Elliott Gammage, old Vol from the Doug Dickey title time, has died. He was 76. He fought a long fight with dementia.
Gammage was a starting offensive tackle on the 1967 team that went 9-2 and won the Southeastern Conference championship. It was a strange record marked by a close opening loss at UCLA and a close closing loss to Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl.
The Vols were two missed tackles on a Gary Beban run and a missed field goal by Karl Kremser from going undefeated.
The Tennessee team – a genuine team in the best definition of the word – was loaded with talent, including center Bob Johnson, guards Charles Rosenfelder and Joe Graham and tackles John Boynton and Gammage.
Ends were Ken DeLong and Terry Dalton. The backfield was Richmond Flowers, Walter Chadwick, Richard Pickens and the original Swamp Rat, Dewey Warren.
Most famous on defense were linebackers Steve Kiner and Jack Reynolds. Tackles were Dick Williams and Derrick Weatherford. Albert Dorsey became an all-American defensive back.
Gammage grew up in Cedartown, Georgia. His high school team won a state championship. He could really run and hit.
At Tennessee, he and Graham were best friends and often very entertaining. They were sometimes Abbott and Costello, sometimes Mutt and Jeff. As light-hearted jokesters, they found ways to make sweaty, bruising football practices fun.
Others laughed. Coaches cringed.
Teammates thought Gammage was a wee bit wild and crazy as a college student.
“I will say this from personal experience,” said Dick Ellis, another “best friend.”
“As most young people never plan for the future, we sometimes ran out of beer on Saturday nights and had to drive to Oak Ridge the next morning because businesses there sold beer on Sundays.”
Set that aside. Teammates credited Gammage with being an excellent football player.
Bob Johnson said Elliott, 6-3 and 215, was an unusual guy and by far the best athlete on the offensive line, blessed with speed and agility.
Not so swift or agile was the high-mileage push-button 1960 Plymouth Belvedere the comedy duo presented as their cherished chariot. Ellis tells that story:
“Joe Graham had wheels, sort of. His old Plymouth didn’t look all that good even the day it was washed. The gas gauge didn’t work but Joe knew he got about 10 miles per gallon. He also knew higher math, that he could drive another 30 miles by adding three gallons that cost 20 cents each.
“On a day Dickey decided to have a team meeting, the Plymouth ran a little short of fuel on Cumberland Avenue. Gammage was first angry, then furious. Joe said he’d never seen Elliott so mad, not even the day Joe swiped his dessert.
“They had to run to the meeting. They didn’t make it on time. Dickey said he’d see them in his office. The coach was deep-freeze cold when he said ‘Never again.’
“As that set of dear friends walked to get gas to reactivate the Plymouth, Graham said he believed Dickey was seriously serious. Gammage said ‘Just shut up and learn to count to 30.’”
There is a truly heart-warming story hidden in later years. The Chadwick tragedy changed Gammage’s outlook on life.
After the Wells Fargo money truck ran over Walter’s VW bug and left him near death and irreparably damaged, Elliott volunteered to help however he could. He took Walter to many appointments and even brought him to Knoxville to see old friends.
“Walter helped Elliott even more than Elliott helped Walter,” said old Vol Mike Price, a long-ago teammate.
“Despite the bad things that happened to Chadwick, he retained unwavering faith in God. There was no other way to explain it except to say this rubbed off on Elliott Gammage. He became a Christian and a truly different man.”
Indeed, in later life, Gammage taught Sunday school. He served as a mentor to young adults at the Gwinnett Youth Detention Center and was host for annual Christmas parties. He distributed Bibles and children’s books for the Head Start program in Tennessee. He hosted a weekly Bible study for 13 years.
Lee Denney Gammage, wife of 35 years, and the family will receive friends on Friday, August 4, from 3- 6 at the Olin L. Gammage and Sons Funeral Home in Cedartown.
Services will be Saturday in the chapel at 11 a.m. The Rev. Britt Madden Jr. and the Rev. Dock Elliott Gammage Jr., a son, will officiate.
Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is firstname.lastname@example.org.