“Any Ray of Excitement”

In 1977, with the return of Tennessee legend John Majors to the Vol sideline as head coach, Tennessee fans were looking for any ray of excitement, anything that might give hope in what would turn out to be a 4-7 season.

The most exciting play of that 1977 season, excluding any one of the six TDs the Vols scored in a 42-7 win over Vanderbilt, came in Gainesville, Fla., of all places. It was Oct. 27. The Vols would lose the game 27-17, but a tailback from Sheffield, Ala., etched his name into the history books.

The Vols were backed up to their goal at the south end of Florida Field, third-and-10 at the Vol 1. Florida fans were on their feet, ready for the kill.

It was an innocent-looking off-tackle play designed to buy yardage for Vol punter Craig Colquitt. Tailback Kelsey Finch turned the play into one for the record books, one for the memory banks, 99 yards for the score. It was the second time in six years that the Vols had gone 99 yards for a score against the Gators, once to each end of the field.

“We were trying to set it up where we could punt the ball,” Finch said. “We had an off-tackle play called. As I hit the hole, there was nobody there. I cut to the sidelines and remember Roland James hollering, ‘They’re going to catch you.’ I remember running for my life. It was an exciting moment.”

Exciting it was.

For Vol fans who were there, there is the still-fresh memory of a Florida booster who roamed the stands leading cheers. When the play started, one of them recalled that, “He was yelling, ‘Hold that line.’ When Finch finished his run, it was, ‘Block that kick.’”

Friday, August 1, 2014

“Leading the Parade”

After a 7-0 loss to Kentucky Nov. 20, 1976, embattled Tennessee head coach Bill Battle said that was the final straw and resigned the following Monday. “I decided after that game the Tennessee people needed to be rallied and I couldn’t rally them,” he said.

“There was a lot of game-by-game pressure, and, in the end, that’s why I decided to resign. I know I didn’t accomplish what I wanted to accomplish. I have no apologies to make to anyone.”

There was an event the next week that was indicative of the Battle persona and the relationships with his players.

“I told our players there are a lot definitions of class,” Battle said after the 13-10 win over Vanderbilt. “But to me, class is when they run you out of town and make you look like you’re leading the parade. That’s what I’d like to do. They helped me do that, and I appreciate that.”

Interesting factoid of history. The final victory in the Tennessee careers of Bob Neyland, John Barnhill, Bowden Wyatt, Jim McDonald, Doug Dickey, Bill Battle, and John Majors all came against Vanderbilt. Only Harvey Robinson and Derek Dooley suffered defeats against the Commodores in what would be their final game at Tennessee.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

“Tiger High”

Don’t exactly remember when Memphis State/Memphis earned the moniker “Tiger High.” No one really paid that much attention to the Tigers before 1968, the year they finally, from their point of view, ended up on a Tennessee football schedule.

That was probably about the time some imaginative soul came up with the name, generally followed the phrase “the world’s largest high school.”

Hence, it follows the school would be dubbed “Tiger High,” i.e. “Tiger High” today, tomorrow, and into perpetuity.

The name tends to infuriate Memphis partisans (that’s putting it mildly), and they are very vocal about their disapproval of anyone who dares even mutter the name.

If there are other explanations for the name, they will be carefully considered.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

“What Jersey?”

Does the uniform color really matter, particularly to fans of those schools, such as Ole Miss, who have multiple colors? Ole Miss, for example, has been known to wear red jerseys at times, blue jerseys at other times.

In 1973, Ole Miss must have lost several games in the red shirts and came out in blue against Tennessee. They jumped ahead and never looked back, winning by 28-18 in a game that was more lopsided than the score.

No one really gave it much of a thought, but one Ole Miss fan, suffused with victory, made one intriguing comment. Going out the gate to the parking lot, he made the following comment: “When Ole Miss is really serious about the game, they pull out the blue jerseys.”

He obviously wasn’t a fan of the red jerseys.

Here’s something to ponder.

That day, it probably wouldn’t have mattered if Ole Miss had come out in red, blue, or orange or any other Crayola color or in their practice uniforms, as the Rebels rushed for 360 yards.

It’s amazing they didn’t score more.

It was that kind of day, occurring Nov. 15, 1973, exactly four years after the “Jackson Massacre,” the game that put a significant damper on the 1969 Tennessee season.

Monday, July 28, 2014

“Thoughts about Redshirting”

No media type, not even a columnist, has ever had an in-depth discussion with a coach about redshirting, the process by which a player is allowed to sit out a year and come back bigger and stronger than ever, with the requisite number of years available. It’s a subject that’s not likely to come up in recruiting, unless the player brings it up.

That thought came up after talking to Keith DeLong one day and remembering that his uncle, Ken, was a rising sophomore in 1966. He was a talented receiver, with a great deal of potential, but Austin Denney’s exceptionally long shadow loomed over the tight end position.

Ken DeLong, the reasoning went, was too good a prospect for mere mop-up duty.

No one knows how Doug Dickey, or even one of his assistants, maybe, brought up the prospect of sitting out a year, but Ken did do so, and the rest is history. Denney made All-America in 1966. Ken started in 1967, 1968, and 1969 and was an All-SEC selection his junior and senior seasons.

Vol fans may have worried, rightly so, when Denney turned in his jersey No. 84 after the 1966 Gator Bowl. They shouldn’t have been.

Here came Ken DeLong wearing jersey No. 82, with three years eligibility remaining.

If you work things right, there’s a “new version” of nearly everybody in the wings. There are exceptions, of course, but you get the general idea.

Sunday, July 27, 2014


Old journalistic conventions die hard.

Take this one.

When Ed Harris, a long-time Knoxville Journal sportswriter, was inducted to the Tennessee Sportswriters Hall of Fame at Cumberland University in July 2009, he called it a “65-40-30 party.”

In the spirit of economy, that meant the day of his induction was his 65th birthday and 40th wedding anniversary.

The “30” was and still is the traditional newspaper term for the end of a story.

For Ed Harris, who died July 3, 1979, this one’s for you, in appreciation for a long and distinguished career, covering the wide world of sports in the Knoxville area.


Saturday, July 26, 2014

“Three Things Can Happen”

In 1970, Tennessee intercepted eight Alabama passes, five off Scott Hunter. That prompted Tide receiver David Bailey to look at Hunter and say, perhaps in jest, perhaps not, “This time, throw the ball to them, and I’ll see if I can intercept it.”

Given the circumstances, that might have been the best idea.

Just remember, someone, maybe Amos Alonzo Stagg or Pop Warner or somebody, once said, “When you throw the ball, three things can happen, and two of them are bad.”

That was definitely the case Oct. 17, 1970, although two of the things that happened were good.

For Tennessee.

Friday, July 25, 2014

“Some Considerable Bravado”

In October 1969, it took some considerable bravado for Vol fans to charter a small plane and fly it over Legion Field just before kickoff of the Tennessee-Alabama game, with a banner wafting in the breeze reading “This is Big Orange Country.”

It had to have caught the attention all 71,000-plus gathered for the contest.

That may be an understatement, given that Tennessee had only won once against Alabama at Legion Field since Bear Bryant returned to the Capstone, and that was two years earlier.

In this context, with the gauntlet thrown down, what happened?

Tennessee scored on a TD pass to Oliver Springs’ wideout Gary Kreis, a 71-yard punt return by Bobby Majors, and a fumbled pitchout returned for a score by Jackie Walker.

In fact, the Vols led 21-0 at the quarter, and school was out. That all likely happened before the pilots could land the plane and motor back to Legion Field.

Hopefully, they heard it on the radio on the way.

All in all, a great afternoon at Legion Field.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

“Not a Happy Camper”

Dr. Jay Julian well remembers the 1968 Tennessee-Auburn game well, Auburn 28, Tennessee 14, in a game that was considered a mild upset, unless, of course, you were on the Tennessee side.

It had been raining all day, and Alabama and LSU had played there earlier that afternoon. The final straw came when “Doc” was told the band couldn’t perform at halftime. As expected, he was not a happy camper. Asked about it after the game, he said he didn’t understand it.

He said the band didn’t drop or spill anything. The field wasn’t in danger. He could have added that none of his band members wore cleats, but he didn’t.

In those days, there was no “Rocky Top” in the band’s repertoire, so that wasn’t a concern. (That famed song didn’t come along until 1972.)

All of that made as much sense as anything else that happened that day.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

“They Didn’t Have a Prayer”

There was a time at Mississippi State in September 1987, the Vols’ first trip there since 1950, when whoever was in charge of the pre-game festivities forgot to cue the minister for the invocation. There he was on the sideline at the microphone, ready, willing, and able to show his talents. Then he wasn’t there, and no one knew exactly where he was.

That event was not forgotten in the stories of the Vols’ 38-10 victory that day.

More than one sportswriter took note of the omission, noting in their stories that “even before the game started, it was obvious that the Bulldogs didn’t have a prayer.”

That may be reaching for a lead, as some journalists might say, but when deadlines are approaching, you take genius from whatever source it might come.

Sometimes you just have to look a little harder than usual.

You can hear a lot by listening, Yogi Berra once said, or is alleged to have said.

That’s for sure.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014