Tom the Bomb

Marvin Westwestwords

Jalen Hurd is gone but his shadow lingers. One of his advocates floated this trial balloon: What if Jalen had said he was really, really sorry for the mess he made? Could he have rejoined the Volunteers?

Oh my.

This led a faithful reader-writer to seek a comparison with the second most infamous departure in UT history. Tom Tracy went away in 1955.

You had to be there to really grasp the Tracy tale. He was a terrific player, a very quick, explosive runner who had been recruited out of Birmingham, Michigan by the remnants of the Neyland administration to be a Tennessee star. Tom achieved all-SEC status in 1954 on a disappointing 4-6 team, Harvey Robinson’s last as head coach.

Tracy shared the football with sophomore John Majors. Tom carried 116 times, gained 794 yards, scored four touchdowns, caught three passes and threw one. It was intercepted. He hit seven of 12 extra-point kicks.

The following spring, there was a new coach, Bowden Wyatt. He had heard that Tracy was one heck of an athlete. You might appreciate confirmation from a teammate, end Buddy Cruze.

“Tom was a great athlete who could do everything. He was a fine basketball player. He was the best softball pitcher I ever saw.

“At the swimming pool, we’d play a game where you come off the high board and somebody on the ground would say head-first or feet-first into the water. Most of us had trouble with mid-air adjustments. Tom Tracy never missed.”

Talent established, go with me now to what was then Upper Hudson Field, second day of spring practice. Wyatt delivered a stirring address about seizing opportunities. He said all players would get at least one and they’d better be ready to grab it because he was a busy man and there might not be time for another.

Wyatt expounded on the single-wing wedge play. He said it had to gain two yards in any situation, no matter the opponent, site or conditions. In a dramatic illustration of this powerful point, the coach set up a 15-man defense to try and stop his unstoppable wedge.

Tracy was first runner up. He slammed into the line. He didn’t get two yards. He didn’t get up. His leg hurt. Could have been a cramp. He yelled for trainer Mickey O’Brien.

“Mickey, Mickey.”

Wyatt, rugged man, all-American and captain as a Volunteer, was vexed. He may have said damn. He was not going to allow first-play failure to spoil the entire scene. The coach stepped past Tracy, grabbed the football, kicked it 35 or 40 yards and ran with the players to establish a new line of scrimmage. He called for another fullback. Tommy Bronson came on at full speed.

“Did we ever get the message,” said Cruze. “From that moment on, there was no doubt that Coach Wyatt meant business and there would be no exceptions.”

Such inconsiderate treatment, virtual disrespect, no flowers or get-well card, did not set well with Tracy, the star. O’Brien checked him out, thought he was OK but walked him to the training room. Tom never came back.

Cruze recalled the conclusion.

“I was standing near Coach Wyatt the next morning when Tom came to tell him he was leaving the team and going home. Coach Wyatt made no effort to change his mind.

“He said, ‘Young man, I wish you well.’”

By 1956, Tennessee had a great team.

Tracy played for the Ottawa Rough Riders until he was eligible for the NFL draft. He was a fifth-rounder who ran well and appeared in two Pro Bowls as a Pittsburgh Steeler. If he ever came back to Tennessee, I didn’t get to see him.

As for Hurd at Baylor or wherever, I’ll recycle the Bowden Wyatt line: Young man, I wish you well.

Marvin West invites reader reaction. His new address is

One Comment on “Tom the Bomb”

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