“The Delights of the Basketball Box Score”

Many of us who are basketball junkies love the basketball box score. Some people look at it and see a bunch of names and numbers. Those who know the ins and outs of the sport find it to be a treasure trove of information.

Once sketchy, giving only baskets, free throws made and attempted, total points and the halftime score, the box score of today offers everything you could want, maybe more, in some cases. The memory is unclear if it ever were posted in an actual one-column box.

There’s a historic connection here, in one of those tricky leaps the mind seems to take when challenged by a blank computer screen.

There was a time between 1963 and 1966 the Vol Historian called in Holston High School basketball scores to the Knoxville newspapers (so long ago, there were actually two), with very specific instructions.

List the starters and their points, along with scoring subs, the score by quarters, and some other tidbits about the game. The pay wasn’t much, maybe a buck a night (in lieu of a byline), but there was your story right there in the Wednesday or Saturday newspapers. It still is, if you go to the library and pull up either one of the Knoxville newspapers by the magic of microfilm.

That assignment came from several greats in Knoxville newspaper history. Tom Sweeten was a family friend at the Journal, who died under inexplicable circumstances many years ago, while Red Bailes was likewise at the News-Sentinel, during time it was the “News dash Sentinel” (News-Sentinel), unlike today.

The Vol Historian never got to hang around the newsroom as did Jim Bailes, now the Rev. Jim Bailes, or Rick Dye, son of the truly fine photographer Bill Dye, but the association in those years was exceptionally rewarding. Still is.

There’s something special about contributing to history. There’s something special about the box score, no matter how it is constituted.

Friday, Dec. 19, 2014

“The 1960 Gotham Bowl: ‘No Thanks’”

Between the 1958 and 1964 seasons, there were no bowl games for the Tennessee Volunteers. Not a one. That’s why the 1965 team and its Bluebonnet Bowl win over Tulsa are so fondly remembered by longtime Tennessee football fans.

There’s a kicker to the story. In those years, Tennessee did at least once have an acceptable enough record to be considered for a bowl game, but head coach Bowden Wyatt let it be known the Vols, well, weren’t interested.

The best record during that time was a 6-2-2 mark in 1960, with losses to Georgia Tech and Ole Miss and a 0-0 tie with Mississippi State, the last scoreless deadlock in Vol history, spoiling the Vols’ dossier. The Vols had defeated Alabama in October 20-7, the last victory over the Tide until seven years later.

The 1960 Vols were 5-0-1 entering November, but ended up staying at home when bowl invites were proffered.

“From what I’ve heard, they’re all filled,” Wyatt said after the Vols knocked off Vanderbilt 35-0 in Nashville Nov. 26. “Maybe the Gotham Bowl is open, but I’m not interested in that. We’re going to have our banquet and begin thinking about spring practice. In fact, I may start planning before the banquet.”

That fall, newspapers headlines had trumpeted the Gotham Bowl as a welcome addition to the 1960 bowl scene. So said an article in the New York Times, ostensibly with a straight face. Organizers had envisioned a packed Yankee Stadium with brass bands and 55,000 cheering fans. Wouldn’t it be great, New York City bigwigs wondered, if Notre Dame or Syracuse would accept invitations to play?

But Notre Dame did not play bowl games in those days. Syracuse turned down an invite, followed by Oregon State, Colorado, and even Holy Cross. Who could blame them? Any time in December in New York is usually, to be honest about it, bone-chillingly cold. The result was no Gotham Bowl in 1960. The 1961 game was played at the Polo Grounds (Baylor 24, Utah 9, Dec. 9) and at Yankee Stadium (Nebraska 36, Miami 34, Dec. 15). Then the game ended, awash in red ink.

The record of history is unclear whether the Vols were ever actually invited to play in New York City, but when the Bluebonnet Bowl came calling in 1965, Tennessee, hungry for post-season play after a number of fallow years, did readily accept.

That set off a plethora of bowl bids from 1965 on, except for a couple years here and there.

But in 1960, the Vol powers-that-be let it be known they weren’t interested.

Thank you very much for asking, they said.

Or words to that effect.

Maybe Bowden Wyatt understood the situation more than we initially thought.

Thursday, Dec. 18, 2014

“9-3 on the Year”

Tennessee’s best season since 1972 ended in Orlando this night in 1983 with a 30-23 victory over Maryland in the Florida Citrus Bowl. Johnnie Jones had 154 yards rushing as the Vols, trailing 20-16, outscored the Terps 14-3 in the fourth quarter to annex the win.

A crowd of 50,500 watched the contest.

Jones scored twice for the Vols, joined by TDs from Lenny Moore Taylor (on a 12-yard pass from Alan Cockrell) and Sam Henderson (on a 19-yard run). The Vols held the Terps to 95 yards rushing. Alvin Toles had a fumble recovery and an intercepted pass, each leading to a Vol score.

The Vols finished 9-3 on the year.

Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014

“The Food Ran Out After Two Days”

There are a number of great stories about former Vol lineman and College Football honoree Herman Hickman (1929-31), but this one was one of the best, one he told on himself.

Wanting to cut his poundage from 340 to a more manageable figure, he went on a 14-day diet, as friends advised.

It wasn’t too long afterwards that one of those friends asked him how he was doing.

“I had to quit,” he said.

The friend seemed concerned and asked what the problem was.

Hickman had a ready answer.

“The food ran out after two days,” he said.

That was Herman Hickman.

Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014

“An Outhouse in a Fog”

One of the great coaching comments in all of Tennessee football history came in spring practice 1927, and that’s understatement. Fullback Dave McArthur grew weary of the continuous running of the same play, the famed No. 10 off-tackle play, over and over.

McArthur finally took a deep breath and raised the following question Bob Neyland, not the smartest thing he could have done, but he did it anyway.

“Major,” he said, “haven’t we had that play before?”

Neyland, who was known not to tolerate fools lightly, had a ready and quick response.

“My goodness, McArthur.” Neyland responded, veins perhaps bulging in his neck, “you sound like someone looking for an outhouse in a fog.”

That’s what the duo is alleged to have said. Tom Siler said so in a 1961 book.

Whatever happened after that must have worked. Tennessee earned an 8-0-1 record, winning the Southern Conference title. Neyland was 16-1-1 in his first two seasons, a record that must have looked like manna from heaven to victory-starved Vol fans.

There are those who say this and other wonderful conversations never took place. It’s much the way folks say Yogi Berra never said all the things he has been accused of saying over the years and are only embellished by the telling. What do we make of this?

The legend of sport is richer for these little vignettes.

Maybe Knute Rockne, or Pat O’Brien, even, never actually said, “Win one for the Gipper.” Who knows? What would that have done to the acting and/or political career of Ronald Reagan?

There’s a simple answer to all this: Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.

Monday, Dec. 15, 2014

“Bringing You the Story”

Got to thinking the other day about those wonderful folks who have brought us the story of Tennessee football over the years.

For a number of years, Vol fans anxiously awaited game stories and columns in the state’s newspapers by writers named Bob Wilson, Walter Stewart, Early Maxwell, Edgar Allen, Tom Anderson, Early Maxwell, F.M. Williams, John Bibb, Ed and Harold Harris, Tom Siler, Marvin West, Frank “Red” Bailes, Ben Byrd, Russ Bebb, David Climer, Ward Gossett, Chris Low, Jimmy Hyams, John Adams, Mike Strange, Gary Lundy, and many others.

You may not recognize these names, but H.I. Leyshon and Jimmy Smith were scribes who covered the Vols in the early part of the 20th century. There was a writer named Jimmy Burns who wrote about the 1922 game with Emory & Henry, a 50-0 Tennessee win, the game in which the orange and white jerseys made their debut.

His game story had a nice literary touch, noting that the Vols “rendered the Wasps as helpless as a one-armed revenue officer in a moonshiner’s lair.” There was one minor detail missing in his story. There was no mention of the new orange jerseys.

There was another nice touch in the Knoxville Journal’s story of the 1909 Transylvania game (the college in Lexington, Ky., not the home of Dracula in the Carpethian Mountains). When the Vols, scoreless in their first eight games, knocked off Transy 11-0, the Journal had the following sub-head on its game story: “The Team of the Recent Past Didn’t Know Itself Yesterday, and Thereby Hangs a Pleasant Tale.”

There’s more. On Sunday afternoons, Vol fans turned on the television at 1 p.m. on Channel 6 in Knoxville, and there was John Ward, looking straight into the camera with opening comments something like this: “It was a beautiful day yesterday afternoon at Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama, and, when it was all over, Tennessee came home with a 24-13 victory. Coach Doug Dickey, the turning point of this football game…”

Then Ward, succeeded in 1999 by Bob Kesling, and a host of head coaches, described the game in great detail for the next hour. It was marvelous, always high-tech by the standards of its day. Even though they might have seen the game live a day earlier, Vol fans wouldn’t have missed it for anything.

The Vol Network, the brainchild of Lindsey Nelson and Edwin Court Hustler Sr., grew into one of finest in college sports. Edwin Hustler Jr. continued what Lindsey and his dad started, and the Vol Network stood then and stands today for class, professionalism, and dignity.

After Edwin C. Hustler Jr. died, suddenly, in the early 2000s, Steve Early took over and the Vol Network hasn’t missed a beat. Today, Vol Network broadcasts are heard worldwide thanks to the Internet, and heroes in orange and white continue to build the Tennessee legend.

Nelson said he had originally wanted to call it the “Volunteer Network,” as in “You’re listening to the Volunteer Network. Stand by for the kickoff.” He even rehearsed the tag line at his home on Valley View Drive in North Knoxville.

He needed Gen. Neyland’s approval.

For his part, Lindsey said, Gen. Neyland preferred “Vol Network.”

So the “Vol Network” it was.

It’s been that way ever since.

Sunday, Dec. 14, 2014

“The Monday Morning Quarterback”

There was a time that the Department of Alumni Affairs sent out a missive called the “Monday Morning Quarterback” to alumni literally all over the world. It was a popular and positive message, maybe even a “buzz,” for the University of Tennessee.

Found one in Dyer’s file at the KNS from the 1972 Tennessee-Georgia game, Tennessee 14, Georgia 0.

Nothing beats a complete and total review of the DyerGram from Bill’s days at the K-NS.

Nothing beat watching a Tennessee football coaches’ show with the DyerGram at the ready.

Many of us are also looking for something that can create a similarly “popular and positive message” for the University of Tennessee these days.

Saturday, Dec. 13, 2014

“A Look Back 81 Years”

Found an original game program the other day from the Tennessee-Alabama game of Oct. 21, 1933, thinking it might be useful for any of a number of projects.

It was very interesting, to say the least.

In those long-ago days, Tennessee listed 50 players on its roster, Alabama 39.

The program cost 25 cents and had a full-page Camel cigarette advertisement on the back. That would be a definite “no-no” these days.

There’s also a full-page ad for Brown Cow Ice Cream, a product of “Sani-Seal, Good Ice Cream,” featuring Vol quarterback Freddie Moses on what appears to be an ersatz “brown cow.”

There is a full-page of sheet music for the “Tennessee Victory Song,” maybe the “Rocky Top” of its day.

According to another ad, a single room at the Andrew Johnson Hotel went for $2.50 to $5 nightly. A double went for $4.50 to $8. The Farragut Hotel advertised “300 rooms each with individual bath, radio, and electric ceiling fans.”

Auburn is referred to as “Alabama Polytechnic Institute” and Georgia Tech as the “Georgia School of Technology.”

Here’s something demanded attention, a discussion of the value of football:

“Under Bob Neyland, some of the finest men ever turned out of a state university have graduated from the University of Tennessee, and have gone forth into this state and others to demonstrate to the public at large that Football is a healthy thing for the young manhood of a state. And the future of a state is based on the strength of her youth.”

One more item of note:

“The advertising given a state by a great football team is of no little value to the constituent parts of that state — her people. Football is valuable in bringing the state university before the greater masses of people and causing many young people to attend the school that would otherwise never go to college. That may sound a bit overdrawn and far-fetched but it is the truth. And if football can draw young America to college it will have achieved a great end if it did nothing else.”

By the way, Alabama won 12-6, giving Bob Neyland a 4-2 record against the Tide at that point in his career, 12-5-2 overall.

That was the way things appeared 81 years ago.

Friday, Dec. 12, 2014

“A Time of Great Exuberance”

Vol fans were still smiling today, 10 days after Tennessee put the finishing touches on a 9-1 1967 regular season, a campaign that brought home the first SEC title since 1956. Doug Dickey had said the fourth year of his tenure at Tennessee would be special, and he was right.

The Vols lost the season opener at UCLA, yet rolled through the next nine opponents by a combined score of 243-95, settling some old scores in the process. The Vols knocked off Alabama 24-13 on Oct. 21, the first win over the Crimson Tide since 1960, and Ole Miss by 20-7 on Nov. 18, the first win over the Rebels since 1958.

The Alabama game was so inspirational that one exuberant Vol fan posed the ultimate question in a call to a local newspaper: “Does Coach Dickey intend to come back to Knoxville with the team or will he just walk up the river?”

The season finale against Vanderbilt was the last on Shields-Watkins Field for a number of seniors who helped bring Tennessee back into national prominence, among them Bob Johnson, Dewey Warren, Charlie Fulton, John Boynton, Albert Dorsey, Jimmy Glover, Walter Chadwick, Derrick Weatherford, Elliott Gammage, and Joe Graham.

Dickey called it a team effort all the way.

“I think a lot of players on that ’67 team played better than they were,” Dickey said. “Coach Bryant always told me that your great players have to play great and your average players have to play real good. That’s the secret to being a great coach.”

The Vols finished the regular season No. 2 in the nation, and played Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl. The Vols came off the mat of a 19-0 halftime deficit and had a shot at the victory in the waning seconds, but kicker Karl Kremser’s last-second attempt for the win faded to the right and the final was 26-24, Sooners.

That loss did not diminish the accomplishments of this team in the least.

In Dickey’s second, third and fourth years at Tennessee, the program was definitely on the upswing. The Vols were “back,” and Vol fans were convinced the team could win any time they took the field.

The 1965 team had a two-page picture in Sports Illustrated after the tie with Alabama. The exploits of the 1966, 1967, and 1968 teams were also chronicled therein in later issues.

The Vanderbilt game was the last played on the Shields-Watkins Field grass, so carefully tended by John Deanie Hoskins and Jim Wagner for so many years, until Sept. 17, 1994.

In the middle of 1968, word came that the field would be covered with something called Tartan Turf, a product of 3M, with the grass being pulled out and the artificial stuff put down.

Artificial turf stayed on the field in one form or another until the end of the 1993 season and another victory over Vanderbilt. Then came the ever-so-joyous announcement that grass would also be “back” for the 1994 season.

The 1967 Vols were quite a group. They are on the short list of teams Vol fans bring up as one of their favorites.

Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013

“An Insoluble Question”

Several of us were sitting in TBA the other day, when someone posed the following question during a lull in the action.

“What would happen,” someone opined, “if a really good college basketball team played a not-so-good team, with the good team playing as well as possible and the not-so-good team playing poorly? What would the score be?”

This is the time the football and basketball seasons run together so there are a great many conversations like this one. The questions are usually insoluble, yet are fun to discuss. In this case, maybe they’re not so fun.

There’s historic precedent for the answer in this case.

It happened at Rupp Arena in the SEC Tournament back in 1993. Kentucky was very good, in the days when Rick Pitino had the Wildcat program in full gear.

Tennessee had stolen a win at TBA a week or so earlier, and Pitino and his team came out guns-a-blazing, booming three-pointers from every nook and cranny of Rupp Arena.

Consider that Kentucky won by 101-40, 2.5 points per minute to 1 point per minute. That was, by the way, the year of the big snowstorm, which kept everybody in Lexington for the entire tourney.

It was nearly unwatchable. Maybe “nearly” is an understatement.

Rarely has a Tennessee team had their collective heads handed to them. This was one of those times.

Allan Houston had to knock down a three in the waning minutes to get the Vols to 40. By the way, that’s all he had… the entire game.

Someone had a great thought and moved the conversation in another direction.

Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2014