‘A mind-numbing array of numbers’

By Tom Mattingly

There are times the game-by-game scores listed in the 2023 Tennessee Football Record Book, pp. 322-339, are a mind-numbing array of numbers, assembled neatly through seasons stretching from that first game in 1891, Sewanee 24, Tennessee 0, through to more recent years.

The Football Record Book, formerly known as a media guide or brochure, is short on the elements of plot, but you can find the answers to almost any questions you might have about most every game and the resulting score.

No one has had the patience or inclination to count how many different scores there have been, but there are certain scores that stand out, that bring clarity to the memory banks.

Witness 35-34… 37-34… 15-13… 23-16… 16-14… 20-14… 24-13… 31-11… 35-28… 52-49.

Here are the stories and opponents behind those scores.

35-34, Nov. 9, 1991. Tennessee defeated Notre Dame at South Bend, but it was no ordinary game. The Vols trailed 31-7, 31-14 at the half, but rallied to win. Freshman placekicker John Becksvoort dreamed of winning the game with a field goal, but an extra point proved plenty.

37-34, Dec. 4, 1965. Tennessee and UCLA squared off in the famed “Rosebonnet Bowl” game at the new stadium in Memphis. The Vols and Bruins combined for 71 points in an unprecedented offensive display. Dewey Warren scored the game-winner at left end on one of the longest 1-yard runs ever.

15-13, Oct. 20, 1928. On Denny Field in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Tennessee defeated Alabama in a game highlighted by Gene McEver’s 98-yard TD run with the opening kickoff. This is the game that brought the Vol program and Bob Neyland into the bright sunlight of big-time college football.

23-16, Jan. 4, 1999. In a game no one has forgotten, Tennessee knocked off Florida State, in the inaugural BCS Championship Game. Tee Martin had a 79-yard touchdown pass to Peerless Price. Dwayne Goodrich had an interception return for a touchdown and won Defensive MVP honors, despite being injured and missing the second half.

16-14, Oct. 19, 1985. Dale Jones had a point-blank interception off Mike Shula on Legion Field, saving the game and highlighting a season in which the Vols won the SEC title and a berth in the Sugar Bowl. The Vols lost starting quarterback Tony Robinson to a knee injury, but found a capable replacement in Daryl Dickey. That led to a memorable Sugar Bowl win over Miami on New Year’s Day 1986.

20-14… Take your pick of the triumph over Texas in the Cotton Bowl Jan. 1, 1951, or a similar score over Ohio State in the Florida Citrus Bowl Jan. 1, 1996. In 1951, Hank Lauricella, Andy Kozar, and Cowboy Hill led the way. Kozar scored twice, while Hill had an interception and fumble recovery. Lauricella had a memorable 75-yard run, leading to a first quarter tally. In 1996, Jay Graham had a long TD run, Joey Kent caught a TD pass, and Bill Duff had a key stop on Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George in the shadow of the Vol goal.

24-13, Oct 21, 1967. In the late afternoon of the Third Saturday in October, Vol fans knew the Vols were back, after third-string quarterback Bubba Wyche led the offensive side of a 24-13 victory. It was the first over the Tide since 1960. Albert Dorsey had three interceptions off Snake Stabler in the fourth quarter to fend off an Alabama comeback. Sophomore safety Mike Jones made the cover of Sports Illustrated. Doug Dickey called it the most significant triumph of his Tennessee career.

31-11, Dec. 4, 1971. Penn State was 10-0 coming to Knoxville for the season finale and celebration of ”Majors Family Day.” Bobby Majors had two long kickoff returns and 44-yard punt return for a score. Conrad Graham had a 76-yard TD run off a fumbled pitchout by State quarterback John Hufnagel. He outlegged the more heralded Franco Harris and Lydell Mitchell down the east sideline to the north end.

35-28, Oct. 16, 1982. The Vols defeated Alabama, 35-28, breaking a losing streak that dated to 1971. Vol quarterback Alan Cockrell threw the ball all over the field, and Mike Terry had the game-clinching interception in the final seconds. The game marked Bear Bryant’s final appearance at Neyland Stadium.

52-49, Oct. 16, 2022. In the highest scoring game in series history, Chase McGrath kicked a 40-yard field goal at the final horn to give the Vols a narrow victory. It was the first triumph over the Crimson Tide since a 16-13 victory Oct. 15, 2006. Hendon Hooker threw an unprecedented five TD passes to wide receiver Jalin Hyatt. Fans swarmed the field in celebration mere seconds after the scoreboard showed Tennessee in the lead.


Scores… numbers… opponents… nothing more?

If you look closely, there are some great stories behind those numbers.