Vol great John Michels dead at 87

Marvin WestObits

Tennessee has lost another all-time football great.


All-American John Michels, College Hall of Fame honoree, died Thursday. He was 87.

John Michels (Photo courtesy of UT Sports)

The legendary Robert R. Neyland provided an indelible description: “John Michels is the best blocking guard in the United States of America.”

Jim Haslam, captain of the ’52 Vols, the tackle who played beside Michels, said some compared him to another great guard, Bob Suffridge.

“I didn’t see Suffridge play,” said Haslam, “but I can’t imagine anybody being a better pulling guard than was John Michels. He was the most competitive guy I’ve ever seen.”

Michels was a football lifer. He was a prep star in Philadelphia. He played for the Volunteers in 1950-52, a time of great success. The team went 29-4-1, won a national championship, played in three big bowl games and set several school records. Michels as a senior won the Jacobs Trophy as the best blocker in the Southeastern Conference.

He played one season for the Philadelphia Eagles, served three years as an Army first lieutenant, played briefly in Canada with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, coached a year at Texas A&M and settled into a pro career as an assistant to Bud Grant.

They won three Grey Cups for Winnipeg and moved up to the Minnesota Vikings in the NFL.

Michels was line coach for 27 seasons. One of his star players was ex-Vol Tim Irwin. The Vikings made it to four Super Bowls.

Michels was nothing like today’s guards. He was 5-10 and 195.

Vol historian Tom Mattingly came up with a scouting report from a 1952 copy of “Football Magazine” which described Michels as “Inordinately quick, combative and hard-running … an effective blocker on the line and one of the Tennessee players most likely to be found blocking ahead of the runner far downfield. He is a remarkably clean blocker, with body control which makes it possible for him to fake a defender into position to be obliterated.”

Michels would probably have smiled but said nothing if he had read that description. For a man who accomplished so much, he said very little.

The two best quotes from my old file were brief:

“When you lose the Super Bowl, it’s like the end of the world. It just destroys your season.”

“Being elected to the College Football Hall of Fame means more to me than any award I’ve ever received.’’

Greg D. Davis, 63, of Corryton has died. He is the brother of Gibbs High baseball coach Geff Davis and his wife of 37 years is Teresa Davis. Greg Davis was an award-winning gospel singer and a retired UPS employee. Services will be Sunday with burial on Monday. Info here.

John Fred Fonville, 66, long-time general manager of Fall Creek Falls State Park Inn and Conference Center, has died. He was raised in Knoxville, graduating from West High School and attending Church Street United Methodist Church. He graduated from UT in 1976. Funeral services are today. Info here.

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