By Tom Mattingly
When Vol fans discuss the great teams in Tennessee football history, several squads come quickly to mind, e.g., 1928, 1938, 1939, 1950, 1951, 1956, 1967, 1970, 1985, 1989, 1995 and 1998.
Here’s one vote for the 1965 team to be included among those elite teams.
Doug Dickey was in his second year as head coach, having amassed a 4-5-1 record a year earlier. Media members surmised the Vols weren’t ready for a schedule that included Auburn, Alabama, Georgia Tech, and Ole Miss and predicted the Vols would finish near the SEC cellar.
The season opened Sept. 18 against Army at Neyland Stadium, with a crowd of 48,500 watching intently to see if the program might be gaining traction. Sophomore quarterback Charles Fulton threw touchdown passes to team captain Hal Wantland and Austin Denney, and Jerry Smith added a 64-yard punt return for a touchdown, as the Vols won, 21-0.
(That day, for the first time, the Vols had entered Shields-Watkins Field from their east side dressing room through a “T” formed by the “Pride of the Southland Marching Band,” an idea brought to Dickey by band director Dr. W. J. Julian.)
Against Auburn, Fulton scored twice, giving hope that the Vols would break a losing streak against the Tigers that dated to 1961. Each team missed an extra point, leading to the 13-13 deadlock.
South Carolina’s erratic kicking game helped the Vols score 17 points. Sophomore tailback Walter Chadwick scored two touchdowns, and David Leake kicked a field goal and caught a TD pass. The final was 24-3.
A play called “99-Quick” was the key to the Alabama game’s final seconds. With the game tied 7-7, Tide quarterback “Snake” Stabler had led the Tide to the shadow of the Vol goal at the south end of Legion Field.
Thinking it was third down, he threw the ball out of bounds to stop the clock and set up a game-winning field goal. However, it was actually fourth down, and the Vols had earned an inspirational tie. “Alabama tied us,” said Wantland after the game. Sports Illustrated covered the game with a color picture spread across two pages, showing Wantland diving unsuccessfully for the end zone.
Against Houston, in a game played the week after the West Knoxville car-train wreck that cost assistant coaches Bob Jones, Bill Majors and Charles Rash their lives, the Vols scored 17 points in the second half to win 17-8.
Against No. 7 Georgia Tech two weeks later, the Vols had another second half surge to win, 21-7. Fulton rushed for 133 yards and passed for another 108. A Neyland Stadium sellout crowd of 52,174 saw the Vols dominate the game on both sides of the ball.
The season’s only loss came in Memphis, as decrepit, but historic Crump Stadium had given way to a new stadium on the Fairgrounds. Ole Miss took a 14-13 decision, but there was one significant historic footnote. Fulton banged up an ankle on the game’s first play, with Vol fans being introduced to sophomore quarterback Dewey Warren, who brought considerable excitement to the team’s passing game.
The Vols clinched a Bluebonnet Bowl bid at Stoll Field in Lexington by defeating Kentucky, 19-3. Interceptions by Doug Archibald and Frank Emanuel led to Warren scoring twice on short runs.
In the home season finale against Vanderbilt, a 21-3 Vol win, Mitchell opened the scoring with a 61-yard run. The No. 9 Vols added two touchdowns in the second quarter, as Warren threw a 20-yard TD pass to Denney and Mitchell scored from 1 yard out.
In the season finale against No. 5 UCLA, in another Memphis game, Warren led a gamewinning 65-yard TD drive, with Dewey scoring the game-winner from one yard out on a play that seemed to take forever. The final was 37-34.
When the No. 7 Vols squared off against Tulsa in the Bluebonnet Bowl, it was the Vols’ first post-season action since the 1957 Gator Bowl. The trip served as a well-deserved reward for a season played under the most difficult conditions imaginable. On a rain-swept afternoon, the Vols won 27-6.
Dickey was named SEC “Coach of the Year.” Emanuel earned All-American and All-SEC honors, while defensive end Bobby Frazier was also named All-SEC. Wantland won the SEC’s Jacobs Trophy, emblematic of the league’s best blocker.
The Vol finished No.7 in both national polls. Over the next four years, the Vols went 8-3, 9-2, 8-2-1, and 9-2, playing in bowl games each season and winning SEC titles in 1967 and 1969, proving that Dickey was the right man at the right time for the Vol program.