Sugar Bowl honors John Majors

Marvin Westwestwords

Happy new year to legendary Volunteer John Majors. He gets another moment in the national spotlight today.

He is a star among the 16 in the inaugural class of the Sugar Bowl Hall of Fame, one of only two to have played and coached in the New Orleans event. John and Mary Lynn were invited to town in time for pre-game festivities. He’ll be in the honors presentation before the kickoff.


Don’t ask him about it but Majors, all-American tailback and runner-up for the Heisman Trophy, was better on the sideline than out on the field.

Majors’ 1976 Pitt Panthers clinched their national championship with a 27-3 rout of Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. Tony Dorsett rushed for 202 yards. The Bulldogs had a disastrous time trying to throw the football – three completions in 22 attempts for 46 yards with four Pitt interceptions.

Majors’ 1985 Sugar Vols put on a super show. They romped past Miami, 35-7. Ken Donahue’s defensive scheme was sensational. Tennessee picked off four Miami passes. To this day, Vinny Testaverde doesn’t know what hit him. Jeff Powell had a 60 TD run for Tennessee. Daryl Dickey was MVP.

The 1991 Sugar Bowl was high drama. Tennessee trailed from the early minutes until the last minute but finally defeated Virginia, 23-22. The Vols scored 20 comeback points in the fourth quarter.

Floyd Miley picked off a pass to launch the major recovery. Andy Kelly led three drives. Tony Thompson hurdled the line from one yard out for the winning TD. Tony rushed for 151 yards. Dale Carter’s second interception clinched the victory. Darryl Hardy was outstanding.

One of Tennessee’s greatest teams appeared in the 1957 Sugar Bowl against the Baylor Bears. Majors came in as the star of the 10-0 Volunteers, ranked No. 2 in the country.

Tennessee played a lackadaisical game, marred by the infamous kick foul. Baylor’s Larry Hickman kicked Vol guard Bruce Burnham in the head. Burnham went into convulsions and many of us thought he was dying. Teammates prayed. Some wept. Thankfully, Burnham survived.

Majors did not have a good day as a runner. He gained 51 yards. He did not have a good day as a passer. He completed one of seven and lost two interceptions.

Majors did score a touchdown and Tennessee lived through the other stuff and had a 7-6 fourth-quarter lead when he unaccountably fielded a punt inside his 10, took two steps upfield and fumbled when hit.

Baylor scored. The Vols tried to fight back but Baylor picked off two Bobby Gordon passes. That was the old ball game.

Majors’ worst day ended with a treasured summation by his mother. Elizabeth Majors said “Everybody burns the biscuits once in a while.”

Teammates took the defeat in stride. Fullback Tommy Bronson reasoned that the Vols wouldn’t have been there without Majors. Tackle John Gordy thought somebody in orange could have helped quite a bit by recovering Majors’ fumble. I don’t recall coach Bowden Wyatt offering anything even close to an excuse.

Perhaps you have at least heard of the other honorees:

Coaches Paul Bryant and Gene Stallings and running back Major Ogilvie of Alabama; Sammy Baugh and Davey O’Brien of Texas Christian; Raymond Brown and Archie Manning of Ole Miss.

Frank Broyles, Georgia Tech player and Arkansas coach; Chuck Dicus, Arkansas; Dorsett and Dan Marino, Pitt; Pepper Rodgers, Georgia Tech; Claude “Monk” Simons, Tulane; Herschel Walker, Georgia.

(Marvin West invites reader reactions. His address is marvinwest75@gmail.com).

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