It appears there is a developing generation of football fans with no soul. They want to stop losing to Alabama by not playing.
Many don’t know what made this rivalry famous. Some don’t care. They just want to win the championship of the Southeastern Conference. An annual one-game handicap has made that mission more difficult.
It’s hard to believe that some favor running from Alabama instead of running at it, trying to improve to that level. It’s hard to believe some are willing to set aside more than a century of football tradition and memories.
Think about roots. For strange reasons, two Alabama men became head coaches at Tennessee. Bill Battle added dignity. Jeremy Pruitt was an embarrassment.
During periods of rehabilitation, former UT coach Lane Kiffin became Nick Saban’s offensive coordinator and former UT coach Butch Jones was an analyst of something.
Old Vol Ken Donahue was Paul (Bear) Bryant’s trusted assistant for 20 years. Former UT assistant trainer Jim Goostree introduced victory cigars to Alabama celebrations.
I wasn’t there but Tennessee and Alabama first played 121 years ago, in Birmingham, 6-6 tie. The game was halted prematurely with fans fighting on the field.
The Tide won eight of the first 10 games and inflicted seven shutouts. They didn’t bother playing for 14 years.
Robert R. Neyland reignited combat in 1928, his third season as coach of the Volunteers. He softened up Alabama coach Wallace Wade to get on the schedule.
“We’re improving but we need to play teams better than us,” said Neyland.
Alabama was better. It had enjoyed two successful trips to the Rose Bowl.
Neyland set a trap. He proposed to shorten the second half if Alabama was too far ahead.
“We can just let the clock run.”
Tide followers were confident. One offered to bet that Alabama would get more touchdowns than Tennessee got first downs.
The man waving a fistful of folding money was challenging visitors to cover the bet when Gene McEver, captain of the Flamin’ Sophomores, returned the opening kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown. The bold, brash gambler disappeared.
McEver remembered the run: “After our guys knocked down nine of their guys, I saw two Alabama players in the middle of the field. I went right between them, bowed my neck and let ’em have it. Then I was clear and running for the goal. I don’t know if anybody even gave chase.”
John Henry Suther, Alabama back, remembered: “In one regard, McEver was like a cannonball, literally rolling over people. Then, he was like a bullet, too speedy to catch.”
That, dear readers, was the “official” beginning of Tennessee-Alabama football.
The 1932 game, in a downpour, featured 40 punts. In 1933, when Beattie Feathers was tailback, a young fan brought two pillows to the game on another rainy mid-October Saturday. When Feathers scored, the enthusiast ripped open the pillows, shook out the contents and yelled “Go Feathers, go!”
Other fans were not amused. Damp goose down clings to Sunday-best attire.
Bryant entered the rivalry in 1935. He played against the Vols despite a supposedly fractured leg.
“Aw, it was just one little bone.”
Bear as coach went 16-7-2 against the Volunteers.
Tennessee owned Alabama, really owned Alabama, between 1948 and 1960. The record was 9-1-3 with five shutouts.
John Majors had a little Tide problem (4-12). Phillip Fulmer teams enjoyed a 9-1 decade. You may have noticed that not much really good has happened lately but there were some interesting moments.
An astute Alabama scout spotted the winning edge in preparation for the 1957 game. Vol guard Bill Johnson lined up differently for runs and passes. Such information is a big advantage.
“Just look at his feet, they’ll tell you what is coming.”
Good or bad break: Johnson suffered an ankle injury in Thursday practice and didn’t play. Tennessee won, 14-0.
In 1965, Tide quarterback Snake Stabler threw away the football to stop the clock. Alas and alas, it was fourth down.
Near the end of a 41-14 Vol victory in 1969, linebacker Steve Kiner rose in defense of Coach Bryant, talking down to anyone in a crimson jersey who dared listen.
“Look over there at that poor old man. He looks pitiful. You sorry bastards have let him down. You should be ashamed of yourselves.”
The next year, Tennessee intercepted a school-record eight passes. We called the game “Alabama and the 40 Thieves.”
Tim Priest picked off three. Jackie Walker got two. Bobby Majors, Conrad Graham and Jamie Rotella intercepted one each.
Alan Cockrell had two touchdown passes, Fuad Reveiz had four field goals and Chuck Coleman made a nice touchdown run on the day Mike Terry’s interception claimed the spotlight. With 17 seconds remaining and the Tide threatening, Lee Jenkins tipped a pass, Bill Bates shook up the potential receiver and Terry caught the deflection.
This was 1982. It stopped an 11-game losing streak. Happy fans rushed onto the field, snapped off the goal posts and carried them away. Vols carried Coach Majors to midfield to accept congratulations from Bryant.
The Bear was slow to leave Shields-Watkins Field. He looked around the entire stadium and soaked it all in. Maybe he knew it was the last time he would be there.
Long before they were Sugar Vols, 1985 players provided an Alabama story. Tony Robinson was injured and lost for the season. Dale Jones’ incredible interception of a point-blank Mike Shula pass was the stuff of legends. The parade of goal posts down Cumberland Avenue said happy days are here again.
As always, success was temporary.
Somewhere along the way, Alabama super fan Logan Young was convicted by the feds for bribery and tax evasion – and racketeering. Young paid $90,000 to a high school coach in Memphis, Lynn Lang, to encourage prep star Albert Means to go to Alabama. Young had supposedly been buying top talent for years. Tide faithful were offended because Fulmer provided evidence.
Meanwhile, back on the field. …
Greg Burke nailed a 51-yard field goal to tie the 1990 game, 6-6. With a minute and change remaining, Burke lined up for the game-winner, from a mere 50 yards. But the kick was blocked by Stacy Harrison. That allowed Philip Doyle an opportunity to kick the other direction. On the final play, his 48-yarder sailed true.
Terrence Cody, nicknamed Mount Cody because he was 6-5 and 354, gained fame by saving a 12-10 Tide victory. He blocked two field goal attempts, including a decisive one with four seconds to go. Tide fans still call it “Rocky Block.”
Seven years ago, Alabama waited until the closing minutes to win the 19-14 game. Derrick Henry scored the go-ahead touchdown with 2:24 remaining. Joshua Dobbs and Jalen Hurd had given the Tide a difficult time.
Forget not Peyton Manning to Joey Kent for 80 yards on play number one … and Peyton leading the Pride of the Southland as a final act … Casey Clausen’s completion to CJ Fayton on fourth and 19 in the second overtime of the five-overtime marathon … Jay Graham’s end-of-game heroics.
Count these as victories: Alabama-born Richmond Flowers, Condredge Holloway and Tee Martin were stars for Tennessee.
Great moment on the way to the Tennessee national championship: Alabama had closed to 14-11. Peerless Price returned the kickoff 100 yards.
Oh my, there was a dad-gum flag. Holding? Block in the back? Clipping? Take your pick.
Eventual result was jubilation. The foul turned out to be on Alabama.
Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is [email protected]