Tennessee and Texas A&M long have looked like they could be interesting rivals. Football is very important to both.
There are famous alumni – Heisman Trophy winners Johnny Manziel and John David Crow for the Aggies and should-have-been Peyton Manning and John Majors for the Volunteers.
OK, the schools are 934 miles apart. They have met only four times. They’ll go for No. 5 Saturday at 3:30. It might be a battle royal.
On my calendar, this is the beginning of what matters. We’ll soon see if the Volunteers are genuine contenders or just pretenders in the Southeastern Conference. If they can defeat Texas A&M at beautiful and boisterous Neyland Stadium, they can go to Alabama without shaking in their boots.
If they can really contend with the Tide, they can approach Kentucky with some measure of confidence. Georgia knocked the Wildcats back in touch with reality.
Texas A&M has some leaks in its secondary but will be a sufficient test for now. We’ll see if Tennessee used the open date to find a replacement for Bru McCoy. We’ll see how the offensive line performs against heavyweight pressure, how that affects Joe Milton and whether it slows the highly regarded running game.
History, such as it is, says anything could happen.
In amazing defiance of the law of averages, two historic plays and one genuine landmark emerged from the first Tennessee-Texas A&M game, Gator Bowl, Dec. 28, 1957.
The Vols won with a fourth-quarter field goal by Sammy Burklow and a stubborn defense on a soggy field. A record crowd of 43,709 saw that struggle.
Burklow had never kicked a field goal. He had missed two the year before. When Coach Bowden Wyatt told him to go kick one and win the bowl game, Sammy, in total innocence, asked “How do I do it, Coach?”
Wyatt, a great motivator and good strategist, said “It’s just like an extra point.”
It really was, just 17 yards, with 5:30 left to play.
That game is also remembered for the titanic collision between Vol tailback Bobby Gordon and the powerful Crow on the Tennessee march to the winning play.
“Bobby thought he was going to run over Crow,” tackle Jim Smelcher recalled with a chuckle added. “Crow hit him so hard, he knocked himself out.”
The crash was audible in the press box. Well, I think that was what we heard. Trainers and assistant trainers rushed onto the field. Thankfully, both players survived.
Gordan stumbled and swayed his way back to the huddle. He eventually sagged to his knees. In this day and time, he would probably be hospitalized. Bobby stayed and played. He carried three more times and made it to fourth and goal at the 1.
Wyatt liked the odds of three points better than six. Gordon held for the kick attempt. Sammy said “Nothing to it.”
Mud marred statistics. Gordon rushed 32 times for a net of 60 yards. He threw six passes and completed four for 56 yards. Crow ran 14 times, gained 56 and lost 10. The Aggies completed two of four passes for 16 yards.
Gordon had an 82-yard punt return wiped out by a clipping penalty. Want to guess who fouled? It was co-captain, wingback and later to be famous Vol Network analyst Bill Anderson.
Landmark? That Gator Bowl was Paul “Bear” Bryant’s last game as coach of the Aggies. He was already packed and ready to roll to Tuscaloosa. Perhaps you have heard that he achieved considerable fame as coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Crow is legendary. His bronze statue near Kyle Field in College Station stands 12 feet tall.
Gordon, better known as a defensive back and punter, played a couple of seasons of pro ball. He died young, at 54.
Burklow went to med school in Memphis and was an intern at Parkland Hospital in Dallas in November 1963. He saw President John F. Kennedy brought into the hospital that fateful Friday afternoon.
Dr. Sam Burklow practiced medicine in Fresno, Calif. At age 89, he still had a five-star rating.
Tennessee defeated Texas A&M, 38-7, in the 2005 Cotton Bowl. Rick Clausen threw touchdown passes to C.J. Fayton, Cory Anderson and Tony Brown. Phillip Fulmer was coach.
The Aggies defeated the Vols 45-38 in double overtime in College Station in 2016. That was a Butch Jones game. The Vols scored three touchdowns in the final eight minutes to get even but their seventh turnover was one too many. Josh Dobbs was intercepted on Tennessee’s first play of the second extra period.
In Jeremy Pruitt’s last game as UT coach, in 2020, Tennessee lost to the Aggies at Neyland Stadium, 34-13. The Vols got first-half touchdown passes from Harrison Bailey and J.T. Shrout but were unable to keep pace.
There is another small tie that binds. Dana Xenophon Bible, Jefferson City native, graduate of Carson-Newman College, had a 72-19-9 coaching record at Texas A&M, 1917-1928. He also coached basketball and baseball. He took a year off to serve as a pilot in World War I.
Coach Bible didn’t believe in bragging but sometimes said 1919 was a good football year. I wasn’t an eye witness but the record says his Aggies outscored foes 275-0.
Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is firstname.lastname@example.org