Hi, ho, the merry-o, a bowling we will go – to sunny Florida, well, the northeastern edge.
Southeastern Conference godfathers, in cooperation with Phillip Fulmer and Jeremy Pruitt and ESPN and goodness knows how many others, matched Tennessee against Indiana for the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Thursday, Jan. 2, 7 p.m.
If you are keeping score, this is where the players supposedly wanted to go. The other possibility was Nashville. Most of the Vols have been there.
Indiana has 23 players from Florida. They, too, want to go south.
This is not exactly a glamorous bowl but the 7-5 Volunteers were not exactly a glamorous team. They do have a five-game winning streak which is better than many. Indiana is not nationally ranked but the Hoosiers had a solid 8-4 season. OK, they lost to Ohio State by 41.
You didn’t ask me but I’ve been to a few Gator Bowls. It would have been OK to have missed a few.
The first, 1957, was almost forgettable. Tennessee defeated Texas A&M, 3-0. The Vols and Aggies slogged through 55 minutes of mud ball before a moment of high drama. Sammy Burklow, fourth-team fullback from Hazard, Ky., kicked a 17-yard field goal. It was the first of his career.
Tennessee coach Bowden Wyatt gave a very reassuring pep talk.
“Son, go in there and kick it. It’s just like an extra point.”
There was a preceding highlight. Tennessee tailback-safety Bobby Gordon gained 11 yards to the Texas A&M 6 and collided head-on with Aggie tailback-safety John David Crow. Both were apparently knocked out. Attendants gathered. Gordon was a warrior. The world was probably more concerned about Crow. He was the Heisman Trophy recipient.
In one small way, this was a historic game. It was Bear Bryant’s last appearance as A&M coach before his move to Alabama.
There was another great hit in the 1966 Gator Bowl, perhaps second in Tennessee history to The Stop against Billy Cannon.
Key moment, Larry Czonka was plunging toward a Syracuse touchdown. Tennessee linebacker Paul Naumoff met him with a perfect form tackle.
“Paul stood him up, and spit and sweat came up like a water balloon,” was Nick Showalter’s description. “You could hear every part of a Riddell helmet crunch. Those helmets had a special sound to them.”
Smelling salts were applied, Czonka recovered and scored on the next play – but Tennessee won, 18-12.
This I remember: Dewey Warren threw touchdown passes to Austin Denney and Richmond Flowers. The Swamp Rat completed 17 of 29 for 244 yards. Floyd Little ran for 216 Syracuse yards. Czonka gained 114.
Tennessee lost twice at the 1969 Gator Bowl. On the field, the Vols bowed to Florida, 14-13. In a smoke-filled room, the Gators took away Vol coach Doug Dickey.
I thought Tennessee deserved to win the game. It had far more offense. Curt Watson ran for 121 yards. For some reason, the Vols chose to throw the ball when they got near the Florida goal.
Dickey switching sides was homecoming for him and his family but a career error.
Doug’s decision completed a cycle for me. He and I are the only two living who were at the Southern Railway Station on the early morning of Dec. 1, 1963, when the coach arrived in Knoxville and at the game when he was going away.
I remember writing from the Gator Bowl: “Tennessee faithful were shocked. Thousands were insulted. It was unthinkable that anybody would walk out on the Volunteers.”
Two days later, Kentucky’s legendary basketball coach, Adolph Rupp, asked why a man would leave the Garden of Eden to see if he could make it elsewhere on his own?
Much later, Dickey said: “When I went to Florida, there was a lot of dissension among the Florida people about how all this had transpired. The press and supporters had been split apart between Ray Graves (former coach) and Steve O’Connell (university president). It was not a happy scene, and I was the victim.”
Well, now you know there have been other Gator Bowls.
Marvin West welcomes readers’ remarks or questions. His address is firstname.lastname@example.org