Don’t expect too much from Bowling Green – or Tennessee

Marvin Westwestwords

For some strange reason, I do not expect the Bowling Green game to make my list of unforgettable Tennessee openers.

Georgia State did but UT Martin, Alabama-Birmingham and UNLV didn’t. Nor did Southwestern Louisiana, East Carolina or Fresno State.

I do recall the Lane Kiffin team working over Western Kentucky, 63-7. Three scoreboard bulbs burned out.

My favorite season openers? I have a few.

In late 1955, Bowden Wyatt declined an invitation to the Gator Bowl because the foe was going to be Auburn. Those same Tigers were first on the 1956 Tennessee schedule. The coach did not want an SEC opponent to have eight months of scheming against his single-wing.

Wyatt committed the unpardonable. He recommended Vanderbilt for the bowl opportunity.

The following September at Birmingham’s Legion Field, Tennessee walloped Auburn, 35-7.

The 3M Company created the backdrop for the wonderful 1968 opener between Tennessee and Georgia. For the discount price of $230,000, athletics director Bob Woodruff and young coach Doug Dickey purchased a magic carpet to cover Shields-Watkins Field.

Diggers dug up sacred sod and hauled away tons and tons of historic dirt. Down went a layer of crushed stone with asphalt topping, a sponge pad and a plastic cover, supposedly similar to real grass.

Well, it was green.

Georgia, being far, far away, didn’t hear about this shocking development in a timely fashion. Bulldog athletics director Joel Eaves, an Auburn man and a bit old-fashioned, went ballistic when he heard what had happened. Livid is another descriptive word.

He lashed out at Tennessee for making this radical change without discussing it. He said Georgia might just void the contract and stay home.

Georgia came to the game. Tennessee took a lead. Georgia caught up and went ahead. The Bulldogs were up by eight in the fourth quarter.

Facing almost certain defeat, Bubba Wyche generated a little late entertainment for Vol faithful. Surprisingly, the fun lasted the length of the field, 16 plays, including a fourth-down completion and finally a touchdown pass to Gary Kreis. Time expired with the ball in the air.

In a small miracle among larger miracles, Bubba followed with a two-point conversion strike to tight end Ken DeLong. Eight points after time ran out, 17-17 tie, terrific opener, best show ever on Doug’s rug.

Great opener in ’98, Tennessee at Syracuse, Tee Martin against Donovan McNabb, seesaw struggle with five lead changes. The gutty Vols, two points behind, launched a last-ditch drive but it died on a fourth-down incompletion.

But wait, behold the yellow swath of cloth on the green turf, penalty against the home team for pass interference. Amazing development.

Late life for the visitors. Terrific response, Jeff Hall field goal on the final play, Vols win, Vols win! That was the first step toward the national championship.

Tennessee did not win all memorable opening games. The Vols approached 1980 with optimism and such stars as Reggie White and Willie Gault. Alas, Georgia brought freshman Herschel Walker. His introduction to Bill Bates was unbelievably rude.

The Vols opened 1967 against UCLA at the Coliseum in Los Angeles and lost a heartbreaker, 20-16. Gary Beban did it with a figure-S fourth-quarter run, a play that eventually led to the Heisman Trophy.

This was one of the best-ever Tennessee teams – Steve Kiner, Bob Johnson, Charles Rosenfelder, Dick Williams, Richmond Flowers, Jimmy Weatherford, Dewey Warren, Walter Chadwick, John Boynton, Herman Weaver, etc. Jack Reynolds joined the lineup a few days later.

Tennessee and UCLA had some other good openers. There was an unforgettable one in 1974. High drama, the Condredge Holloway show, 17-17 ending.

Holloway and Stanley Morgan linked up for a 76-yard touchdown. Holloway suffered a shoulder injury and was hauled to the hospital. The Bruins surged ahead. Holloway recovered just enough to rejoin the fray. The crowd went wild.

Holloway, a modest man, didn’t realize the cheers were for him but he responded with the stuff of champions, a fourth-quarter drive and dive for a touchdown. Ricky Townsend, barefoot boy with cheeks of tan, kicked the tying extra point.

Some season openers are better than others.

Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is [email protected]

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