Tennessee then and now: Avoid noisy comparisons

Marvin Westwestwords

The undefeated Georgia Bulldogs will be the featured attraction at Neyland Stadium on Saturday evening. As a sign of the times, tickets are available at a discounted price.


A couple of other campus events provide more pleasant outlooks. You are invited to the Friday re-dedication of the Doug Dickey Plaza at the corner of Lake Loudoun Boulevard and Johnny Majors Drive.

This one is free. The ceremony is scheduled for 4 p.m. In addition to Coach Dickey, the celebrities and me, an assortment of 1969 Volunteers will be there. They are coming to town for the other triumphant event, the 50th reunion of their SEC championship team.

Doug Dickey

Linebacker Steve Kiner will be there. Linebacker Jack Reynolds won’t.

Captain Bill Young and the ol’ Vols will make a brief Saturday appearance on Shields-Watkins Field. Try to avoid noisy comparisons of that team and this current mess. Quiet despair is permissible, even head in hands, but no screaming tantrums or throwing things.

Fifty years ago, it was a given that Tennessee football had been good, was good and would be good, probably for generations to come.

Dickey was brought in to solve a few problems. He made necessary repairs, suggested checkerboard end zones, switched from the single-wing to a more modern offense, improved recruiting, established three-in-a-row superiority over Alabama and was rolling along toward the 46-15-4 segment of his career.

We had no idea that he would soon make the mistake of a lifetime and go away.

The ’69 Vols made a minimum of mistakes and some marvelous memories. They surged ahead of Auburn by three touchdowns. The Tigers almost caught up. The Vols recoiled with 21 points in the fourth quarter. It was a rout.

Tennessee hung 55 on Memphis State. Lester McClain caught a beautifully thrown ball from Bobby Scott for an 85-yard TD.

The highlight of the season was Alabama, third Saturday in October, 71,000 at Legion Field in Birmingham. The Vols romped, 41-14.

Scott threw a touchdown pass to Gary Kreis. Bobby Majors returned a punt 71 yards. Jackie Walker turned a misguided Tide pitchout into a touchdown. The Vols led 21-0 after one quarter. School was in session.

Kiner chastised Alabama players for not playing better. He said Coach Paul Bryant deserved more.

“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.”

Tennessee whipped Georgia between the historic hedges of Athens. Fullback Curt Watson gained 197 yards in the rain and mud. There was an early turning point. The Vols lost the wet ball and the home team got it at the UT 5. The crowd went wild.

Three plays gained one yard. The Bulldogs kicked a field goal. That’s all they got, other than headaches.

Lest we forget, the worm totally turned a month later. The Ole Miss Rebels inflicted an unbelievable 38-0 thrashing on the then third-ranked Volunteers. Kiner’s pre-season view on whether Mississippi had the horses or “mules” was the rallying point for the winners.

Tennessee dropped sharply in the rankings but recovered sufficiently for traditional victories over Kentucky and Vanderbilt. The Vols finished 9-1 and won the league championship.

Kell, Kiner and Reynolds earned All-America honors. Watson, tight end Ken DeLong and defensive tackle Frank Yanossy made All-SEC. Guard Don Denbo, safety Tim Priest and defensive end Vic Dingus made academic All-SEC.

Try to forget the one-point loss to Florida in the Gator Bowl. That was the day Dickey was most emotionally divided, with one foot in each camp.

Other than white helmets, orange shirts and white pants, there is no connection between then and now. That team, 50 years ago, was tough, very tough. This team is suspect. That team was smart, very smart. This team is still learning to line up.

That team had two wise men, Priest and Young, as poised and experienced safeties. This team is not so richly blessed.

That team had a smoothly functional offensive line – Steve Robinson, Denbo, Mike Bevans, Kell and Joe Balthrop. This line is much bigger and undoubtedly stronger but still sorting out the finer points of the game.

The coaching staff, then and now? I’d better not go there.

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

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