Somewhere in these westwords, if all goes well, you will conclude that even improbable goals are somehow attainable if you work hard enough and hang in there.
David Rudder, son of a railroad executive, was treated to one Tennessee football game per boyhood year, beginning in 1964. What a thrill it was to roll in from Georgia or Alabama or some other Southern hub in a special car to see the Volunteers he heard so much about. Wherever the Rudders lived, the focal point was always Big Orange Country. Both parents, Paul and Ann, were Tennessee grads.
By fate or design, the family moved to Knoxville in time for David to become the quarterback at Bearden High. He was close enough to see the target but never top gun in town. Billy Arbo of Webb School nailed down that distinction.
In the winter of ‘75, at peak recruiting time, David was told there weren’t enough UT scholarships to go around. He had other choices, including an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy. He could have gone to Vanderbilt but he wanted to play at Tennessee. He was invited to walk on. That’s much better than having to knock down the door.
“Gary Wyant taught me Maryland, UCLA, Auburn, LSU and Alabama plays so I could be of some help with the scout squad.”
David Rudder joined that scrapiron assembly with pride, thinking what a treat it was to serve under the legendary George Cafego.
“He was a great man,” said Rudder. “I knew enough to appreciate his place in Tennessee history. I never mentioned the offer from Vanderbilt.”
David didn’t say much about his great goal, playing quarterback in Neyland Stadium. Logical to keep quiet. Everywhere he looked, there were quarterbacks – Randy Wallace, Pat Ryan, Gary Roach, Joe Hough, entirely too many and more on the way.
He spent another year on the scout squad. He learned and worked and got bigger and stronger. He was rewarded. On the morning of Nov. 22, 1976, coach Bill Battle called David Rudder to his office.
“He gave me a scholarship. It was a huge moment in my life. I couldn’t wait to share the achievement with my father.”
A few hours later, in a two-minute press conference, Battle resigned.
“I loved the man. He was great with players. There’s nothing quite like losing your coach.”
With great anticipation, Tennessee welcomed John Majors. No problem with David’s grant. It was interesting to have a football player in pre-dentistry, leading the team in academic average, but Jimmy Streater was Majors’ quarterback.
On the third Saturday in October 1978, with Alabama leading 30-3 in the fourth quarter, Streater suffered a hip-pointer. Majors said the magic word, “Rudder.”
David rushed onto the field. His first pass was intercepted. He made the tackle.
Rudder went back out for the next series and completed all his passes, 11 in a row, two for touchdowns, to Hubert Simpson and Reggie Harper. Alabama disregarded the spectacular rally, said it was incidental.
Like hell it was! It was the highlight of David Rudder’s entire football life, a dream come true, full page in the book of forever memories.
You need to know that the coach and the second-team quarterback had their differences. The boss thought the player enjoyed the college experience a little too much. Later, Majors said he was proud of Rudder’s dental career. The two became more than former coach and former player. They were friends.
One golfing afternoon, Majors said, “I probably should have played you more.”
Rudder said, “You’re right.”
Dr. David Rudder died the other day, far too young at 60. Services are Friday at 1 at First Baptist Church.
This is getting too close to home. David and Dr. Charles Rudder, before him, were our family dentists. I think we may have received small discounts.
Marvin West invites reader reactions. His address is email@example.com