Long Days on Southern Gridirons

 

By Tom Mattingly

Despite the best of preparation and intentions, there are days and nights in various stadia that seem longer than most, when everything that can go wrong does.

On Oct. 11, 1980, Tennessee was in the final stages of defeating Georgia Tech at Grant Field in Atlanta. The final score was 23-10, but the outcome was in doubt until the final minutes.

The Alabama game, to be played a week later at Neyland Stadium, was not far from fans’ attention, to the point that, once victory was ensured, here came the cry from the Vol faithful.

“We want Bama! We want Bama!”

In retrospect, that wasn’t smart. A week later, Alabama showed up. The final score was 27-0, Crimson Tide, in a game that wasn’t that close.

The 1986 Auburn game, played Sept. 26 at Jordan-Hare Stadium, came a year after the Tigers, rated No. 1 in the country, had time to chew on a 38-20 loss the year before in Knoxville.

Tony Robinson had thrown the ball all over the field, and Vol defenders put the clamps on eventual Heisman Trophy winner Bo Jackson. Robinson ended up on the cover of the next week’s Sports Illustrated. It was a pivotal game in Tennessee’s march to the SEC title that season.

In the rematch, Auburn exacted a toll on the Vols, winning 34-8. It was a mismatch from start to finish.

Then there was the season finale against Vanderbilt at Dudley Field on Nov. 27, 1954. That was a tough one for Vol fans to swallow, with the Commodores winning 26-0. Vandy had only beaten the Vols once since 1937, so emotions ran high that day. Vanderbilt fans were yelling, “Block that kick! Block that kick!” as Tennessee lined up to kick off the second half. A number of fights also broke out among the combatants.

The game’s outcome and a four-game losing streak to finish the 1954 campaign caused Athletic Director Bob Neyland to fire head coach Harvey Robinson and the entire staff in the ensuing weeks. That action brought Vol All-American and 1938 captain Bowden Wyatt home to Knoxville from Fayetteville, Ark.

The Florida folks weren’t too happy about losing 45-3 in Knoxville in 1990 and turned the tables a year later, 35-18, thanks to a number of Vol turnovers.

In 1970, Tennessee fans couldn’t wait for Florida to hit Shields-Watkins Field after Doug Dickey had changed his mailing address from Knoxville to Gainesville. That came after the result of the 1969 Gator Bowl, Florida 14, Tennessee 13, was safely recorded in the record books.

There was enough hoopla around the contest to satisfy the most hardened fan, as Tennessee won 38-7. There were songs, and that term is debatable, written about both head coaches. From the Tennessee side, there was a composition entitled “Tricky Dickey,” while Florida fans came up with one called, unbelievably, “Bad Billy Battle, You Mean and Nasty Boy.”

For further perspective, one youthful Florida fan suggested that 1970 was so far back in history as to be irrelevant to discussions of memorable games in either school’s history. That reaction comes from a fan base that considers 1990 the dawn of recorded football history.

Even a narrow win can cause great exuberance among the opposing fan base. Take Alabama 6, Tennessee 3, in 2005 at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Alabama insiders said the ensuing crowd reaction was among the top periods of unrestrained joy at the Capstone in their memory. Bryant-Denny Stadium overflowed with emotion. That tends to happen on both sides in this series.

A great many of us old folks remember the Nov. 15, 1969, Ole Miss game. No. 18 Ole Miss 38, No. 3 Tennessee 0. It was a really long day, even when you consider that the Vols ended up winning the SEC title. The Rebels’ Cloyce Hinton had kicked a field goal just before halftime that hit the crossbar and bounced over, extending the lead from 21-0 to 24-0.

That caused Tennessee SID Haywood Harris to come up with the shortest quote ever in Sports Illustrated: “Dang!” If you want a quote that aptly summarized what was going on, that was it.

No one is still around who witnessed the 1893 four-game swing, starting in Knoxville against Kentucky A&M (now Kentucky) and carrying on through games against Wake Forest, Trinity (now Duke), and North Carolina. The games started on Oct. 21 and ended on Nov. 7, losses by a total score of 250-0. Many players refused to admit that they had played that season.

Wonder how losing 250-0 over the course of four games would play out today? How would listeners to sports talk radio react?

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