A ‘number’ of things happened as Vols turned the Tide
By Steve Williams
Many adjectives were used to describe Tennessee’s recent triumph over Alabama at Neyland Stadium.
Here’s a new one for you: eerie good.
See what you think …
The long-running SEC series was played on the Third Saturday in October as usual, which fell on the 15th this autumn.
The Vols came into the game having lost 15 straight times to the Crimson Tide.
With the shootout at 49-all, Tennessee’s game-winning drive started with just 15 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
Quarterback Hendon Hooker had just enough time to complete two passes. The last one to wide receiver Bru McCoy put the Orange and White in field goal range with two seconds on the clock. McCoy wears No. 15.
With the 52-49 win, the Vols moved up to No. 3 in the national rankings last week and received – you guessed it – 15 first-place votes.
What a season so far!
Most Tennessee fans were predicting the Vols to go 8-4 or maybe 9-3 in 2022. Heck, that would be quite a step up considering the program was only a year removed from Jeremy Pruitt’s last season in 2020, which ended with a 3-7 record and alleged NCAA rules violations.
Heupel showed improvement on and off the field with a 7-6 overall mark in 2021.
But now the Vols are 6-0 and in the playoff conversation. Only Georgia is expected to be favored over them in the remaining six regular season games.
UT also was the toast of college football when it took down Nick Saban and his almighty Red Elephants. And Tennessee did it with several of its top players sidelined, including Cedric Tillman.
Jalin Hyatt, however, filled Tillman’s absence in record-breaking fashion, with five of his six receptions chalking up touchdowns. Hyatt was the National Player of the Week for his remarkable performance.
Heupel is also in the national spotlight after being in Knoxville for just 21 months. Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports has Heupel as his favorite for National Coach of the Year at the season’s halfway mark.
And what’s good too about Heupel is that he loves Rocky Top as much as its fans love him!
What a sight to behold!
The Sea of Orange that flooded Shields-Watkins Field … A goalpost taken down and on its way to a resting place in the Tennessee River … Fans hugging and crying … and not just from the smoke of the victory cigars, a tradition happily renewed.
Sure it cost UT a $100,000 SEC fine for the fans coming onto the field after the game. Everyone knew it was going to happen. Most everyone wanted it to happen.
Outnumbered security guards ended up helping fans come onto the field safely.
It was a risk most fans wanted to take, just as the players know there is a risk of injury on each and every play. I guess they felt it was a risk worth taking.
During the game, Neyland Stadium had never been louder. A new decibel record of 124 was set, breaking the former record of 118½.
It was also the “most watched” college game of the season, peaking at 16.9 million viewers.
I have no information on how many times Smoky howled or Rocky Top was sung. I’ll just say a lot.
Many new memories made!
With the victory over Alabama coming before the Vols’ Homecoming game against UT-Martin, fans had the whole week to reflect on new memories they made and retell good old memories of the past. Here in Knoxville, such stories could be shared with listeners on sports talk radio shows from dawn to dusk. I made a few notes along the way …
I heard about the Ohio State fan who said he just had to be at the UT game. He had never been here before. He bought UT orange and dressed like a Vol fan from head to toe. He hollered for Tennessee to win throughout the entire game.
One man recalled wearing Black and Gold to his first UT game years ago and came home wearing an Orange sweatshirt. (Sounded like that game must have been in Nashville.)
This same man sat on a row of UT fans at the Bama game and told us how they all had arms locked right before Chase McGrath kicked the winning field goal. “It was like a 15-year exhale,” he said.
One dad said: “My kids finally got to see a great win like I did in ’98.”
One man told about having to go to a wedding in Mountain City on the day of the game. “I just knew that was going to happen,” he said. “I had ear buds in the whole time and when we won I ran circles around the people in from Virginia and Virginia Tech.”
And finally, there was an 80-year-old Alabama fan who came over after the game to a group of UT fans and hugged them, saying “I’m happy for you” and then he turned and walked away.
A personal note …
I received a text message from my first cousin Teresa, who lives in Florida, on Sunday morning after the game …
Teresa: “You guys are going to need a new goal post! I wish your dad could have seen that.” (Grinning emoji)
Me: Dad may not have been there but I BELIEVE he saw it!
Me: I’m glad you thought of him this morning and probably last night too as I did. Love you Teresa!
My dad (Bob Williams of Clinton, who passed away in 2016) was a devoted Big Orange fan and he and mom (Bobbie, who passed away in 2019) went to many great UT games over the years. Our family had season tickets in the N section (south end zone).
My brother John bought two season tickets this year and he and his daughter Andrea, 28, were at the historic win over Bama.
John’s tickets are in section N, Row 9 and up close, he said.
“I wouldn’t buy tickets in any other section,” he said in respect of our dad.
While the tickets may cost a pretty penny, John said: “Yeah, but I’ll make a lot of special memories with Andrea.
“We went on the field and everything. Andrea was so excited. Experience of a lifetime and best day ever she said.”