“Bear Bryant’s First Win in Knoxville”

The 1962 Alabama game marked the first home contest of the year for the Vols, after road games at Auburn (a 22-21 loss at Legion Field), Mississippi State (a 7-6 loss at Crump Stadium in Memphis), and Georgia Tech (a 17-0 loss at Grant Field).

(The Vols had also opened the 1958 home slate in mid-October against Alabama, but with better luck, winning 14-7.)

Tennessee’s game, 52 years ago today, against the 1961 national champion Crimson Tide, won by Alabama 27-7, had another historic angle. It was televised on CBS, the first telecast emanating from Shields-Watkins Field, now part of “Neyland Stadium,” so named that day.

It was Bear Bryant’s first coaching win in Knoxville after drawing back a nub in his time at Kentucky and in his first two games there as head man at Alabama. Joe Namath, in the days before being known as “Broadway Joe,” completed 9 of 13 passes for 148 yards, including a 35-yard TD strike to Benny Nelson.

It was 12-7 after three quarters, but the Tide put the game away in the fourth canto.

It got to be habit-forming for Bryant to win in Knoxville, as the Tide won in 1964, 1966, 1972, 1974, 1976, 1978, and 1980, against losses in 1960, 1968, 1970, and 1982.

Television thus made its first appearance at Shields-Watkins Field/Neyland Stadium, for better or worse. The cameras would not come back until Nov. 19, 1966, on ABC, in a regionally televised game against Kentucky, but in the years to follow, the tube returned more and more times so that televised games are now the rule these days rather than the exception.

It wasn’t always that way.

Monday, Oct. 20, 2014

“Battling the Bear on Even Terms”

Tennessee defensive back Jimmy Weatherford, a Vol All-America selection in 1968, will never be confused with Alabama’s Terence Cody, but they share one thing in common.

Each blocked a field goal that saved a win for their team.

Cody, you will remember, had the block in the waning seconds of the 2009 game.

Weatherford did likewise 46 years ago today at Neyland Stadium, coming from the left side to block a Mike Dean attempt that would have given Alabama a 12-10 win.

In those days, no one thought to make a poster or a painting of the play. It’s right there on the game film (they used film in those long-ago days), since transferred to videotape.

The game was a tough one for Tide partisans to swallow. That has been true on both sides in the Tennessee-Alabama series all the way back to Gene McEver, part of “Hack, Mack, and Dodd.”

Alf Van Hoose of the Birmingham News had this priceless analysis: “The stage was set to make it one of college football’s all-time classics. The scene was fitting. Perfect. Storied old Neyland Stadium on a golden October Saturday. All it took was a 36-yard field goal by little Mike Dean. But in these cruel times, there is sometimes a jagged ending. Old prince and pauper tales may have been replaced. Life is hard.”

They don’t write stories that way any more.

So, in Doug Dickey’s fifth year at Tennessee, Alabama had won twice, by one (1966, 11-10) and 11 points (1964, 19-8), Tennessee had won twice by one (1968, 10-9) and 11 points (1967, 24-13), and there had been one tie (1965, 7-7).

Dickey was battling the Bear on even terms.

The Vols laid the wood to Alabama a year later at Legion Field by 41-14.

As Vol fans looked toward the 1970s, life was good.

As history records, however, there was danger lurking in the shadows.

After a 24-0 Tennessee win in 1970, the series took an ominous turn.

Between 1971 and 1981, it was all Alabama.

Those of us who were there remember it well.

Sunday, Oct. 19, 2011

“The Game Isn’t Rocket Science”

With all the talk about three-stars versus four-stars, recruiting rankings, and all that, here’s a simple formula for winning.

The coach who said it knew what he was talking about.

“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.”

That’s the secret everybody’s looking for.

It’s that simple.

The coach who said it?

It was a man named Bryant, Paul William (Bear), of Moro Bottom, Ark.

The game isn’t rocket science.

You could look up his record.

By the way, that’s the same guy who wouldn’t wear his checkered hat in the Louisiana Superdome, because his momma said, “Never wear a hat in the house.”

Saturday, Oct. 18, 2014

“Can Anybody Score?”

Lindsey Nelson did the television broadcast of the 1953 Tennessee-Alabama game with Mel Allen, better known as the “Voice of the Yankees.” Nelson was a Tennessee grad, Allen a graduate of Alabama. So there they were at Legion Field calling the Oct. 17 game 61 years ago.

The final was Tennessee 0, Alabama 0.

Jimmy Wade, the Tennessee tailback from Lynchburg, Va., had a solid game, but neither team could score… with a pencil.

That’s amazing, considering the Tide quarterback that day was Bart Starr, who put up precious few goose eggs during his career with Green Bay.

Tennessee’s Roger Rotroff almost got Starr for a safety near game’s end, but officials marked the ball inches outside the end zone and the deadlock was settled.

One wonders if they had had overtime in those days if anyone could have scored.

One also wonders how the two announcers filled the broadcast time with so little action on the field and how many viewers were left at the end.

Friday, Oct. 17, 2014

“A Bad Tie”

What Tennessee did to Georgia in 1968, rallying to tie the game at the end, Alabama did to Tennessee in 1993 at Legion Field.

Tennessee led 17-9 late in the game, when Jay Barker, the author of the first “Alabama Football Vault,” led the Tide on a do-or-die last-minute drive. He scored on a 1-yard run and turned things over to mercurial David Palmer to garner the final two points to steal the deadlock.

Some Alabama fan half his size, good judgment tempered by the demon rum (or other similar liquid), taunted Tennessee’s Kevin Mays outside the Vol dressing room, with the confidence that there was a sturdy chain link fence between the two. Kevin was not impressed, but resisted the opportunity to confront his potential combatant. That was good news for both.

After the season, the NCAA forfeited this game to the Vols, owing to sanctions against Alabama.

That whole time seems so long ago.

Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014

“Who Wants the Ball?”

After the 1965 Tennessee-Alabama game, a 7-7 tie, someone from the Alabama side came to the Vol dressing room under the north stands at Legion Field and asked for the game ball, saying Bear Bryant sent him.

Bryant said later he didn’t ask for it. When you consider the way things developed that afternoon, he probably didn’t want it.

According to Tom Siler’s book (“Tennessee’s Dazzling Decade, 1960-70”), Bryant was adamant in his assertion.

Siler noted that Tennessee had the ball and wouldn’t relinquish it.

This was one of those “good ties,” with Tennessee, having lost four straight to the Tide (1961-64), glad to get away from Birmingham without losing. They had lost in 1961 and 1963, decisively in both games, and this was a step forward, the reasoning went.

In fact, the late Hal Wantland, the team’s captain and the “face” of the 1965 team, was quoted as saying, “Alabama tied us.”

Everybody and his brother knew Tennessee was “back” after that game.

And they were, beginning one of the great eras of Tennessee football.

Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014

“Bubba to the Rescue”

On the way to the SEC and part of the national championship in 1967, Tennessee lost its second quarterback in as many weeks in a 24-13 win this day over Georgia Tech at Neyland Stadium.

Dewey Warren had been lost two weeks earlier against Auburn. Charley Fulton was likewise injured against the Yellow Jackets, leaving things under center in the hands of junior Bubba Wyche, who had seen limited duty in 1966 and the early part of 1967. Limited, as in almost non-existent.

“I remember Coach Dickey coming up to me and asking if I were ready,” Wyche recalled. “I told him there weren’t a whole lot of options. I had never taken a snap from Bob Johnson, so Coach Dickey asked the official if I could take a snap or two. He agreed, reluctantly.

“It was one of those cases where preparation met opportunity. We were in the red zone. The first three plays were busts and we kicked a field goal. After we got to the sidelines, Bob and I took some snaps, and I settled down. I’m from Atlanta and was looking across the line at players I had known from high school.”

The next week, Wyche got the start against Alabama at Legion Field, not the best of places for an experienced signal-caller to debut.

“I had a week of preparation, with the game plan and the strategies,” he said. “I don’t think there’s ever been a more exciting time. I remember walking to the middle of the field after the game when Coach Dickey and Coach Bryant were shaking hands. I told Coach Bryant that this was the greatest moment of my career. He congratulated me and said I had a very good game.”

Bubba Wyche was the “man of the moment” 47 years ago today, in a memorable season that is near the top of the great seasons of Tennessee past. He was ready when his number was called and made the most of the opportunity.

Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2014

“A Less-Than-Memorable Anniversary”

It was two years ago today that the Vols and Mississippi State squared off in one of those 8 p.m. CT games that the television networks like to foist upon unsuspecting fans.

Wonder what the players (and fans) did all day?

Been there and done that in a game at Ole Miss back in 2004, when David Cutcliffe was the head coach in Oxford. That was another long day. The team charter got home about 6 a.m. Sunday. There still may be folks trying find their way out of Oxford.

There’s nothing, repeat nothing, any of the SEC schools (or any other of the big-time programs, for that matter) wouldn’t do for television.


Everybody knows the relationship between man and fiddle.

Monday, Oct. 13, 2014

“The Once-Verdant Turf”

What in the name of Deanie Hoskins and Bob Campbell has happened to the turf on Shields-Watkins Field?

Can’t remember it looking as bad as it has in recent weeks, even given a 27-day break between the Arkansas State and Florida games.

This is not a call for some version of the artificial stuff, but a legit question from our vantage point in the portals of Section OO and from watching game highlights on various news outlets.

The once-verdant turf isn’t so verdant.

Makes you wonder.

Doesn’t it?

Anybody notice this?

Sunday, Oct. 12, 2014

‘Didn’t Have Any”

Sometimes players have an intriguing perspective on what helps bring home a win, especially on the road.

In the 1972 Tennessee-Georgia game, Tennessee showed off a solid defense, one that gave up but 100 points in 12 games and finished 10-2. The Vols had come into the game 0-2 in the conference, with narrow losses to Auburn (10-6) and Alabama (17-10).

There were questions about the offense, but on this day, the offense got 14 points in the second quarter and rode ball control accompanied by a defensive effort without parallel to win 14-0.

It gave Vol fans who rode to the game on the train from Atlanta to Athens confidence for the rest of the season.

The Vols didn’t lose again in the regular season and defeated LSU in the Astro Bluebonnet Bowl, 24-17. The Vols were 4th in the SEC, but 8th in the nation. See the game here.

Someone from one of the Knoxville newspapers, asked one of the defensive Vols, maybe Conrad Graham, how the Vol defenders had played.

“I don’t know,” he said, “but when we left the field the other side didn’t have any.”

That comment typified the attitude of the 1972 defense. The other guys might have scored some, but not much.

Saturday, Oct. 11, 2014