Living and dying with Tennessee football games

By Tom Mattingly

Whenever he discussed his time as “Voice of the Vols,” 1952-67, broadcaster George Mooney always remembered the good times.

In the spring of 1952, at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, Gen. Robert R. Neyland had asked him to broadcast the Tennessee games. Mooney did not hesitate to accept.

“There was one answer to that,” said Mooney. “Absolutely. I’m going with the best. I knew the reputation he had, and what a great coach he was.”

Saturday afternoons in those years meant Mooney’s voice crackling over the airwaves on the Vol Network. Vol fans lived and died with his calls of many of the great moments of Tennessee football history.

His career started with coaches Neyland and Bowden Wyatt, and included players Doug Atkins, Andy Kozar, Hank Lauricella, John Michels, and John Majors. As the years progressed, the big names were head coach Doug Dickey and players Steve DeLong, Steve Kiner, Jack Reynolds, and many other heroes in orange.

Mooney recalled Nov. 7, 1959, Homecoming Day on the Hill, LSU in town. Billy Cannon’s name came up, and George recalled the most famous moment of the game. The underdog Vols led 14-13 seconds into the fourth quarter, and LSU was going for two to retake the lead.

The Vols made “The Stop” in a history-making defensive play in front of Section A at the north end. “If Cannon had veered from the play and gone the other way, he could have walked into the end zone,” Mooney said. “He went to the right, but Tennessee’s defense was set, and they still almost didn’t stop him.”

Not too many years later, Dewey Warren, another Vol legend, appeared on the scene.

Mooney was one of Dewey’s earliest boosters, sensing his potential long before anyone else did.  The year was 1965.

“They almost didn’t play him. Dickey was experimenting at quarterback before the season.  Bob Woodruff, Skeeter Bailey, and I ran around together and were at practice. Dewey got a chance, and I said, ‘That’s my quarterback.’”

Mooney worked with 1940 Vol All-American selection Bob Foxx from 1956 on.

“Bowden Wyatt called and asked if I would mind having a former teammate of his to be the ‘color’ man. He said he had Lou Gehrig’s disease, but he lasted 11 years. I’ll never forget the first game we did, when the Vols just mauled Auburn. I said, ‘Bob, we’re going to have a great year.’”

Oct. 16, 1965, at Legion Field, was another memorable day. Alabama was moving to the southeast end of the field, right in front of the Tide student section. The noise was deafening.  Alabama always won this type of game, or so goes the legend.

MOONEY: “Thirty-four seconds remain on the clock! Alabama has the ball on the 17-yard line, directly between the goalposts. David Ray set a national scoring record by the foot last year. He’s kicked 9-of-9 extra points, 10-of-10 including today. They’re going to pass the ball. Stabler has it. He goes down to the 10 to the 5, brought down at the 4-yard line and fumbles the ball. Let’s see who recovered on the far side of the field. It didn’t go out of bounds. The clock is running, 18, 17….”

“They faked it, and he ran to the Tennessee 3. It’s fourth and goal. They’re lining up now. The ball is taken by Stabler. He throws the ball out of bounds with 6 seconds to go, but it was fourth down, and apparently he didn’t realize it!”

FOXX: “Right. It was fourth down, and he didn’t make it.”

MOONEY: “Tennessee takes over! Alabama didn’t realize it was fourth down, and Stabler threw the ball away to stop the clock. David Ray was thinking he was going to have a chance.”

FOXX: “He was practicing.”

MOONEY: “Alabama lost track of the downs! Tennessee has the ball, 6 seconds to go. That was a beautiful fake on third down by Stabler.  They had the ball on the 17, but what the young quarterback and the rest of the team forgot was that they had been pushed back by Tennessee from inside the 10. Tennessee ball. Charley Fulton, the quarterback, takes it and the clock is going to run out. Tennessee and Alabama are going to tie. There it is! Tennessee 7, Alabama 7.”

Many younger Vol fans today know precious little about George Mooney and his analyst, Bob Foxx. Many older Tennesseans became Vol fans under their tutelage. It was a great time to follow the Vols with Mooney and Foxx leading the way.

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