Author Archives: Tom Mattingly

About Tom Mattingly

Tom Mattingly writes on Vol history. Contact him via email.

“Getting the Team Out of Town:”

What city had the best police escorts for visiting teams to get into and out of town? No one knows for sure, but here are some thoughts, gleaned from many years experience.

Birmingham and Memphis top the list. It’s not that far from Legion Field or from Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium to those cities’ respective airports, but they do it first-rate. So does Tuscaloosa, for that matter.

Hunker down in your seat on the bus and enjoy the show, complete with motorcycle cops coming at you from nearly every direction, front and back, sirens a-blazing. There are the obligatory “one-finger salutes” from the fans, more prevalent if the Vols won than if they hadn’t.

They do a better job at Georgia once the powers-that-be decided that the team would fly back in several small planes out of Athens, rather than a multi-hour trip to Atlanta for a fewer than 30 minute flight from beautiful Hartsfield to Knoxville. The radio talk shows after the games were always a hoot.

(When the team buses would pull up to the entrance to Hartsfield, usually V-E-R-Y early in the a.m., there was always great scurrying about, what with everyone in charge seeming to be surprised when the buses arrived.)

Arkansas was always fun, whether going to the old airport, one where Delta wouldn’t land one year, or a newer version a considerable distance from town, where Delta would. So was Little Rock.

The airport in Gainesville wasn’t bad, although the team plane once had to wait for the U.T. plane to take off one year before it did. There’s a scary story about the trip from Ocala to Gainesville in 1977, one to be saved for another day.

The worst was in Boston one year, when the escort seemed to stop for every red light, railroad crossing, or crosswalk, timed, it seemed, by the same folks who set up the Knoxville system on Kingston Pike just past Western Plaza. It took an interminably long time to get to the airport, and that was nearly 30 years ago.

The conclusion? Give Birmingham and Memphis a pat on the back. They take the prize, getting the team to and from the stadium and the hotel and the airport.

That’s the way things seem looking back.

Thursday, Jan. 13, 2017

“A Few Salient Questions”

Talked to a friend the other day about a number of salient issues.

Will Tennessee ever play for another national championship in the years to come?

NOTE: The friend was nearly 70, and the Vol Historian is almost 69 years old.

Will Tennessee have an athletic director in place by the time either one of us turns 80?

Will either of us see another victory over Alabama in the next 10 years or so?

Will either of us see the Vols (a) win an SEC East title and (b) win the SEC overall title?

Answers to these important questions are definitely a matter of opinion.

You guess is as good as ours.

Comments are always appreciated.

Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017

“Influence”

There’s influence… and then there’s influence.

The legend is that Gen. Robert R. Neyland had a profound impact on his players, long after they had had turned in their orange and white uniforms for business suits or had gone into coaching… or both.

There was a time more than 20 former Vols were collegiate head coaches, and many more were assistants or coached at high schools across Tennessee and the country. Tennessee was a veritable “cradle of coaches” in Gen. Neyland’s day.

Two former Vols were watching practice at Shields-Watkins Field one day.

One of them, in the fashion of the day, had just lit a cigarette when Neyland walked in their direction. He quickly extinguished it as Neyland inched closer.

“Why did you do that?” his friend asked, “He’s not your coach any more.”

The reply was vintage. “You know it, and I know it, but I’m not sure he knows it.”

Doug Dickey had the same impact on his players. The memory is still fresh of his former players, many in their late 40s or early 50s, breaking into a mild sweat when it came time to visit Dickey in his office for whatever reason.

That also happened to people who worked for him every now and then.

Such is the influence coaches have on their players, long after their playing days are over.

Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014

“The Job I’ve Always Wanted”

It was sometime early in January 1955 that Bowden Wyatt rolled into Knoxville to take the reins of the Tennessee football program. He had had great success at Wyoming and Arkansas, conference championships at both schools, with Vol fans hoping for more of the same in Knoxville.

“It’s been a rough decision for me,” Wyatt said, “but I’m going back to the job I’ve always wanted.”

Wyatt brought Skeeter Bailey, Dick Hitt, George Cafego, and Leroy Pearce with him from Arkansas, added Ralph Chancey and Bunzy O’Neil, and completed the staff with Jim McDonald, a successful high school coach in Springfield, Ohio.

There was a magic moment at the Vol football banquet when Bowden made a presentation to 1955 team captain Jim Beutel. It was a coin he had won as captain of the 11-0 1938 team. He had kept it to give his first captain if he ever became head coach at Tennessee.

So the Wyatt years at Tennessee were off and running.

“With triumphant coaches tenures behind, Bowden Wyatt was now back home,” Russ Bebb wrote. “Ahead lay even greater triumphs and personal glory.”

There was more to it, however.

“And sadness and sorrow, too.”

Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017

“Humming That Tater”

How’s this for a trip back in time?

You will remember that Tennessee knocked off Syracuse in the 1966 Gator Bowl, 18-12, in a trip that’s still fondly remembered a half-century later.

Here’s how the New York Times led its coverage of the game, in an article written by Gordon S. White, Jr.

“JACKSONVILLE, Fla., Dec. 31 — Tennessee’s spectacular aerial attack, led by Dewey Warren, dominated the first 30 minutes of action in the Gator Bowl today and eventually proved to be worth 6 more points than the strong running attack by Syracuse that dominated the second 30 minutes of the game. As a result, the Volunteers, who appeared headed for an easy triumph, managed to walk away from this 22nd annual contest with an 18-12 triumph over the Orange.”

“Tennessee’s spectacular aerial attack” consisted of Warren completing 17 of 29 passes for 242 yards, 1 TD, and 1 interception. Johnny Mills caught 8 balls for 86 yards, while Richmond Flowers caught 5 for 37.

Considering that no Vol passer from 1950 on had passed for more than 1,000 yards until Warren did so, Dewey’s arrival on the scene, “humming that tater” as he called it, definitely propelled the Vols into another era of football.

Thursday, Jan.5, 2017

“A Vol Fan Supreme”

Found some vintage 1960s videotapes of Tennessee games this past weekend, courtesy of Allen Spain, a loyal Vol who has a marvelous collection of Tennessee “stuff.”

Among the “stuff” were the 1968 Orange Bowl game against Oklahoma and the 1968 contests with Georgia and Alabama. It was really fascinating to see the Vols of old and the old-time graphics and commercials, especially the ones for cigarettes.

There were the much younger Bill Flemming, Chris Schenkel, and Bud Wilkinson on the broadcasts.

The football was pretty good, too. The opening drive of the 1968 Alabama game was a thing of beauty, capped by a Richmond Flowers plunge for six points.

The players of that day are now in their late 60s or older, but, for their time, they were pretty good.

How good were these good old days?

When you think about it, these olden days were darn good, thanks to Allen’s preserving them for us.

Thursday, Jan. 5, 2017

“Covered Extensively by the Historians”

On this day in 1970, Vol fans picked up their newspapers (Knoxville had two in those days, the Journal in the morning and the KN-S in the afternoon) and read of the previous day’s hiring of Bill Battle as the new head coach of the Volunteers.

There were no social media in those days, so there were snippets on the previous evening’s news, with the real analysis being left to the sportswriters of the competing newspapers.

Russ Bebb called Battle the “sleeper” in a group that included assistants Doug Knotts and Jimmy Dunn, like Battle, each of them members of the Doug Dickey staff.

Battle ended up getting the call, lasting until the end of the 1976 season, before starting a highly successful business in collegiate licensing.

On this day way back when, no one knew exactly how events would transpire over the ensuing years. It was the beginning of a new era in Vol football, covered extensively by the historians of that day and even those of more recent years.

Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2017

“The Ernie and Bernie Show”

Tennessee opened the 1976-77 SEC season this night with a 73-69 win over Vanderbilt at Memorial Gym in Nashville.

The Vols swept Kentucky and Vanderbilt that season and won the SEC with a 16-2 record. The only losses in the conference were at Georgia and at Florida. It was a memorable time. The win over Kentucky came in the Vols’ first visit to Rupp Arena.

Tennessee and UCLA played a Sunday afternoon contest at the Omni in Atlanta, with the Bruins winning 103-89.

The “Bernie and Ernie Show” was in full swing, with a ticket to Tennessee games at Stokely Center being a priceless commodity. For the season, the Vols shot 53.5% from the field.

The Vols finished 15th in the AP poll and 8th in UPI.

Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017

“A Rough Win”

Did anybody remember that the Tennessee-Oklahoma game in the 1939 Orange Bowl was played on Jan. 2? Termed one of the roughest bowl game ever with more than 200 yards assessed against the two teams, 130 against the Vols.

The Vols won, 17-0. It was their eighth shutout in their 11 games that season.

It was a classic battle of speed against size, with Tennessee’s speed and stamina carrying the day.

Bob Foxx had an 8-yard run for a score, Babe Wood had a 19-run for another score, and Bowden Wyatt kicked a 32-yard field goal. Tennessee held the Sooners to 25 yards on 16 carries.

Tennessee finished 11-0, winning the SEC and finishing No. 2 the AP poll.

Monday, Jan. 2, 2017

“The Trouble with ‘Letting go’”

Letting go of a controversial loss, as some in the media have often suggested, is easier said than done.

Every team has a game, maybe more than one, that incites its fan base by its mere mention.

You could talk about the season 2000 Jabar Gaffney “catch” on the north end zone at Neyland Stadium with Tennessee fans, and that will irk them greatly.

You could talk to the Alabama folks about “Punt, Bama, Punt” from 1972 (Auburn 17, Alabama 16), and a similar reaction will occur.

Syracuse partisans still debate the fourth down pass interference call in the 1998 Tennessee game that led to a Vol victory, 34-33, in September that season.

This year’s version of the Tennessee fan base seems to have trouble “letting go” of the South Carolina and Vanderbilt games, and they’re probably right. No way that should have happened.

In any event, you might let go of it, but it doesn’t take much to bring it back to the surface.

There was a time on the field after the 1974 Liberty Bowl game against Maryland that a Vol assistant coach who had played against the Terps in the 1952 Sugar Bowl openly let his feelings be known that the win in Memphis helped even the score.

Twenty-two years is a long time to wait for redemption.

It all goes back to that old about “burying the hatchet.”

People may bury the hatchet, but you can bet your last nickel none of them will forget where.

Sunday, Jan. 1, 2017