“Little Word Battles”

After the 1963 Tennessee-Georgia Tech football game at Neyland Stadium, former Vols Bob Woodruff and Bobby Dodd dueled it out in the press. Tech won 23-7, highlighted when a Tech receiver did not come back to the huddle and assumed a position as a wide receiver, a “lonesome end formation,” if you will. The ball was snapped, and the receiver was wide open for a touchdown.

The play set off a firestorm of protest, with Tennessee partisans saying the wideout “hid out,” in a formation that Bob deemed unethical, if not illegal. That’s what Tom Siler said in “Tennessee’s Dazzling Decade: 1960-1970.”

Woodruff complained to the media. Dodd had an immediate retort, describing his former assistant as the “worst public relations director in the United States.” Whether or not that was true is beside the point (and it might have been). that was the way they talked in those days.

There was no indication an apology was forthcoming from either side. That, incidentally, was the last time Georgia Tech came to Knoxville as a member of the SEC, as the Engineers left the conference in 1964.

What does all this prove?

Not a lot, except that those Tennessee people could really get after each other if the situation demanded it.

Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016

“Media Timeouts”

How did we ever play hoops without the media timeouts every four minutes or so? That’s the question for today.

The horn goes off and the teams trundle to their benches for whatever words of wisdom the coaches can dispense. Occasionally some fresh-fced personality interviews one of the coaches. That’s always exciting… and perceptive.

The band plays, cheerleaders do their thing, an occasional dignitary gets introduced to the crowd, that kind of exciting thing. The crowd, once at fever pitch, gets a few moments of seat time.

Remember looking at the typed play-by-play from the 1975 Kentucky game, Tennessee 103, Kentucky 98, Bernie and Ernie, Rick Robey and Goose Givens, Ray Mears and Joe B. Hall.

There wasn’t a media timeout to be had. Or at least it wasn’t listed on the sheet. Only in televised games, perhaps.

In the early days of television, when the NBA telecasts were in their infancy, the commissioner, a man named Maurice Podoloff attended each game that was on the tube.

How do we know?

Lindsey Nelson said so.

When it came time for a break, the Commish would walk over to one of the coaches and say, “Call timeout.” When the boss said to do so, that’s what happened.

Today, there’s a “timeout coordinator” who handles such things.

The old way seems much better.

Can you imagine one of today’s commissioner types telling, perhaps suggesting, even politely, that John Calipari or any other SEC coach call time out?


Now that would be a moment to remember.

Friday, Feb. 5, 2016

“Backing In”

Hate it when someone says a team “backed into” some championship event. Most of the time they earn it, however you view it.

For some reason, even otherwise rational Tennessee fans say that the Vols might have “backed into” the 1997 SEC title because after losing to Florida, the Gators lost a couple of times and the Vols didn’t lose again, thus earning the trip to Atlanta. There are other instances, to be sure, but that one seems to stand out.

The same thing happened in 1992 when the Vols defeated Florida and then lost three times, thus giving the Gators the trip to Atlanta.

It happens all the time. A team loses a game, but continues to win while other teams around them lose (see Alabama 2011). Did they “back in” or did somebody else “back out”?

Let’s drop that phrase like a bad habit. Leave that to the other side.

The term is full of sound and fury… and not much else. It’s really a great excuse for not having any other type of convincing argument.

“Just win, baby,” Al Davis once said, at minimum, one more than anybody else.

Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016

“A Valuable Lift Before Halftime”

Don’t know how many times this has happened overall, but there was a time in the Ray Mears years that Tennessee, regardless of the score, worked patiently for the last shot of the first half and, more often than not, made it, giving the team a valuable lift before halftime.

It could have been any number of players who pulled it off, but those last seconds of the first half shots were a marvel to behold.

It may have been Danny Schultz, Ron Widby, Bill Justus, Jimmy England, Mike Edwards, Ernie or Bernie, Mike Jackson, or Rodney Woods, many others, perhaps, but they got it done.

These are memories for the ages, something that gets the memory banks all cranked up.

How do we know?

In those long-ago days, John Ward said so. When John did the play-by-play, thoughtful fans hung on his every word.

Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016

“King of the Volunteers”

Back in the 1974-75 season, about this time of year, Tennessee won at Georgia 105-69 in an impressive display of basketball.

That was the afternoon Georgia partisans brandished a sign at halftime that proclaimed Bulldog freshman Jackie Dorsey, a good player in his own right, as the SEC’s best rookie.

About that time, the public address announcer announced that Tennessee’s Bernard King, another freshman, had 31 points. King did it all that 20 minutes, going over, under, and through the Bulldog defenders.

That got the crowd’s attention and made the banner disappear. Everyone seemed to recognize BK was something special on the court. (Most everybody in Knoxville already knew that.)

Off the court, he did once order a hamburger at the oh-so-posh Boone Tavern in Berea on the way to Kentucky a year or so later. He definitely walked to the beat of a different drummer.

Bernard finished with 42 points as Ray Mears cleared the bench. Ernie Grunfeld added 29. King, who had an amazing ability to rebound as well as score, added 19 caroms.

John Ward didn’t call Bernard “King of the Volunteers” for nothing.

You compare anybody to Bernard King at your peril, what with BK averaging double figure points and rebounds during his career, playing in instinctive brand of basketball you had to see to believe. When he got the ball on the block, it was two points in an instant.

When BK got the ball on the block, it was in the basket in a flash. He had a nose for the ball and instinctively knew where a missed shot would land.

Ray Mears always said that BK was the best player ever in the SEC, and that included Pete Maravich.

Dissenting opinion to Ray’s statement is encouraged.

Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016

“The Nickname ‘Stuck’”

Sometimes long ago nicknames “stick.”

Sometimes people see talent and ability long before anybody else.

A story from Sept. 20, 1953, article in the Knoxville Journal made reference to the Fulton-LaFollette game that night at Evans-Collins Field, noting that John “The Voice” Ward was doing the broadcast. He was just a mere youngster then, but he was on his way to a vintage career  as a sports communicator. He’s in a class by himself.

Somebody at the Journal thought he was making a wisecrack, a dig at John perhaps, but more than that, the unknown writer ended up defining a career.

This was a specific case where a nickname “stuck.”

That’s the way things seemed more than 50 years ago.

Sunday, Jan. 31, 2016

“One of the Insoluble Questions”

This is one of the insoluble questions in Tennessee hoops history.

Sometimes you wonder what the schedule-maker had in mind. Missed this one a couple of weeks ago, until someone called and asked about it.

Why would you play No. 5 Kentucky and 20th-ranked Illinois on consecutive days in the middle of January?

On the road.

In early 1988.

Tennessee did exactly that, playing Kentucky on Jan. 16 and Illinois on Jan. 17.

Kentucky won 83-65, with the Illini winning about 24 hours later by 103-79.

Any good explanations, maybe to include being on somebody’s television network, will be gratefully accepted.

Sunday, Jan. 30, 2011

“Slowing the Pistol?”

There are those slow learners who thought Ray Mears had such success against Pete Maravich by virtue of slowing the game down and putting the clamps on the Pistol that way.

During Pete’s varsity career in Baton Rouge (1968-70), the Vols won by scores of 87-67 in Baton Rouge, 74-71 in Knoxville, 81-68 in Baton Rouge, 87-63 in Knoxville, and 88-87 in Knoxville. The one game the Vols lost was in 1970 at Baton Rouge by a tally of 71-59.

By any objective criteria, that doesn’t spell slowdown. The Vols managed to get their points, yet find the fortitude to deny Maravich his.

Regardless, Pete could play the game. He was a player who could embarrass not only the other team, but his teammates as well, if they weren’t paying attention.

Think about averaging more than 40 points every night out.

That was amazing.

Thursday, Jan. 28, 2016

“A Stratified Man-to-Man with Parabolic Features”

In the 1963-64 season, Tennessee entered the game at Memorial Coliseum in Lexington (yes, there was basketball at Kentucky before Rupp Arena) on a 10-game winning streak. It was early in the SEC campaign and stopping Danny Schultz, the Vol guard from Middlesboro with the great shooting range, was a major priority for Kentucky.

It’s a story recounted by Ben Byrd in ‘The Basketball Vols.”

Adolph Rupp always played man-to-man, so the legend goes, and Harry Lancaster and super scout Baldy Gilb convinced Rupp that Schultz would eat the Wildcats alive if they went man against the Vols.

Kentucky came out in a 1-3-1 trap, Mears’ favorite defense, and surprised the Vols enough that Kentucky won 66-57.

Asked about it after the game, Rupp said clearly it wasn’t a zone.

No way.

“It was a stratified man-to-man with parabolic features,” he said in his best Kansas drawl.

No one in the press corps knew what that meant, but they reported Rupp’s words faithfully.

What do you suppose that did mean?

Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016