“Definitions of Class”

Bill Battle’s last game at Tennessee was 38 years ago today, a 13-10 triumph at Vanderbilt. Vol players carried Battle off the field, just before Bill offered this observation to media covering the game.

“I told our players there are a lot definitions of class,” Battle said. “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.”

The game itself was no classic, except to those who take any win over Vanderbilt as something good, given that the Commodores had won in Knoxville a year earlier. The Vols survived three fumbles and three interceptions, as well as a seemingly-nasty pre-game skirmish that was full of sound and fury and not much more.

The Battle Era ended 59-22-2, with a 4-1 record in bowl games.

When many in the Tennessee family gathered in 2004 for one of those video remembrance shows, with all kinds of good conversation and embellished sense of accomplishment, Bill Battle was right there front and center. He was still part of the tradition, still part of those men who have made the program what it is.

And that’s good.

Friday, Nov. 28, 2014

“Back to Grass”

No. 6 Tennessee officially ended the artificial turf era this day in 1993, defeating Vanderbilt 62-14. It didn’t take long, the next day, in fact, for workers to pull up the ersatz stuff, and it was mid-summer when birds of all types and descriptions were pecking at the new, more natural, stuff.

The Vols racked up 27 points in the second quarter. Charley Garner ran for 151 yards, while James (Little Man) Stewart scored three times. The Vols ended up 125-38-7 on the fake stuff on the floor of Shields-Watkins Field.

Artificial turf had been the surface of choice since the 1968 Georgia game, a 17-17 tie Sept. 14.

No one took a poll, but Vol fans instinctively “took” to the return of grass, with many dropping by the end zone gate under the south end of the stadium that spring and summer to monitor the progress of the new turf.

It belied the traditional meaning of something being as “boring as watching grass grow.”

Those same people probably bought swatches of the fake stuff for their Tennessee memorabilia collection.

There was no rational explanation for it, but that’s what happened.

Thursday, Nov. 27, 2014

“Better Times Were Ahead”

Tennessee defeated Vanderbilt this day in 1988 in Nashville, 14-7, on a day the winds and rain ruled Vanderbilt Stadium. Keith Davis ran for 162 yards and Kent Elmore had an 81-yard quick kick that totally delighted Tennessee head coach John Majors.

“Don’t you know that Bowden [Wyatt] would have loved that one?” Majors said after the game was in the record books.

The winds were so bad that when Chip McCallum lined up for a short field goal, John Ward made this perceptive comment: “This could be an adventure.”

The win was the Vols’ fifth in as many tries to close out the 1988 season, leading the Vols at 5-6 for the season.

Yea, verily, but better times were ahead, as quickly as the next season, when the Vols went 11-1 and earned a share of the SEC title.

Another SEC title came in 1990.

Those were the days, indeed.

Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014

“A Stand at Midfield”

Vol fans looked at their Sunday newspapers this day in 1979 and read about a rare occurrence that took place the day before, a major defensive stand near midfield.

“There’s never been a goal line stand on the 50-yard line.”

That aphorism, a standard football cliché, has probably been in existence since the time of Pop Warner, Amos Alonzo Stagg, and/or Knute Rockne. Those whose seats are near or in the end zone know that many of the great plays of Tennessee football have taken place somewhere near the end zone.

The exception was yesterday 35 years ago, when Tennessee and Kentucky were tied 17-17 in the final seconds of the game at Commonwealth Stadium. Those lucky folks seated near midfield saw Vol defenders give the white and orange the ball near the 50. Kentucky went for it on fourth-and-short and didn’t make it.

The Tennessee offense then got it close enough that Alan Duncan was able to kick the game-winner with but a few ticks left on the clock.

Just remember, please, that there are always exceptions to every general rule.

How many of the big plays of Tennessee football history have taken place at midfield? A few, but give most folks a good seat near the goal line and let them take their chances something good might happen in front of them, and they’ll be happy.

Besides, the real fans are down near the goal line or in the end zone anyway, aren’t they?

Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2014

“John Majors and Lou Michaels”

The SEC title season of 1956 had a number of tough games, but one of the toughest was a 20-7 win over Kentucky 58 years ago today. That was a game that went well into the fourth quarter before the Vols finally won.

That was the day John Majors fumbled early in the game when hit by Kentucky’s Lou Michaels. The Vols were inside the 10 heading goalward, when one of the game’s pivotal plays happened.

Michaels breezed by Tennessee’s John Gordy, Majors fumbled and somehow Gordy ended up with the ball and scored for a 6-0 lead. Someone called it the “tackle pitchout play.” That only served to rile Michaels.

Tennessee trailed 7-6 in the fourth quarter, but managed to score twice to eventually win.

Michaels got his revenge on Tennessee the next year, when he dominated a 20-6 Wildcat win at Stoll Field In Lexington.

After the 1956 game, Majors and Ben Byrd recalled that Majors and Michaels were to fly to New York for the “Ed Sullivan Show” the next evening.

To say the flight to New York was frosty would be an understatement. Michaels refused to talk with Majors until near the end of the flight.

Then Michaels spoke: “I hope you and Gordy play pro football because that will give me a chance to get even with you. You were lucky today, but I’ll get even with you.”

Michaels went on to play with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Green Bay Packers, and Baltimore Colts. Gordy went on to a distinguished career with the Detroit Lions.

A final note. While Majors was with Pittsburgh, he read an article in the NCAA News about the man called “Big Lou.” Asked about who he followed in football, Lou said plainly: “I keep up with the Pittsburgh Panthers and my old friend John Majors.”

Majors had a succinct response: “For the first time 20 years, I was relaxed when I thought of Lou Michaels.”

Majors saw Lou after the 1976 season, when John was seemingly on his way to Tennessee. Michaels had one word of advice: “You better not go to Tennessee.”

Majors must have swallowed hard, and then decided to come home.

Knoxville was a considerable distance from wherever in Pennsylvania Lou Michaels was.

Good thing, too.

Monday, Nov. 24, 2014

“End of the Season Momentum?”

Tennessee appeared to hit its stride down the stretch run in 2002, starting with a 24-0 victory over Vanderbilt this day at the pro stadium in Nashville, the one by the Cumberland River.

It was the second win in as many tries against the Commodores at the large football venue in Nashville. The Vols haven’t been back there since against the Commodores, making a return appearance at Vanderbilt Stadium in starting in 2004 and continuing unabated through this season.

It was also the second appearance there in 2002, given the Vols had opened the campaign with a 47-7 win over Wyoming.

Back to the story.

Tennessee won the next week against Kentucky, also by 24-0, and everything appeared to be well, until the Vols took on Maryland in the Peach Bowl, and the score was 30-3, in favor of the Terps. It wasn’t pretty.

Not at all.

That was it for end-of-the-season momentum.

“Mo” is a fickle creature, as we have pointed out on more than occasion. It was last seen with the Maryland Terrapin, wearing red and black, heading to parts unknown in downtown Atlanta.

Sunday, Nov. 23, 2014

“No One Knew What to Expect”

When Tennessee and Kentucky squared off this day in 1980, no one knew what to expect. Vol fans certainly didn’t expect the Vols to put 45 points on the board, but that’s exactly what happened.

Tennessee, buoyed by Willie Gault bringing back the opening kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown, had its best performance since the Auburn game (42-0 down on the Plains). Tennessee had scored but 28 points in four consecutive losses, while giving up 93 to ALabama, Pittsburgh, Virginia, and Ole Miss..

But the Vols got well against Kentucky and a week later against Vanderbilt, winning 51-13.

It was a solid finish for a team that had lost a couple of close games to start the season (16-15 to Georgia and 20-17 to Southern Cal).

Saturday, Nov. 22, 2014

“A Last Run through the ‘T’”

This day in 1992 was one to be etched into the memory books, as No. 20 Tennessee defeated Kentucky 34-13 at Neyland Stadium, a game not televised on any network nor on pay-per-view.

It marked the last home appearance for head coach John Majors, three days short of the day 36 years before when he played his last game on Shields-Watkins Field. Majors ended that portion of his Vol career with a 20-7 victory over Kentucky.

Majors, who had stepped down as head coach eight days earlier in Memphis, ran through the “T” for the final time, and then led his team to the victory over the Wildcats, paced by 138 yards rushing from tailback Charlie Garner.

Russ Bebb said it best about the man who came from Franklin and Moore Counties in southern Middle Tennessee: “His program was widely regarded as one of the nation’s best. To many people, he was Tennessee football. No matter what he might have done to bring on his ouster, no matter what demands he might have placed on the administration, he deserved a far nobler farewell.”

Those days are still fresh in many people’s minds, with the memories of a man who excelled on the field and as a head coach at Tennessee indelibly etched in their consciousness.

Friday, Nov. 21, 2014

“Back to National Prominence”

After not being in a bowl since 1957, the 1965 Vols celebrated an invite to the Bluebonnet Bowl today in their locker room at Memorial Coliseum after defeating Kentucky 19-3 across the street at Stoll Field in Lexington.

You might remember that the Vols dressing quarters for Kentucky games in Lexington were across the street from the stadium with a “halftime room” provided inside the stadium.

It was always interesting to see the dirt- and grass-stained (more dirt than grass in late November) Vols going across the street after the game surrounded by a phalanx of fans from both schools.

That season, the teams were tied 3-3 after the first half, but the Vols came on like gangbusters in the second 30 minutes. Interceptions by Doug Archibald and Frank Emanuel led to Dewey Warren touchdowns, and defensive tackle Derrick Weatherford tackled Wildcat quarterback Terry Beadles for a safety to establish the final margin.

That was a magic moment for a team that underwent great adversity in mid-season, what with the deaths of three coaches the Monday after a 7-7 tie with Alabama.

This 1965 team was something special.

There’s something special about the first team to bring a program “back.”

This team did that… and a whole lot more.

Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014

“A Memorable Afternoon and Evening”

Vol fans woke up in a good humor this morning in 1967, looking forward to the “Doug Dickey Show” that afternoon, as No. 2 Tennessee broke an 8-game losing streak against Ole Miss the day previous in Memphis, taking a hard-fought 20-7 decision. The Vols had not defeated the Rebels since an 18-16 decision on Shields-Watkins Field Nov. 15, 1958.

The outcome was called “landmark” by Haywood Harris and Gus Manning in their book “Six Seasons Remembered: The National Championship Years of Tennessee Football.”

The win cinched on Orange Bowl berth against Oklahoma. The Vols knocked off Kentucky 17-7 and Vanderbilt 41-14 to win the SEC title, first since 1956.

The Vols jumped to a 17-0 halftime lead, as Walter Chadwick tossed his second touchdown pass of the season, 10-yarder to tight end Terry Dalton. Chadwick added a 9-yard TD run, while Karl Kremser added 42-yard field goal.

Ole Miss rallied to cut the margin to 17-7, but Kremser sealed the deal in the fourth quarter with a 30-yard field goal.

When the team arrived home in Knoxville after the game, the Vols were greeted by a tumultuous rally near the site of the current HPER Building behind Tom Black Track, complete with bonfire, fraternity and sorority banners, and all the accoutrements of collegiate life.

It was a memorable afternoon and evening in a memorable season.

Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014