In defense of ‘geezers’

By Tom Mattingly

One of the joys of advancing geezerdom is having a storehouse of memories from seeing the great moments in University of Tennessee sports live, moments that younger fans today can only see on film, videotape, or any of the other advances in technology in today’s world.

Today’s younger fans stare blankly when you talk about seeing Archie Manning play in person, more than 50 years ago this November, not to mention also having seen his son, Peyton, on the gridiron.

Longtime trustee and athletics board member Col. Tom Elam of Union City also lived long enough to see both Gene McEver and Peyton perform in an orange shirt and was not hesitant to share his experiences. Knoxvillian Bronson Potter, a longtime family friend, outdid Col. Elam, living through the development of Shields-Watkins Field and Neyland Stadium from those first tentative steps in 1921 to the greensward and checkerboards we revere today.

When you mention the single-wing days, their eyes glaze over, wondering whatever that was. You could say, if asked, it was a great deal like the spread, with a direct snap from center to a back who had any number of options in front of him. The single-wing stopped being “cool” in the early 1960s, but it brought Tennessee fans of earlier days many of their finest sports memories.

You’d have to be a real geezer to have seen defending national champion LSU and Tennessee square off on a cold early November day in 1959 on Shields-Watkins Field, with the Vols escaping with their last win of the 1950s decade by a 14-13 count.

There was the absolute joy of watching the elusive Condredge Holloway drive opposing defensive coordinators crazy by darting and escaping from defender after defender in arenas across the south more than 45 years ago this fall.

You had to be there to fully embrace the excitement Condredge brought to the games. There were magic moments by the bushel, e.g., in the 1971 freshman game against Notre Dame that attracted a crowd of 30,000 fans and his return to the field in the 1974 UCLA game after being injured and whisked to U. T. Hospital (and back). As Condredge circled the field returning to the Vol sideline, Keith Jackson’s voice punctuated the moment as the crowd noise swelled.

Then there’s the reaction, generally, a sigh, a shrug of the shoulders, and some exasperated eye-rolling, when you mention the “Finale at the Fieldhouse,” Tennessee 69, No. 1 Kentucky 62, in March 1966. There are those among us who don’t even remember where the Armory-Fieldhouse was, much less Stokely Athletics Center.

The same is true when you mention the 103-98 hoops win over Kentucky in February 1975 that is, without a doubt, the finest (and loudest) game ever played in Stokely. It was the “Bernie and Ernie Show” at its must-see best, with Ray Mears and Joe B. Hall coaching intently from start to finish and John Ward and Cawood Ledford calling the action from high above the arena floor.

It’s hard to believe it’s been more than 50 years since Curt Watson and Don McLeary ran roughshod over Georgia defenders in the rain between the hedges at a much-smaller Sanford Stadium in Athens. The rain may have come in torrents that day, but Tennessee fans remember that game fondly, even as they recall the miserable weather conditions on Nov. 1, 1969. Tennessee 17, Georgia 3, made it all worthwhile.

(It was surreal to see the hedges come tumbling down after Georgia defeated Tennessee in 2000. Imagine Georgia fans tearing down their beloved hedges.)

Then there was the first play of the 1995 Alabama game when Peyton Manning and Joey Kent sent shockwaves across Legion Field with an 80-yard catch and run. After the Tide closed the margin to 28-14, Jay Graham immediately quieted that portion of the crowd not wearing orange with a 75-yard TD run. The final score was Tennessee 41, Alabama 14, the first victory over the Tide since 1985.

That was also the season the Vols knocked off Ohio State in the Florida Citrus Bowl, highlighted by Bill Duff’s stop of Eddie George in the shadow of the Tennessee goal, Graham’s TD run just before halftime, and another Manning-Kent TD strike in the third quarter.

There’s nothing better than having been there for nearly 65 years, wherever “there” was.

We may be geezers, but we’re geezers with a pedigree, geezers with a history, with a joy that comes from seeing these events unfold before our very eyes.

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