By Tom Mattingly
For longtime Vol fans, the 1985 Tennessee football season might well have happened yesterday. Memories are still fresh, with the team being remembered fondly.
On the evening of Nov. 30, 1985, Vol fans stood much taller and much prouder, savoring Tennessee’s first SEC title since 1969. It had been quite a season for the young men in orange.
No. 10 Tennessee (the Vols would finish the season at No. 4 after a 35-7 dismantling of Miami in the Sugar Bowl) closed out one of its most memorable regular seasons with a 30-0 victory over Vanderbilt that really wasn’t that close. On this day, in front of the WTBS cameras, 30-0 was plenty.
The Vols jumped to an early 10-0 lead on a 10-yard scoring toss from Daryl Dickey to Tim McGee and a Carlos Reveiz field goal. Dickey was outstanding that afternoon, completing 22-of-32 passes for 299 yards and three touchdowns.
(Fuad and Carlos Reveiz capably handled placekicking duties for the Vols from 1981-86, older brother Fuad from 1981-84, Carlos in 1985-86. Vol fans in the know will remember that Fuad was a placekicker in a linebacker’s body, suiting up at 5-10, 220. It says something about the passage of time that Fuad’s son, Nick, rose from obscure walk-on to being a starting linebacker and two-time team captain.)
Given a 10-0 lead, Vol defenders were relentless in their pursuit of the Commodores.
A record crowd of 97,372 packed Neyland Stadium and enjoyed every moment. It was the third shutout down the stretch run (the Vols also shut out Rutgers and Kentucky). The Vols dispatched their last five regular season foes by a combined 163-21. They outscored the opposition over 12 games by 325-140. Fans began mentioning the team in the same breath as other great teams in Tennessee history.
Against Alabama on Oct. 19, the Vols had suffered an apparently crushing blow, when starting signal-caller Tony Robinson, who had graced the cover of Sports Illustrated after a 38-20 win over No. 1-ranked Auburn, went down with a knee injury just as the Vols were driving to a game-clinching score.
Robinson’s injury thrust Dickey, son of former Vol head coach and then newly hired AD Doug Dickey, into the spotlight. Vol fans, well aware Daryl had played sparingly to that point, were concerned about the stretch run of the season.
They shouldn’t have been. Daryl, who had an exceptional mind and “feel” for the game, showed uncommon smarts in leading the Vols.
History records that Dickey’s first pass against the Tide was fraught with trouble, almost spoiling the party.
An Alabama linebacker, with nothing but green artificial turf ahead of him, got his hands on the ball but dropped it. Dickey recovered nicely, with but one interception in 130 attempts the rest of the season, 106 in a row without a pick at one juncture.
Chris White of Cleveland, Tenn., also excelled that season, intercepting nine passes for 168 yards and one score, earning him All-American honors along with McGee,
Against Ole Miss, White had two of his interceptions and blocked a punt.
“Chris always seems to be around the ball on virtually every play and comes up with key interceptions,” said John Majors.
Dale Jones, who also hailed from Cleveland, was a dominant force up front at defensive end, a player whose motor ran all the time. His name pops up more often than not when the most inspirational players of all time are discussed.
“Of course, Dale Jones is one of the premier defensive ends in the nation,” said Majors.
Jones made one of the great plays in Tennessee history against Alabama, intercepting a Mike Shula pass at point-blank range to quell a Tide scoring drive.
“Was that intercepted in mid-air?” John Ward said on the Vol Network. “Ladies and gentlemen, what a play by Cleveland, Tennessee’s, Dale Jones!”
White and McGee were All-American selections, while Jones, Carlos Reveiz, and Bruce Wilkerson were also named All-SEC.
The win against Miami in the Sugar Bowl, seemingly against all odds, is one of the first contests mentioned when Vol fans choose their favorite games. The Louisiana Superdome belonged to Tennessee that night.
“The 1985 Vols will live in memory as the team that restored the Tennessee tradition,” Russ Bebb wrote.
He was right. Sometimes teams find the magic and ride it all the way to a more-than-successful season. That doesn’t, however, begin to describe this team.
Once the 1985 Vols found that magic, they created a special niche for themselves in the hearts of Vol fans. All the little pieces fell together in exactly the right way to create a legendary team.
No Vol fan will ever forget this bunch.
Nor should they.