proudly because it unifies us more than anything else we know.

That’s why the names, dates, and places of Tennessee football, all of which are important to developing the entire picture, highlight the conversations Vol fans engage in wherever they might be—on church steps, in barbershops, factory break rooms, corporate boardrooms, on talk radio, or—as part of the latest technological advance—in the Internet chat room. Occasionally, the line gets blurred between fact and fiction, but you shouldn’t worry. It’s part of the beauty of it all.

It is a time of new beginnings. There are those brief but memorable moments in which young men in orange and white make history in the time it takes to return a kickoff, throw or catch a touchdown pass, or break a long run from scrimmage. It is the concept of “team” (remember, as the coaches tell us nearly every day, “there’s no ‘I’ in team”) bonding a group of young men who seemingly had nothing in common except a desire to excel.

The countdown is on to the start of fall camp.

Onward and upward.

Friday, April 22, 2016

“The Ball Is in Your Court”

This is what happens when there is not strong and effective leadership on the Knoxville campus.

Dr DiPietro put the best face on it he could, but the wound has been self-inflicted at the highest levels of campus ledership..

This is a low moment in campus history, one that should concern every alumnus.

Dr. DiPietro, the ball is in your court…once again.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

P.S. How about what rap star Ludacris requested, if that’s the proper word, and received for his performance at Georgia’s G-Day game?

It was quite a list, with a surprise or two therein, seen here and here.

Makes you wonder what the Georgia legislature might think.

One final thought. Did all this really happen or just a figment of someone’s overactive imagination?




“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 21, 2016