“An Avid U. T. Sports Fan”


More often than you would think, a line such as the following appears in a local obituary: “Alice retired from Greyhound after 40 plus years, and was an avid U.T. sports fan.”

Alice, in this case, was Alice Fitch, who worked the counter at the local Greyhound Bus Station.

In these days of advanced technology, it’s hard to imagine that in the mid-990s, the game story, Fulmer File, and pictures for each football week’s VOLUNTEERS Magazine were sent to Ambrose Printing in Nashville via a Greyhound Bus late on Sunday night, with printing set for early Monday morning to hit that afternoon’s mail run.

The contact at the Knoxville Greyhound office was Alice Fitch, who always made sure the package got on the bus within easy reach of the driver, ready to be picked up immediately on its arrival in Music City.

The process worked nearly all the time, thanks to Alice’s vigilance.

Advances in technology eventually caught up, and the trips to the bus station became a distant memory. Those were definitely some good days covering the Vols.

You always remember all those folks who helped make the job easier.

Alice Fitch was part of that illustrious group.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

“Looking Back”

Fifty-seven years ago in Tennessee football, head coach Bowden Wyatt seemed to have a good head of steam going into his fourth season at the helm of the Vol football program. The Vols were coming off a Gator Bowl in over the Texas Aggies, 3-0, on a field goal by Sammy Burklow. The Vols were 24-7-1 and Wyatt seemed to have the program going in the right direction.

“Seemed” is the operative word.

Consider the ebbs and flows of the 1958 season.

There was a loss to Auburn by 13-0, but the Vols failed to make a first down and had –30 yards total offense. The game was also nationally televised with UT alum Lindsey Nelson and Red Grange on the broadcast.

The Vols did beat Alabama, but the coach on the Alabama sideline was Paul William “Bear” Bryant who would not defeat the Vols until 1961, but did it pretty regularly from that point on.

Then came a three-game streak where the Vols were outscored 45-13, losing to Florida State (long before the school became a national powerhouse), North Carolina, and — Gasp! Horror of horrors!)— to Chattanooga, the latter loss causing an ugly scene after the game.

The Vols then won two or their final three games, a major upset of Ole Miss, 18-16, when the Rebels missed a late field goal that would have won the game, and a narrow victory over Vanderbilt, sandwiched around a loss to Kentucky.

There was thought the bleeding could be stopped, but it was not until 1964 that the “tide of times” was turned, as Doug Dickey came in and got the program headed in the right direction again.

There were titanic upsets in 1959, against Auburn and LSU, but Vol fans wondered when the ship might be righted, given three losses to end that 1959 season.

There were, however, enough great moments earlier in the decade, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1955, 1956, and 1957, for example, for Sports Illustrated to award the Vols “Team of the Decade” honors for the 1950s.

Think what might have happened if Tennessee hadn’t lost to Chattanooga.

Monday, May 25, 2015

“A Valuable Lesson”

In the early days of college football, there was considerable discussion of the impact radio game broadcasts might have on college athletics. No one really knew the full impact of the medium.

Things have evolved to the point that radio broadcasts of college football are today taken as gospel, as a fan’s divine right. It wasn’t always that way.

It was in the 1920s, when radio ruled the roost, that Dean Dougherty faced such a situation.

“One Friday morning,” Dougherty wrote in “Educators and Athletes: The Southeastern Conference, 1894-1972,” “a representative of a national broadcasting company came into my office and told me he was ready to install equipment for broadcasting the game on Saturday.”

Considerable discussion ensued.

“When I asked him how much he proposed to pay us for the privilege of carrying the game, he replied he did not expect to pay anything.” Dougherty said. “His company had no intention of paying for something that logically belonged to the public.”

Dougherty turned down the broadcast offer and the airwaves the following day were full of discussions how, “the audience would be hearing the Tennessee game had not Professor Dougherty and Colonel Parker, the athletic director, refused them permission.”

Dougherty added that the episode was “needless,” and “taught us a valuable lesson.”

The result, coming in later years, he wrote, was the formation of the “Volunteer Network,” which as we have seen, was really the “Vol Network.” Gen. Neyland said so.

“On the whole,” Dougherty wrote, “the local broadcasts did not hurt gate receipts. They built interest in the games. The public was willing to pay an admission fee to see the games they had been hearing for free, but could not see.”

That is, until the advent of television, which is another story for another day.

Please remember, however, that hearing the Tennessee games on the radio was once not as easy as clicking the dial.

Give Dean Dougherty the credit for helping make it happen. Lindsey Nelson, the two Edwin Husters, John Ward, Steve Early and a number of people took the ball and ran with it. Today, the Vol Network stands as one of the nation’s finest.

Sunday, May 24, 2017

“A New State Logo”

There’s a new logo on the way for the state of Tennessee, complete with Tennessee’s postal code (“TN”) emblazoned on it, produced at a cost of $46,000. That’s courtesy of Tom Humphrey in the KNS.

Maybe it’s the state administration’s version of “One Tennessee.”

A MUCH-TOO-SALIENT QUOTE: “A spokesperson for the governor’s office said the new logo will be implemented in a cost-effective way. For example, he said when stationary with the old logo runs out, stationary with the new logo will then be used.”

But Gov. Haslam’s “spokesperson” obviously missed the lesson about the distinction between “stationary,” i.e., “not moving or not movable, fixed or still,” versus “stationery,” defined as “writing materials, specifically paper and envelopes used for letters.”

What does all this prove?

The pen/personal computer is mightier than the sword.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

“When You Least Expect Them”

Sometimes the greatest moments in sports come when you least expect them. You occasionally hear and see some amazing little nuggets of eternal truth that stick with you forever.

“You can hear a lot by listening,” Yogi Berra is alleged to have said. Lindsey Nelson once said that Yogi really never said everything attributed to him, but there’s no sense letting the facts get in the way of a good story, particularly the inspiring ones.

At former University of Tennessee athletics director Bob Woodruff’s memorial service Nov. 6, 2001, the Rev, John E. Pennington Jr., pastor of West Knoxville Baptist Church, said that Bob had an amazing sense of perspective, a sense of balance in his life.

Pennington noted that there were times his son Joe would be agonizing, as youngsters do, over a game that had gotten away. Woodruff’s response: “There’s always another game.”

When Joe exulted over a big win, Woodruff’s response was, again, “There’s always another game.”

Despite an occasional bump in the road every now and then, there was always another game, another weekend, for Tennessee fans. And the weekday talk shows merely add to the excitement.

Gen. Neyland also knew that well, even without the advice given by sports fans over the airwaves. Folks were more direct in those days.

When things were going bad in the late 1940s, a Vol fan on the elevator at the Chisca Hotel in Memphis said some disparaging things about the General after a lopsided loss to Ole Miss (43-13, Nov. 8, 1947) at Edward Hull Crump Stadium. Two weeks later, after a win at Kentucky (13-6, Nov. 22, at Stoll Field), the same fan said, “There’s the greatest coach in the country.”

Neyland, who had overheard both conversations, said, “That’s not what you were saying two weeks ago.”

Several of us were sitting in the television booth at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, Miss., back in 2004, waiting for an 8 p.m. (CDT) kickoff of the Tennessee-Ole Miss game. The announcer, not to be named, looked at the shadows lengthening toward the far side of the field and asked: “Are we on the west side? Which way is north?”

There was also a television play-by-play announcer who smoked a great deal in the press box, and everywhere else for that matter, back when that sort of behavior was tolerated. (When it wasn’t, he snuck into a nearby bathroom for a quick smoke.)

There was one game at Florida, televised by CBS, when Verne Lundquist, lead announcer for that network’s college football broadcasts, had a staff minion thrust a note through the curtain separating the two broadcast venues, saying in essence, “Get rid of the d— cigarette.”

There was also a time at Kentucky, when his spotter reeked of smoke after the game. David Climer of The Tennessean, found the gentleman’s wife after the game and told her, presumably in his defense, “Your husband may smell like he’s been in a bar, but he’s really been in the television booth all afternoon. I saw him there.”

Occasionally spotters get more recognition than they deserve (or want). In 1999, at Tuscaloosa, Ala., the Vol coverage team downed a David Leaverton punt inside the 1. That’s not considered good field position for the offense.

The spotter quickly passed a note to the play-by-play announcer, saying that, just the past week, Alabama had had a 99-yard drive for a touchdown against Ole Miss. The announcer, acting as if Moses had just handed him the Ten Commandments, said, “Our spotter just told me that Alabama had a 99-yard drive against Ole Miss last week.” The irony is they did it again against Tennessee. Fortunately, the Vols won 21-7.

There was once a legendary football coach who wrote a book with a prominent writer in the community. One day, the writer’s obituary appeared in the newspaper, complete with picture. One of the coach’s loyal staffers showed him the obit. The response was immediate: “Did he die?”

Finally, there was a story told of a rookie sportswriter, in search of an angle for a story. 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.

“Is that west?”

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

If you watch and listen carefully, there are a number of stories that can get anyone through any number of days that words won’t come through the fingers onto the keyboard.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

“Pertinent Questions”

Just yesterday, the Vol Historian posted about an autographed Dave Hart business card being available on Ebay.

Now we find out it’s been sold for the asking price: $7.95.

Then come these pertinent questions.

Who did this… and why?

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

“Intriguing Remarks”

Sometimes coaches make intriguing remarks after games. Sometimes amazing things happen thereafter.

After the dust had settled from Tennessee’s 31-27 victory over Arkansas in the 1990 Cotton Bowl, Hawg coach Ken Hatfield spoke eloquently about the game, his team, Arkansas fans, and a host of other things.

It was impressive, with very few dry eyes in the room, even amongst the assembled media. No one “Called the Hogs,” but the effect was the same. There seemed to be a long and wonderful relationship in the offing.

Not too long after that, just a few days later, he was named head coach at Clemson.

The same thing happened with Guy Morriss at Kentucky (to Baylor), “Coach Fran” at Alabama (to Texas A&M), and a few others. It may have been the same way when Bowden Wyatt went from Wyoming to Arkansas and from Arkansas to Tennessee back in the 1950s.

Sometimes strange things happen in the interview room and especially outside the interview room.

What you see is not always what you get. There are all kinds of surprises just around the corner. Just wait a day or two.

Monday, May 18, 2015

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“Embellished by the Telling”

Sometimes the cheers are for someone else, even if there’s a game going on.

The year was 1928. Tennessee was playing Alabama at Tuscaloosa, the famed 15-13 win that set the Vols on the path to gridiron glory.

Lost in the depths of history was a freshman game being played in Knoxville at about the same tine.

Herman Hickman, later to be a famous coach, writer, and man about town as well as a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, recalled the cheers of the crowd, however sparse it might have been. The youngsters on the field were impressed by level of “support” they received.

What Hickman didn’t know was that Pat Roddy had been relaying wire reports from the game at Tuscaloosa, thus causing the “cheers” that came up every so often.

Ed Harris told this story in “Golden Memories of Ed Harris: 50 Years in Big Orange Country.”

Like most of these type stories, the account might have been embellished through the years, but there’s a good chance there’s at least a grain of truth in it.

You be the judge.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

“Which Team Is Which?”

There are times you can’t really believe what you’re seeing on the field… literally.

That was the case in the 1969 season finale at Neyland Stadium.

It was a sunny November day, Vanderbilt in gold shirts, white pants, Tennessee in orange shirts and likewise in white pants.

Only the helmets distinguished one team from the other. You really couldn’t tell the difference between the two teams. It was tough to watch.

It was noted after the game that Tennessee would wear white shirts in Nashville the next season, but as things turned out, the Vols didn’t.

The sun was not shining as brightly on Dudley Field, and there was more contrast between the jerseys.

Tennessee won both games, 40-27 in 1969 and 24-6 in 1970.

There was only one worse day, the 1980 Virginia game, when Virginia came out in white shirts and orange pants, and Tennessee came out in orange pants and orange shirts.

Now that was confusing.

One more thing. Tennessee lost 16-13 on Homecoming Day in a game that wasn’t expected to be close.

Saturday, May 16, 2015