A look at ‘Lost Weekends’
By Tom Mattingly
Over the history of Tennessee athletics, there have been more than one “lost weekend,” where everything that could seemingly go wrong, did. Such a series of events tends to shatter fans’ confidence, overheat the phone lines to the talk shows, and bring the message boards to a boil.
Consider one such weekend in late March 2009.
The Tennessee men’s basketball team lost a close one to Oklahoma State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. It was a No. 8 versus a No. 9 game, the teams supposedly equally matched, where the final outcome went the wrong way.
The Lady Vols lost a not-so-close contest to Ball State University, also in the first round, the first time —ever— the Lady Vols had lost in the first round in the NCAAs. Given that it was perceived as an “upset,” Lady Vol fans certainly were.
Defending national champions were not supposed to go out this way, whether youthful or not. Former Lady Vol Kara Lawson evaluated the game on ESPN’s post-game show with her version of Pat Summitt’s famous stare. Her analysis—how teams perform during the season is how they perform during the tournament—was right on the money.
The Vol baseball team was swept in a series in Gainesville, as was the Lady Vol softball team. Losses to the Gators, particularly in three-game sweeps, are troublesome.
If you’re counting, that’s 0-for-8 in just a matter of days. Somehow, the sun still came up the next Monday morning, and life as we know it went on. There aren’t many such circumstances, but they are memorable in a strange sort of way.
Consider also one of the ultimate “Lost Weekends,” this time in football. There was a Saturday to remember, Nov. 15, 1969, at Mississippi Memorial Stadium in Jackson. That day, the No. 18 Rebels, led by junior quarterback Archie Manning, vanquished an undefeated and No. 3 Tennessee squad 38-0.
Tennessee had defeated Ole Miss a year earlier in Knoxville by 31-0, intercepting Manning seven times. Vol fans wore orange and white “Archie Who?” buttons to the game and lived to regret it. It’s called the “Jackson Massacre.”
Haywood Harris had the shortest quote ever duly noted by Sports Illustrated. A Rebel field goal at the first half horn hit the crossbar and bounced over to extend the lead to 24-0. All Haywood could say was: “Dang.” Not “Gosh-dang,” as he usually intoned when things went awry, but simply “Dang.”
“As I recall, there was no ‘69 Ole Miss game,” wrote Marvin West, then of the Knoxville News-Sentinel. “The Rebels appeared, ran up and down the field a few times, and went away to celebrate their version of mule day. To the best of my knowledge, Tennessee was not a part of the festivities.”
The Vols won the final two games of the season, struggling against Kentucky and Vanderbilt. Thoughts of playing in the Orange Bowl, maybe against Notre Dame, went by the wayside. The SEC title came home to Knoxville, but no one seemed to care. The post-season prize was a trip to Jacksonville to play Florida in the Gator Bowl.
The Gators won 14-13. In early January, Dickey decided to go to Florida as head coach, leaving behind a 46-15-4 record in Knoxville.
The hangover didn’t last into the 1970 season. That Bill Battle-coached bunch went 11-1, won the Sugar Bowl over Air Force, and finished No. 4 in the nation. It was one of the most memorable seasons in Tennessee history.
The last two months of the 1969 season are now but a blur in the memory banks. Many of today’s Vol fan base hadn’t yet been born when the Vols and Ole Miss squared off more than 50 years ago.
From the perspective of those of us who were alive back then, if the Vol program could survive the months of November and December in 1969, it could survive what happened on one specific weekend in late March 2009. And it did.
What it takes is patience, perspective, and perseverance.
IN MEMORIAM: Carl Williams, who died April 17, was WBIR’s Anchor-Emeritus in tribute to his 37 years at the station. Sometime in the early Bruce Pearl era, the station broadcast a telethon that raised money for a worthy local cause. At one of the breaks during the telecast, Carl walked into the room and immediately earned a standing ovation from everyone present. The man had a presence. Carl Williams was “Straight from the Heart” long before that term ever entered the East Tennessee vernacular.