Author Archives: Tom Mattingly

About Tom Mattingly

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

“This Day in 1958”

Remember well the 1958 season, the year the Vols defeated Alabama and Ole Miss and lost to Chattanooga and Kentucky en route to a 4-6 record.

It was Bear Bryant’s first year at Alabama and Bowden Wyatt’s fourth in Knoxville.

Tennessee won 14-7 on Shields-Watkins Field and won two years later by 20-7 in Knoxville, before Bryant real got things cranked up. Wyatt was gone by the summer before the 1963 season.

Doug Dickey arrived in 1964 and was 3-2-1 against the Crimson Tide before heading to Florida.

It seems like only yesterday that Bryant was squaring off with Wyatt this day 59 years ago.

A great deal has happened since then.

Some good.

Some bad.

A new chapter in the history of both schools is set to be written this Saturday in Tuscaloosa.

The historians should have a great deal to say and write once this one, meeting No. 100, is in the record books.

It will likely be as much about what happens off the field as it is on the field.

Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017

“No First Downs?”

Could it happen again, much the way it happened on Sept. 27, 1958, in the season opener against Auburn at Legion field in Birmingham. The Vols lost 13-0 and failed to record a single first down. That hasn’t to anyone since that anybody can remember.

There was really enough to worry abut, e.g., the 35-point betting line and whether or not the Vols might score. Now we find ourselves worrying about not making a first down.

How the mighty have fallen.

Where do we go from here?

Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017

“Robert R. Neyland”

Lost in the nothingness of the last Saturday afternoon at Neyland Stadium was a truly magic moment at the halftime ceremonies honoring the newest inductees into the Tennessee Athletic Hall of Fame.

When Gen. Neyland’s name came up and the visage of his son, Bob, came up on the big screen, fans began applauding as Jeff Jarnigan recounted the General’s accomplishments as head coach and athletic director at Tennessee.

It didn’t take long for the crowd to realize that this was a special moment in the history of Tennessee athletics as fans begin to stand and the decibel level began to increase all across the stadium.

Tennessee fans are perceptive, and they seemed to realize the impact Gen. Neyland had on Tennessee athletics, the campus, and the community as a whole, from his name on the big stadium, to the thoroughfare behind the stadium’s south end, to the scholarship fund for non-athletes that also bears his name.

The committee was a year late in figuring this out, but the fans, who are the backbone of the program, made sure that Gen. Neyland was still appreciated for his contributions to the University of Tennessee.

It was, indeed, a magic moment.

Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017

“Destined to Become One of Tennessee’s Best Linebackers Ever”

Tennessee escaped Shields-Watkins Field with a 16-14 win over Boston College 46 years ago today, giving Doug Dickey’s Tennessee Volunteers a 3-1-0 record.

Boston College led at the half by 7-0, Tom Siler wrote, but the Vols earned a TD pass from quarterback Art Galiffa to Hal Wantland, Fred Martin kicked a field goal, and linebacker Tom Fisher, who had a school-record 24 tackles against Auburn two weeks earlier, intercepted a pass and scored from 22 yards out. That was enough to weather a final BC rally that cut the margin to 16-14, and that’s the way it ended.

The experts said that Fisher, a native of Brooksville, Fla., was destined to become one of Tennessee’s best linebackers ever, but his life and career were cut short by the car-truck wreck near Benton, Tenn., in March 1966.

The Vols would finish 4-5-1 in 1964, but the stage was set for Tennessee to return to the elite of college football.

It was 8-1-2, 8-3, 9-2, 8-2-1, and 9-2 over the next five years, with two SEC titles and the 1967 Litkenhous national title, and the Vols were “back.”

And not a moment too soon.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

“26-0 Losses at the Front and Back Ends of His Career”

What head coach at Tennessee began his Vol coaching career with a 26-0 loss to Mississippi State and ended it 21 games later with a 26-0 loss to Vanderbllt?

That piece of coaching trivia belongs to Harvey Robinson, the bridge between Bob Neyland and Bowden Wyatt, who had the thankless task of following Gen. Neyland, especially since Neyland held out the possibility he might return in 1953, Robbie’s first season, or maybe even in 1954.

Then there was Wyatt on the horizon, another Tennessee legend who was tearing things up as head coach at Wyoming and Arkansas, who seemed to be the “people’s choice,” should Neyland decide to make a change.

Robbie finished 10-10-1, with those bookend defeats making his record unique. There was also a four game losing streak at the end of 1954, in which the Vols were outscored 85-20 in games against Georgia Tech (28-7), Florida (14-0), Kentucky (14-13), and the afore-mentioned game against Vanderbilt.

On the plus side, Wyatt did bring Robbie back in 1960 to be backfield coach. The affable Robinson coached at Tennessee through the 1963 season.

It was definitely an interesting time in Tennessee football history.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

“The Food Ran Out…”

There are a number of stories that have made their way into the parlance of Tennessee football over the years, passed down from generation to generation.

One such story involves the legendary Herman Hickman, a Vol lineman (1929-31) and All-America selection (1931).

The story goes that Hickman was trying to diet and had whatever food choices were available at the time. A sympathetic friend asked how things were going, trying to be helpful.

Hickman’s response was to the point.

He allowed that he didn’t know, noting that the “food ran out after two days.”

So much for the diet.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

“Block That Kick,” “Block That Kick,”

Lost in the nothingness of 26-0 loss at Vanderbilt in the final game of the 1954 season was this little morsel.

With the Vols set to kick off to begin the second half, Russ Bebb reported that “bloodthirsty Vanderbilt fans” were yelling “Block That Kick,” “Block That Kick.”

That’s intensity.

No doubt about it.

That hasn’t been seen or heard in the years that have followed and probably never will be.

It could only happen at Vanderbilt.

Monday, May 15, 2017

“A Lost Weekend?”

There are times that nothing seems to go right on a football weekend.

Such was the case Nov. 14-15, 1969, when things seemed to really come apart.

On Friday, the Vol freshman team lost to Alabama by a 35-0 count. Several of the varsity players, killing time before the team plane left for Jackson and the next day’s game with Ole Miss, were seen at the game looking very confident as befits a team that was 7-0 and No. 3 in the nation.

That confidence was shaken the next day, when No. 18 Ole Miss laid a 38-0 haymaker on the Vols. It was 21-0 at the first quarter break, and the Rebels never looked back.

The Vols limped down the stretch, defeating Kentucky 31-26 and Vanderbilt 40-27 and losing to Florida 14-13 in the Gator Bowl. The Vols did win the SEC title, but that was little consolation. Many Vol fans put a large asterisk (*) by that year, given how things turned out.

By any definition, the weekend of Nov. 14-15 was nothing to write home about and was one of the darkest in Tennessee football history.

For sure.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

“Embellished by the Telling”

Sometimes the cheers are for someone else, even if there might be a game going on.

The year was 1928. Tennessee was playing Alabama at Tuscaloosa, the famed 15-13 win that set the Vols on the path to gridiron glory.

Lost in the depths of history was a freshman game being played in Knoxville at about the same tine.

Herman Hickman, later to be a famous coach, writer at Sports Illustrated, man about town, and member of the College Football Hall of Fame, recalled the cheers of the crowd, however sparse it might have been. The youngsters on the field had to have been impressed by level of “support” they received.

What Hickman didn’t know was that Pat Roddy had been relaying wire reports from the game at Tuscaloosa, thus causing the “cheers” that came up every so often.

Ed Harris told this story in “Golden Memories of Ed Harris: 50 Years in Big Orange Country.”

Like most of these type stories, the account might well have been embellished through the years, but there’s a good chance there’s at least a grain of truth in it.

You be the judge.

Saturday, May 13, 2017