Old Vols and other stuff 

Marvin Westwestwords

In my modest collection of things, from a different time and place, is a Tom Siler book, “Tennessee’s Dazzling Decade,” written 50 years ago.


It has a priceless inscription, “To the next historian of the Vols, it’s your turn.”

In the treasury is a small, red Russian star, acquired at the Seoul Olympics. The pin on my blazer lapel, the American flag, caught the eye of a Soviet athlete. It was my only such trade.

There is a press pass and a reminder of Magic versus Bird, 1979 NCAA finals, Salt Lake City. The game was supposed to be better than it was.

There is a photo of Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus from an early Sunday walk at the Masters. What a treat!

There is the official baseball program, with an error in the lineups, from the earthquake World Series, October 17, 1989. A few minutes before the scheduled start of Game 3, a magnitude 6.9 struck the San Francisco area.

The booklet is a simple reminder that I survived. I was tucked in deep under the upper deck of Candlestick Park, in the auxiliary press box. I thought my time was up. I assumed the stadium would collapse. I prayed for Sarah.

In the treasury is an old-fashioned manila file folder labeled Old Vols. Goodness knows when it was created. It was Frank Albertson’s idea. He and others had formed a fellowship of former track and field Volunteers from the late 1940s and early 1950s. They called themselves The Ancients.

They accomplished something. They chipped in $125,000 to fund a scholarship in honor of one of their own, Alf Holmberg, 1949 Swedish import, a remarkable man, distance champion, said to be Tennessee’s first all-American runner.

Albertson wanted me to keep the list of names – in case someone asked if UT had a track team before Chuck Rohe.

The Old Vols file grew to include other sports. There are a few newspaper clippings. The 1956 Tennessee-Georgia Tech football game came down to two throws from John Majors to Buddy Cruze. Bernard King’s first game as a basketball Volunteer remains unforgettable. Interview notes from preparation of my second book, Legends of the Tennessee Vols, are meaningful only to me.

Could be I preserved my vivid account of the 1965 Rosebonnet Bowl, Tennessee 37, UCLA 34, maybe the best, certainly the most entertaining, football game I ever saw. Dewey Warren ran almost forever to gain one winning yard.

The Swamp Rat was brave. He was not fast. He was slower than usual that day in Memphis because of a groin pull.

Very valuable Bud Ford, back on the edge of the UT sports information department with Phillip Fulmer’s blessings, has given the Old Vols file a big boost. He sent a list of the oldest football lettermen.

Jim Sivert, reserve blocking back, 1949, is coming up on 95. He lives in Bartlett. Don Bordinger, guard, early 1950s, was 92 last month. He lives in Oak Ridge. Tailback W.C. Cooper is 91. He lives in Tullahoma.

Harold Johnson, 91, was injured early. He is better known as a former SEC sports official and still-active Jackson attorney.

Herky Payne, 91, is remembered for 14 touchdowns for the great 1951 team. He lives in Knoxville.

Coming up on 90 are former blocking back Charles Meyer, former tackle and captain Jim Haslam and former end Dan Sekanovich. Meyer lives in Orange City, Fla. Haslam has been very active in Knoxville. Sekanovich lives in Depew, N.Y.

Jimmy Hahn

Marked off the list in February was Jimmy Hahn. He was 89. What a story he was.

In the dark of a night, a security light on the east side of what became Neyland Stadium was shot out. As luck would have it, broken glass showered down near a campus policeman. Spectators, at several dorm windows, cheered.

Robert R. Neyland was very upset when he read the morning briefing. Nobody seemed too surprised when Jimmy Hahn was called to the General’s office.

Hahn, son of a strict Lutheran minister in Newport News, Va., had discovered freedom at the University of Tennessee. He soon earned a reputation as the wild one.

“In the beginning, I did some crazy things to see how they felt. Then, I had to do some more to live up to expectations.”

Hahn said the shooting incident turned out better than he deserved.

“The General asked if I did it. I said ‘Yes sir.’ He asked why. I came up with a pretty good story about the light shining into my dorm room and disturbing my sleep. I said I had put up with it for a long while and finally did something about it.”

Neyland responded with a lecture about the responsibility of firing a rifle, that someone might be struck by the stray bullet. He went on to discuss military marksmanship. That led to recollections of his adventures at West Point. He speculated on what he might have accomplished in the military had he not divided his time with football.

“After 45 minutes or maybe an hour, he suggested I bring my .22 rifle to his office for safe-keeping and take it home the next time I went that way.”

Hahn was a great blocking back, winner of the 1951 Jacobs Trophy. His value in the single-wing could have been a factor in how often coaches forgave transgressions.

Hahn eventually grew up. He got an advanced degree at New York U. He became a colonel in the Green Berets. He might be the only old Vol to ever operate a Christmas tree farm. He had many greater achievements. He finished ahead of Doug Atkins as the all-time leader in tall tales.

Marvin West welcomes comments or questions. His address is marvinwest75@gmail.com.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *