Great moments in Tennessee sports

Marvin Westwestwords

Long-time friend Phil Kaplan, with semi-pro assistance, came up with a list of defining moments from the history of Tennessee athletics.

Longer-time friends Roland Julian and Tom Mattingly shared their views and we revised Kaplan’s list to our satisfaction. After you have given it some thought, it will be your turn to make changes.

In more or less chronological order:

Nathan W. Dougherty, engineering professor and chair of the University of Tennessee athletic association (such as it was in 1925), foresaw a change in football coaching.

Dougherty arranged the appointment of young Army captain Robert R. Neyland, one of the best athletes ever at West Point, as a military science teacher at UT. For an additional $700, he became ends coach.

The next year, head coach M.B. Banks departed for a better job at Central High. Neyland moved up. Dougherty did not call a press conference.

Eventually, the school newspaper mentioned “Albert” Neyland as a staff addition. Tennessee football has never been the same.

On Oct. 20, 1928, tailback Gene McEver put the Volunteers on the map. He returned the opening kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown and caught a scoring pass from Bobby Dodd in a stunning 15-13 upset of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

The Crimson Tide had already been to the Rose Bowl. The Vols were just learning to beat Vanderbilt.

Interesting foreplay: A fan went through the crowd, holding aloft a fistful of money. He offered to bet Alabama would make more touchdowns than Tennessee made first downs. Sometime during the 11 seconds of McEver’s run, the noisy, over-confident booster disappeared, evaporated, vanished.

Tennessee began a historic football streak in 1938. It shut out the last four foes, shocked Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, 17-0, and didn’t allow a single point during the 1939 season. The Vols pitched 17 consecutive shutouts, 71 quarters of zeros, an NCAA record never to be broken.

There were several defining moments during the streak. You may have heard of some who made it happen. Bob Suffridge, Ed Molinski and George Cafego joined Neyland in the College Football Hall of Fame.

Before the 1951 Cotton Bowl, the Texas band serenaded the Tennessee dressing room with The Eyes of Texas Are Upon You.

After the game, the Pride of the Southland Band played the Tennessee Waltz.

The Vols beat the Longhorns, 20-14, to finish a spectacular 11-1 season. Hank Lauricella had a 75-yard run. Andy Kozar scored two touchdowns. Two Texas turnovers in the fourth quarter proved decisive. A cold drizzle wasn’t enough to dampen Tennessee enthusiasm.

The Stop happened on Nov. 7, 1959, homecoming, No. 1 LSU and Heisman favorite Billy Cannon the star attractions on Shields-Watkins Field.

Tennessee’s defense provided a surprising 14-7 lead. LSU struck back on the second play of the fourth quarter. Instead of kicking the extra point to tie, the Tigers called their favorite Cannon run for a two-point conversion and the lead.

The Cannon did not fire. Wayne Grubb, Charlie Severance and Bill Majors met him at the goal and stopped him at least three-quarters of an inch short. It was the most dramatic defensive play in Tennessee history.

Tennessee-UCLA in Memphis on Dec. 4, 1965, was a fun game, the most entertaining and maybe the best I have seen. Vol Network announcer George Mooney dubbed it the Rosebonnet Bowl. The Bruins had earned a bid to the Rose Bowl and the Vols were going to the Bluebonnet.

The lead flipped back and forth. With Tennessee trailing in the final minutes, quarterback Dewey Warren led a 65-yard drive, capped by his 1-yard touchdown run. The winning play took a while. Warren was always slow and, on that day, had the added burden of a groin injury.

There was some question as to whether Warren got over the goal. Dewey had the answer.

“Did the officials raise their arms to signal a touchdown?”

Tennessee won, 37-34.

One of Adolph Rupp’s great Kentucky basketball teams, Rupp’s Runts, came to Knoxville for the conclusion of a perfect 1965-66 season and the end of the UT-Armory playhouse. Ron Widby, Howard Bayne, Austin (Red) Robbins, Jim Cornwall, Larry McIntosh and Tom Hendrix sprung an upset, 69-62.

What a wonderful day.

In 1968, Richmond Flowers faced Willie Davenport in a challenge race between great hurdlers – in Willie’s hometown, Baton Rouge. The scene at Southern University was unique. Willie and the entire crowd were black. As Flowers recalled, he was the only white guy at the stadium.

Richmond won. He immediately went to Willie to congratulate him on a great race. They embraced. The crowd applauded.

The university president, Dr. Felton G. Clark, sent a letter, thanking Flowers for what he did for race relations, saying “Sports finally transcended anger and hatred.”

The combination of coach Ray Bussard and sprinter David Edgar made Tennessee swimming famous.

Edgar had a three year, never-before-accomplished feat of winning the 50 and 100 freestyle at the NCAA championships. To do it, he beat the great Mark Spitz, seven-time Olympic gold medalist, time after time. Edgar also beat world-record-holder Jerry Heidenreich as the Vols handed Southern Methodist its first home loss in 11 years.

Sports Illustrated dubbed Edgar the “Fastest Man Afloat.”

Following Tennessee’s 88-82 basketball loss to Kentucky on Jan. 13, 1975, in Lexington, a wild Wildcats fan flipped a still-lighted cigarette into the hair of Vols star Bernard King as he was leaving the floor.

King wanted to go into the stands and settle the issue. Cooler heads of hair prevailed. Bernard was still very angry when he vowed he would never, in a UT uniform, lose to Kentucky again. He didn’t. The Vols won the next five.

Tennessee’s pass rush smothered Miami quarterback Vinny Testaverde, sacking him seven times and forcing three fumbles in a 35-7 rout at the 1986 Sugar Bowl. Daryl Dickey was MVP. Jeff Powell had a 60-yard run. Tim McGee caught seven passes. Ken Donahue’s defense deserved major credit.

Vol fans turned Bourbon Street a beautiful shade of orange.

It is truly amazing what Pat Summitt accomplished. As a basketball player, she won an Olympic silver medal. In 1984, she coached the women’s Olympic team to its first gold medal. And in 38 years at Tennessee, her teams won more than a thousand games, eight NCAA titles and 32 SEC regular season and tournament championships.

In my mind, she made women’s basketball what it is today.

Her coaching accomplishments started in 1975 when she was 22. Her team defeated Middle Tennessee State, 69-32, in front of 53 fans in Alumni Memorial Gymnasium.

On March 29, 1998, Chamique Holdsclaw, Tamika Catchings and Semeka Randall combined for 62 points and 25 rebounds against Louisiana Tech as Tennessee finished a 39-0 season with its third straight national title and sixth overall.

After that, Pat became the first female coach to make the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Seven years after that, on the day Pat passed Dean Smith with her 800th victory, the university named the Thompson-Boling court “The Summitt.”

John Majors said the 35-34 comeback victory over Notre Dame, The Miracle in South Bend, on Nov. 9, 1991, was the highlight of his Tennessee coaching career.

The Vols fell behind 21-0 in the first quarter and trailed 31-7 in the second. Game over, right? Never in 103 colorful and historic seasons had Notre Dame blown a 24-point home-field advantage.

Tennessee fought back and somehow forged ahead. Alas, with four seconds left, the teams lined up for a winning Notre Dame field goal, a little 27-yarder, pure Hollywood ending. Of course, Rob Leonard would make it. He had Touchdown Jesus and the luck of the Irish on his side.

Leonard kicked for his share of immortality. Tennessee defensive back Jeremy Lincoln ran past the trajectory but the ball grazed his butt. The kick went off course.

Lincoln found his mom in the Tennessee celebration, very loud considering the limited number of celebrants.

“I thanked her for giving me such a big behind.”

In 1994, at the end of a classic recruiting race, Peyton Manning chose Tennessee. David Cufcliffe was relevant.

Three years later, after considerable success, with NFL millions dangling in front of him, Peyton chose to remain at Tennessee for his senior season. He became UT’s most famous alum.

On the way to the 1998 national championship came the stumble and fumble.

After forcing a turnover with 1:53 left, all Arkansas had to do to upset the No. 1 Volunteers was run out the clock and preserve a 24-22 lead at Neyland Stadium.

Razorbacks quarterback Clint Stoerner was going to run a keeper for a first down. Vol Billy Ratliff knocked guard Brandon Burlsworth backward. He stepped on Stoerner’s foot, causing him to lose his balance. Stoerner used the hand that held the ball to break his fall.


Ratliff recovered. Travis Henry carried five consecutive times and scored from the 1 with 28 seconds left.

Tennessee’s 76-68 basketball victory over No. 1 Kansas, on Jan. 10, 2010, in Thompson-Boling Arena was accomplished despite the suspension of four Vols. Freshman walk-on Skylar McBee leaned around a Jayhawk and hit a 3-pointer with 35 seconds left. It proved decisive.

On Oct. 1, 2016, Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs gave wings to a 48-yard prayer to the Georgia end zone. Jauan Jennings outjumped a crowd for the game-winning touchdown catch, 34-31.

Not much definitive has happened since then. We’ll see how Jeremy turns out.

Marvin West welcomes reader comments or questions. His address is


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