“Quite a Memorable Moment”

Those fans, all 16,000 of them who attended the 1968 Orange and White Game at Neyland Stadium were part of an historic gathering that Saturday afternoon.

They didn’t know it at the time, but they were part of history, as they witnessed the final game on the verdant turf of Shields-Watkins Field until Sept. 17, 1994.

As every Vol fan knows, much the way a schoolboy knows major league batting averages, that the turf was pulled up that summer for the first of a number of artificial surfaces over the ensuing years, termed by one Vol fan’s daughter, obviously wise beyond her years, as “pretend grass.”

Who says spring games don’t engender a number of memories that last for a lifetime?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

“You Played Football?”

As every Vol fan knows, Tim Priest, a native of Huntingdon, Tenn., and captain of the 1970 team, holds the all-time interception mark in Tennessee football history, 18 picks for 305 yards and one score. That happened 1968-70, and Tim’s mark still stands.

He’s been with the Vol Network since 1999. That season, Deon Grant had a first-play interception for a score against Auburn. Priest was interviewing Deon on the post-game show.

“We were sitting there getting ready to go on,” Priest related, “and Glenn Thackston, the producer, was talking with us.

“He asked Deon, who was approaching my record, if he knew who held the record for the most interceptions in Tennessee history. When he said he didn’t, Glenn pointed at me.”

Deon’s response on knowing Tim Priest’s identity was vintage, perhaps reflecting the ever-changing trends in college football over the years: “You played football?”

Players today must look at the late 1960s or early 1970s as the “Dark Ages” of football.

It was, as Tim noted, a different time when he played.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

“So Long Ago”

The University of Tennessee powers-that-be announced the creation of the Peyton Manning Scholarship this night 16 years ago.

It was quite a day and night for Peyton Manning what with him being the No. 1 draft choice of the Indianapolis Colts that afternoon and returning to Knoxville for the Orange and White Game.

At the draft ceremonies in New York, Peyton reclaimed the famed Manning No. 18 jersey. “No. 18 has always been special to our family,” Peyton said. “The Colts had it available and I’m looking forward to wearing it.”

(Peyton had chosen to wear No. 16 in Knoxville because an upperclassman, cornerback DeRon Jenkins, already had No. 18. Incoming recruit Marcus Nash wanted No. 12, his second choice, so No. 16 it became.)

At halftime of the game, the honors came quickly. Joe Johnson and coterie of campus leaders accepted a $135,000 check from reps of Burger King for Peyton being named the Vincent DePaul Draddy Award winner (often called the “Academic Heisman”). Peyton also received an $18,000 scholarship.

Knoxvillians Herb and Jean Brown handed a UT staffer a check for $10,000, saying they “wanted to do something for Peyton.”

The winner of the first Peyton Manning Scholarship, funded from the proceeds of awards Peyton received while on campus, was Jay Stephen Burns of Bulls Gap. One member of the Burns family, when told of the ceremony, asked simply: “Will we get to meet Peyton?”

After the scholarship presentation, Peyton signed a No. 16 jersey (“Peyton Manning, April 18, 1998”) and was presented a framed No. 16 jersey of his own.

It was quite a day for Peyton Manning and the University of Tennessee 10 years ago today.

Could it really have been so long ago?

Friday, April 18, 2014

“Fit”

What are the criteria for a coach to be a considered a “fit”?

Heard a great deal recently about coaches being a “good fit.”

Lane Kiffin obviously was not a good fit, nor was Derek Dooley.

Now we find that Cuonzo Martin wasn’t one.

The floor now is open for the characteristics that determine a good fit… and a bad one.

Your comments are always welcome.

Let’s hear it for “fit.”

Thursday, April 17, 2104

“Thoughts from an Otherwise Slow Tuesday”

 

A few comments from an otherwise slow Tuesday in beautiful Big Orange Country.

If you see a white Tennessee basketball jersey No. 5 in a store window, without a name on the back, do you automatically think of Jarnell Stokes, or does another name pop into your head, maybe Chris Lofton?

That was a subject of discussion on the radio today, with one of the hosts attempting to rebut Stokes’ statement that he was tired of seeing “his” jersey for sale all across town. The host said it was a generic Tennessee jersey that could be anybody’s.

Wonder how many people might agree with that assessment?

QUESTION: Do most fans looking to buy a jersey see No. 5 and think of Jarnell or is No. 5 merely a number, one of any the powers-that-be could have chosen, such as 11, 21, or 43?

It was also stated that one of the hosts of a morning show was “tired” of hearing about athletes who were “hungry,” not in the competitive sense, but in the sense of needing food at various times during the day.

That opinion may be sincere and heartfelt, but it was also mean-spirited and undignified. It was an embarrassing moment in the annals of Knoxville talk radio.

The record does reflect that the NCAA did move in a hurry to provide member institutions the ability to provide snacks and other meal opportunities once Shabazz Napier, the MVP of the 2014 Men’s Tournament, made his contention about being hungry during his time at Connecticut.

Dave Hart also made English teachers within the sound of his voice wince with this little gem in his media conference yesterday: “I did not know Cuonzo was involved in the California job until this morning. We did have a conversation, he was very emotional, bottom line is he said in his heart he believed that that was best for he and his family.”

Other than exploring these little vignettes, it was otherwise an uneventful day.

Tuesday, April 16, 2104

“Thoughts about Spring Games”

Someone once asked about the importance of spring football games.

Someone else, with a great deal of experience with these type things, had a quick answer.

“Spring games are like a bad movie. Good enough to get your attention. Bad enough to disappoint you.”

That’s one way of saying they are full of sound and fury, but not signifying much.

That’s two clichés for the price of one.

The best line about spring games comes afterwards when the coach says, “We didn’t get anybody hurt.”

That’s one man’s definition of a good spring game.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The End of the Line for Grass at Notre Dame”

 

So, Notre Dame is going to artificial turf.

John Majors had a great story about that verdant grass before the 1976 Notre Dame-Pittsburgh game.

“The grass was shoetop high, not the ideal turf for a back [Tony Dorsett] who runs the 40 in 4.3 seconds,” Majors said.

The came the topper.

“This reminds me of a Kansas wheat field,” he added.

Notre Dame said nothing was amiss, and the game went on as scheduled.

Majors got in the last word.

Pittsburgh won, 31-10.

From actual experience, the grass ay the famed stadium was nothing to write home about, but neither was the visiting dressing room on the east side of the north tunnel. It looked like it hadn’t seen a wet rag since the days of Knute Rockne, and the omnipresent TV monitor was always disconcerting.

It was, however, neat to stand in the tunnel and imagine what things were like in the “Catholics vs. Convicts” battles between “The Fighting Irish” and Miami took place.

Good memories all.

Wonder if someone could buy a sprig of grass from the famed greensward?

Sunday, April 12, 2014

 

 

 

“One Magic Game, One Magic Moment”

Seldom has one game attracted the attention of the “Tennessee Nation” as did the 1986 Sugar Bowl win over Miami. The 35-7 win, seemingly against all odds, is one of the first games mentioned when Vol fans begin choosing their favorite games… and favorite teams. Vol fans ruled the Louisiana Superdome that night, as the magic that envelops Gen. Neyland’s Stadium overtook the “Crescent City.”

Tennessee head coach John Majors saw it all from a front row seat and declared it something special.

“There’s probably no way to explain what it was like,” Majors said. “One of the most moving things of my life was the bus ride from the airport back to Gibbs Hall and seeing people waving their Tennessee banners, stopping their cars, and flashing their lights. I was touched to the point I couldn’t fight back the tears. I doubt I’ve gotten any more pleasure out of a victory, because it meant so much to so many who been have loyal to Tennessee over the years.”

Ken Donahue’s defense shut off every avenue of attack, and the Vol offense made every play needed in a dominating performance. Majors called Donahue’s work with the Vol defense “the most amazing feat I have seen in all my years of football.”

Donahue, a 1950s era tackle from Corryton, is remembered fondly across Big Orange Country for his defensive scheme that night. Tennessee defenders came at Hurricane quarterback Vinny Testaverde from nearly every angle and caused six turnovers, seven quarterback sacks, and five tackles for lost yardage. In fact, one media representative voted him the game’s Most Valuable Player, with The Tennessean’s David Climer writing that Ken won the game with a clipboard and a pencil, “writing a masterpiece in X’s and O’s.”

Donahue had returned to Knoxville in 1985 after a heralded career with Bear Bryant at Alabama.

Ken’s Vol defensive unit, one that improved game-by-game and highlighted a 38-20 win over No. 1 Auburn, was a major factor in an amazing season. His floppy, Sherlock Holmes-type hat was a fixture on the Vols practice field.

Ken was awarded a game ball after the Vols won 16-14 over Alabama that October. Receiving the ball from defensive end Dale Jones in the excitement of the Vol locker room, Donahue said, “This one will go right at the top.”

It all started coming together after the Vols had suffered an apparently crushing blow against Alabama, when starting signal-caller Tony Robinson, who had graced the cover of Sports Illustrated after the win over Auburn, went down with a knee injury. The loss thrust Daryl Dickey, son of former Vol head coach and first-year AD Doug Dickey, into the spotlight, and Vol fans, mindful Daryl had played ever so sparingly to that point, were concerned about the stretch run of the season.

They shouldn’t have been. Daryl showed uncommon smarts in leading the Vols. After a 6-6 tie with Georgia Tech, the Vols proved to be right up there with the great Tennessee teams of years past by season’s end.

Vol defenders were relentless down the stretch, shutting out Rutgers (40-0), effectively shutting out Memphis State (it was 17-7, but the Tiger score came off a blocked punt), defeating Mississippi (34-14), and finishing the season with shutouts of Kentucky (42-0) and Vanderbilt (30-0).

Then there was Jeff Powell, who had risen from obscurity to making a significant contribution as injuries depleted the running back corps. In the third quarter of the Sugar Bowl, when he broke the line for a 60-yard run that made the score 28-7, happiness reigned supreme all across Big Orange Country. It was a certainty that no one, save Willie Gault, maybe, could catch him. The Superdome exploded in a torrent of noise, as fans in orange couldn’t believe what they were seeing. It was amazing.

“Powell just came roaring down the greensward,” John Ward said.

Sometimes teams find the magic and ride it all the way to a more-than-successful season, one that no one could have expected. Once the 1985 Vols found that magic, they created a special niche for themselves in the hearts of Vol fans. All the little pieces fell together in exactly the right way to create a legendary aggregation.

“It meant so much to the players and coaches and the great Tennessee people who were there physically and on television,” Majors said of the Sugar Bowl. “I’ve heard people say that, other than the birth of their first child, their marriage or the first Christmas they remember, it was the most exciting moment of their lives.”

The 1985 Tennessee Volunteers demonstrated the power and triumph of a team, individually and collectively… and the triumph of a man, a man named Ken Donahue.

No Vol fan will ever forget this bunch.

Or forget Ken Donahue.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

 

 

 

“Early Spring Drills”

 

When was spring practice not really spring practice?

Russ Bebb tells the answer in “The Big Orange: A Story of Tennessee Football.”

Gen. Neyland had been back from the Canal Zone in 1936 and 1937 and looked anxiously toward the 1938 season, Russ tells us. The Vols had lost three games in 1937, decisions to Alabama, Auburn, and Vanderbilt, and that wasn’t making anybody happy.

At all.

Especially the head coach.

The 1937 season had ended Dec. 4 with a victory over Ole Miss. The Vols were back on the field Jan. 9, with drills ending some time in April. Neyland drove his team hard, sensing he had something special

“The squad had speed, size, and depth,” Bebb wrote, “and that intangible something today’s coaches called ‘togetherness.’”

There was another group of sensational sophomores (Bob Suffridge, Ed Molinski, and numerous others) and a strong presence in the junior and senior classes.

Bowden Wyatt was team captain.

There were 11-0, 10-1, 10-1 seasons in the offing, and a 34-game regular season winning streak that would end in the second game of 1941, with a loss to Duke. The Vols would reel off three straight wins over Alabama, giving up but 12 points in the three games, all of the tallies in 1940, a 27-12 Vol win in Birmingham.

Things were different in those days, given the lengthy drills over the first four months of 1938. The results were, however, a delight to Vol fans everywhere.

That’s the way things seemed nearly 75 years ago.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

 

 

“Bobby Denton”

Think about it.

If you close your eyes and listen carefully, his distinctive baritone voice is probably still echoing through the nooks and crannies of Neyland Stadium, where he added so many great moments to the history of Tennessee football.

The memories of his voice wafting through Gen. Bob’s stadium come quickly.

“Please pay these prices… and please pay no more.”

“It’s third… and the river.”

“It’s football time in Tennessee.”

“Tennessee wins the toss and defers… Georgia to receive… Tennessee to kick off and defend the south goal.”

From the very early days of his tenure in the 1960s.

“Dr. Smith, please call your exchange.”

And many, many more.

PERSONAL NOTE: It was an honor for the soon-to-be “Vol Historian” to be Bobby’s “ghostwriter” (1987-2005) for his utterances across the Neyland Stadiun public address system.

Requiescat in pace.

Bobby Denton

 Wednesday, March 9, 2014