Forty years ago, on the third Saturday in October, unranked Tennessee snapped an 11-game losing streak against Alabama, 35-28. There was bedlam at Neyland Stadium. Fans stormed the field and ripped down the goalposts.
Volunteers were patted on the back, showered with congratulations and told how great was their accomplishment.
Tennessee coach John Majors had a world championship smile as players carried him to midfield for the traditional handshake with Alabama coach Bear Bryant.
Majors may have devoted several minutes to the joy of the occasion. Soon and very soon he was thinking about what was next on the schedule. He recognized the risk that his team might get fat on praise and actually begin to believe press clippings. The coach arranged a prompt return to Earth.
A raised platform appeared on the practice field on Monday. It represented Cloud Nine. Below was a landing pad. Each Vol climbed up and jumped down. Majors called the ceremony “a return to reality.”
On Friday, the Vols went to Atlanta. On Saturday, they lost to Georgia Tech.
Of course, Hendon Hooker enjoyed the down-goes-Alabama celebration late last Saturday. He carried a victory cigar as a prop. He did not light it.
“I don’t smoke.”
Derek Dooley, doing time as an analyst in the Alabama rehabilitation program for former coaches, was spotted dining on postgame spaghetti and meatballs safely behind the celebration, inside a lower corner of Neyland Stadium.
As Tennessee coach (2010-2012), he never delivered anything remotely close in excitement. To this day, questions remain. How lucky can you be? Derek secured one of the better jobs in the country on the strength of a losing record at Louisiana Tech and a famous last name.
Alas, luck didn’t last. Dooley led the Vols to a three-year record of 15-21. Two of his teams went 1-7 against SEC foes. That was worse than Butch Jones.
Consistency is high among Josh Heupel’s favorite words. He tries to stay steady in the boat. He guards against emotional highs and lows.
He grasped the significance of the Vol victory over Alabama but immediately put it into perspective.
“Big picture, it means that we were the best team on the field in that game.”
He said that is the Tennessee goal every week.
Can Volunteers survive defensive liabilities? We may see on Oct. 29 when Kentucky comes calling. We’ll know for sure after the Vols go to Georgia.
In one and a half seasons, Heupel has lifted a program that Jeremy Pruitt left for dead into conversation about the national playoff. That may be a bit premature but it sure is fun.
The coach tells the team there are many uncontrollables in football and that it must try to control what it can control.
“This journey is just beginning. Good teams get better throughout the season. We’re halfway. Really, we’re just beginning.”
Darnell Wright made news. The Tennessee offensive tackle won 17 one-on-one matchups against Tide edge rusher Will Anderson, promoted as the best defensive player in college football.
Anderson was credited with three tackles. Alabama (not Anderson) had one sack, two tackles for losses and no quarterback hurries. Hooker enjoyed a lot of clean pockets. Vol linemen were awarded two cigars each.
Anderson does deserve credit for an innovative name-image-likeness contract (money).
“I soak in Dr. Teal’s Epsom Salts to help speed up my recovery time and recharge my sore muscles.”
Marvin West welcomes reader comments or questions. His address is [email protected]