Tennessee football: 50 years later

Marvin Westwestwords

Note to Phillip: Please consider inviting the 1969 Tennessee football team back to campus for a 50th-anniversary celebration.

Oh, so this has been on the planning board for weeks. Yes, I suppose I am slowing down.

Glad to hear it is going to happen. I’ll take a guess on the Georgia weekend.

The ’69 Volunteers were one of my several favorite teams. They won the SEC championship. They almost had a wonderful season.

Tennessee overwhelmed Auburn in the fourth quarter. In less than two minutes, the Vols turned two fumble recoveries and an interception into three touchdowns.

That ’69 team splashed past Georgia between the famous hedges. Curt Watson gained 197 yards in the mud.

Tennessee fans, overloaded with bravado or something else, chartered a small plane to fly around Legion Field in Birmingham just before kickoff against Alabama. It towed a banner that proclaimed, “This is Big Orange Country.”

Tide faithful thought that was very nervy and probably impolite. The declaration turned out to be true. What a day! The Vols battered Alabama, 41-14, one of the worst beatings in Bear Bryant’s coaching life.

Tennessee scored three times in the first quarter. Bobby Scott threw a TD pass to Gary Kreis. Bobby Majors returned a punt 71 yards. Jackie Walker captured a stray pitchout and racked up a touchdown.

Linebacker Steve Kiner was dominant throughout. Five times he tackled quarterbacks for losses. He caused a fumble and intercepted a pass. Along the way, he chastised the Tide for playing so poorly.

Assistant coach Bob Davis was standing a few feet away and heard every word.

“Steve Kiner screamed at the Alabama players. He pointed to Coach Bryant and said, ‘Look over there at that poor old man. He looks pitiful. Can you see him? You’ve let him down. You should be ashamed of yourselves.’”

The score was 34-0 at the time. Doug Dickey was sending in reserves.

Tennessee did not do so well against Ole Miss. Oh my, I wish I hadn’t thought of that.

What happened to the really good Tennessee team, in the middle of November, in Jackson, Miss., defies logical explanation. The Vols were No. 3 in the country. The Rebels had lost three times. What should have been a fairly good game turned into a stunning massacre.

Back in August, it was said that Ole Miss “has the horses” for a fine SEC race. Kiner said some didn’t know the difference in horses and mules. The Rebels remembered. The insult was exaggerated, magnified and used as extra motivation.

The week of the game, coach John Vaught brought a mule to practice. It just happened to be named Mr. Kiner.

Mississippi propagandists manufactured the “Archie who?” gimmick. On game day, Archie Manning made a difference. So did Tennessee safety and captain Bill Young. He tried to play on one good leg. The Rebels won, 38-0.

“We went into that game with a lot of injuries,” said Young. “It was not a true comparison of team strengths. We were better than Ole Miss.”

Tennessee lost twice at the Gator Bowl. Florida prevailed, 14-13 on the field, and persuaded Dickey to leave the Volunteers and become coach of the Gators. I think I know which happened first. It was an easy sell. It was homecoming for the Dickeys.

If you are keeping score, it was not Doug’s best career move.

Fifty years later, from my view, all is forgiven – Kiner comments, the humbling loss to Ole Miss, even the Dickey switch. When the 1969 Volunteers return to Neyland Stadium this fall, please stand and applaud. That was a really good team of great guys.

Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is [email protected].

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