Author Archives: Tom Mattingly

About Tom Mattingly

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

“The Power of a Dream”

It’s often the power of a dream, or, as some say, the stuff of which dreams are made.

That was the case on Nov. 9, 1991, when the Vols overcame a 31-7 deficit to win 35-34 on the verdant turf of Notre Dame Stadium, back when grass adorned the field where so many magic moments have taken place over the years.

The magic moments were on Tennessee’s side this day. The winning extra point came from the toe of freshman placekicker John Becksvoort. In the post-game interviews, Becksvoort, a Chattanooga native, allowed that he had dreamed of kicking a game-winning field goal, but quickly allowed that an extra point provided plenty of drama on this day.

Becksvoort was likely also glad that Tennessee defensive back Jeremy Lincoln was on his side.

As every Vol fan knows, perhaps by heart, that Lincoln blocked Rob Leonard’s attempt at a field goal that would have turned the game in Notre Dame’s favor. He did it, not with his hands or arms, but with his rump. He did praise his mother for helping him do so.

That’s the way things appeared on a November day in South Bend, Ind., when the Vols overcame all sorts of trials and travail to shake down the thunder, or, better yet, wake up the echoes, and take one of the school’s most famous victories.

No living Vol fan will ever forget it, whether they were there or not.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

“Domination”

“Domination” is an intriguing word.

An unknown caller to a local sports talk show once wished Tennessee were back on the Notre Dame schedule because the “Fighting Irish” had “dominated” the Vols whenever they had played.

Must have been something in the water wherever he lives.

After Notre Dame won two of the first three games in he series (1978 and 1990, around a Vol win in 1979, Tennessee reeled off three in a row (1991, 1999, and 2001), once in Knoxville and twice at South Bend. One of those victories at South Bend came in 1991 when Notre Dame blew a 31-7 first half lead.

Notre Dame came back to win the next two games (2004 and 2005) to square the series.

Those results do not speak to domination by either side.

Check out that dictionary and try again.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

“How Tough Was jimmy Noonan”

There are tough players, and then there are tough players.

Found this little nugget from Roland James, a 1979 All-America selection, about Jimmy Noonan, the tough-as-nails defensive lineman from Dyersburg (1976-78, captain, 1980).

There were a number of players other players were seemingly scared of, such as Steve Kiner, John Boynton, Dick Huffman and Al Wilson, maybe Doug Atkins. Noonan would fit into that group.

“We played cards, and I remember Jimmy Noonan, this tough little middle guard, would cheat at 21,” said Roland. Everybody knew it, and he knew it, and it was all in fun how he would not turn his cards over and say he had 21. Nobody wanted to mess with Jimmy.”

On or off the field.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

“Lowell Blanchard”

There’s always someone who has an idea for a story, albeit a brief one.

The name “Lowell Blanchard” came up in conversation the other day. Here’s the short version of a well-lived life. Lowell had the popular “Midday Merry-Go-Round” on WNOX radio in Knoxville and in the 1960s was John Ward’s sidekick on the early broadcasts of Tennessee basketball.

The late Knoxville Journal sportswriter Ben Byrd called him the “merry imp” of the Vol travel party. He was one of those naturally funny people who was, without a doubt, the life of any party. Anyone who was on a Vol basketball travel party in those days can attest to Lowell’s good humor and his essential goodness.

“He was a great communicator, maybe the most effective communicator I’ve ever known,” Ward said. “He understood people and could converse with anybody, anywhere, anytime. I’ve never seen anybody like him. He made road trips unbelievable with his humor. He was the best.”

According to “Heart of the Valley,” Lucille Deadrick’s 1976 history of Knoxville, Blanchard was the chief announcer at the 1933 Detroit World’s Fair. He also hosted the Saturday night “Tennessee Barn Dance.”

Deadrick credits Blanchard discovering Roy Acuff, Homer and Jethro, and Archie Campbell, among others. He served twice on City Council and was active in community affairs.

Blanchard, who died Feb. 19, 1968, the day he expected to leave Fort Sanders Hospital, cast a long shadow on Knoxville radio history and the life of the city in general.

“He was a genius,” said Bradley Reeves, an archivist at the East Tennessee History Center. “He took the shtick of country music—and it was a shtick—and he made a show out of it. He was responsible for shaping it, more than anyone else. He was good at managing these folks and cultivating talent…. So many came out of Knoxville and became great.”

Monday, May 8, 2017

Questions, Questions, Questions

Found out some interesting things over the past week, simply by asking questions.

The Athletics Hall of Fame will be announced sometime this fall. It had previously been announced in the Spring of 2016 to less than sterling reviews. We’ll see how it turns out this fall.

Looking forward to seeing who gets in and, conversely, who gets left off.

Gøt to get reacquainted with John Currie. Saw him at the Waffle House a week or so ago. It was good to touch base and wish him well as he starts his tenure on campus.

Still looking for some perspective about how Jimmy Cheek and Jim McIntyre might coexist in the College of Education. That will, of course, be a big story.

When Bill Anderson died, there were a couple of priceless anecdotes that didn’t make it into the KNS story.

In 1968 at Rice, Mr. Anderson was asked to do a microphone check just before kickoff and responded, perhaps instinctively, with something he had heard John Ward say at the end of each broadcast.

“Good night, Telco.”

Unfortunately, that was the signal for the telephone company to shut down the network.

It took a great deal of effort to get the network reassembled for the kickoff.

One year at Kentucky, Ward was setting the stage for the kickoff, discussing how Tennessee was massed at the northwest corner ready to come onto the field.

Suddenly, he said, “Bill?”

Mr. Anderson really didn’t know what to do, causing a brief silence on the broadcast.

Finally, Ward said, “Bill, what time is it?”

That caught Mr. Anderson’s attention.

“I didn’t know I could say that,” he said, then uttering those famous words, “It’s football time in Tennessee!”

RIP, Bill Anderson, a great Vol and a great man.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

“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