By Tom Mattingly
Traveling to various venues with the Tennessee Volunteers is very enjoyable, and there are some intriguing stories, many of which can be told in the pages of a family newspaper.
Lindsey Nelson has reported that, while in California for the 1940 Rose Bowl, there were innumerable photos taken featuring Vol players and assorted Hollywood starlets, some big names, some not.
Lindsey recalled one actress giving him a small piece of paper autographed as follows: “To Lindsey-Do it for me, Lana Turner.”
He also mentioned she likely confused him with a Vol gridiron star. Lindsey did not look or act like George Cafego or Bob Suffridge, or even Bob Neyland, but when Lana Turner beckoned, Lindsey did as he was told.
“’The note itself did not specify what it was that Miss Turner wanted me to do for her,”
Lindsey wrote in his autobiography. “But in the succeeding years I spent in the Army, I carried that note in my wallet. It got lots of attention and enhanced my stock.”
There was a fan encounter with another Hollywood personage more than 50 years later.
On a 1994 road trip to Pasadena for the season opener with UCLA, several of us met Jimmy Stewart at a book signing.
Unfortunately, Stewart, at age 86, was not well. We were told not to talk with him, but he did nod and wave at each of us as we walked through the line.
In 1976, a bunch of us went to Gainesville, Fla., to “ Alligator Alley,” to see the basketball
Vols take on the Gators. There were several notable things about that game.
While 4,000 or so fans were packed into the arena and excited about the game, the Gator gymnastics team was behind the bleachers at one end of the court going through their paces. They didn’t seem at all interested in what was transpiring on the court.
(They were much like the two lovers atop Cherokee Bluff who did not seem to care about Tennessee football practice on faraway Hudson Field. Neyland had suspected they were spies, sending Gus Manning up there more than once to check things out. Gus reported that they did not seem interested in Neyland’s No. 10 play or anything else happening way down below).
The game was decided on a charge-block call as Bernard King went to the hoop, one of those calls’ analysts say could have gone either way.
The Vols didn’t get the call, and the good guys lost.
One of our traveling party was so distraught that he called a friend back home and asked what John Ward had said on the Vol Network.
“Ward said it was a good call,” was the response.
Marvin West has reported that the basketball road trips in the late 1960s and early 1970s, starting Friday afternoon and ending early Monday morning, often tried everyone’s patience. There was a lot of time spent sitting around, waiting for the games. That vacuum of things to do led to some real shenanigans.
Ward and A.W. Davis, maybe others, worked overtime looking for ways to get under Bud Ford’s skin, once stealing the blankets and sheets out of his room and finding other sophomoric ways to needle him. These were grown men, mind you.
When Bud found out and demanded his stuff back, either Ward or Davis called hotel security, and Bud ended up in the firm grip of the local constabulary, almost hauled off to jail.
Cooler heads eventually prevailed. Bud was not arrested and his bedding was returned. “Two decades later,” Marvin wrote, “none of the group could tell the police part without breaking up in laughter. Incidentally, they don’t think basketball trips are as fun as they used to be.”
Finally, there was a time in Lexington that the fire alarm at the Marriott Griffin Gate Hotel went off in the wee hours of the morning, before the 1987 Kentucky game. There was commotion up and down the hall.
A rookie SID staffer asked Harris what to do.
The answer came back quickly: “Don’t do anything until you smell smoke.” There was no smoke, everybody calmed down, and sleep overtook everyone involved.
Tennessee ended up winning the game, 24-22, when Mike Whitehead came from deep on the depth chart to make a critical fourth down tackle on Mark Higgs that saved the day.
Looking back at all these happenings, one thing is very clear.
Lindsey obviously got the best deal of all.