Football under the lights

By Tom Mattingly

Before the 1972 season, night games were not part of the Tennessee football experience. There were no lights at Shields-Watkins Field/Neyland Stadium, and the Vols played sparingly under the lights on the road or in bowl games. The 2 p.m. kickoff was an article of faith.

There were games under the lights at Florida and against Arkansas in the Liberty Bowl in 1971, at Memphis State in 1969, at Rice and against Auburn at Legion Field in 1968, against Oklahoma in the 1968 Orange Bowl, at UCLA in 1967, against Mississippi State in 1964 at Crump Stadium in Memphis, and the debut game under the lights at LSU in 1944.

That all changed in 1972 when Tennessee and Penn State kicked off the home season Sept. 16, in a rematch of the 1971 contest, won by Tennessee, 31-11. Tennessee was ranked No. 7, Penn State No. 6. Kickoff was 7:30 p.m.

The game was not on television and ESPN was several years away, so precious few others than the stadium record crowd of 71,647 present for the history-making encounter can remember what the atmosphere was like.

“It was just an electric situation,” head coach Bill Battle said of the ambiance of the evening. “That’s the only way I can describe it. The players just looked faster and quicker.”

The Vols got the capacity crowd into the game with interceptions by Eddie Brown and Art Reynolds, fumble recoveries by David Allen and Carl Johnson, and touchdowns by Haskel Stanback and Steve Chancey to build a 21-0 halftime lead. Condredge Holloway dazzled the crowd by eluding Penn State defenders, and Vol defenders were keeping the Penn State offense on its side of the 50.

Penn State was nobody’s pushover, however, and the Nittany Lions roared back in the second half. Quarterback John Hufnagel tossed a 69-yard pass to Jimmy Scott for State’s first score. After a Vol fumble led to another score, it was 21-14, and the battle was on.

On their first drive of the fourth quarter, the Vols moved 80 yards in 13 plays to another score that widened the margin to 28-14. Holloway showed senior-like poise in leading the drive, getting himself out of a number of tight situations.

With the ball on the State 33, Holloway got loose up the middle on one of his trademark “now-you-see-him, now you-don’t-type runs” that had the crowd on its feet wondering what he could do for an encore. It was first down at the 19. Two plays later, he found wide receiver Stan Trott for a first down by inches…

On second-and-goal from the nine and under duress, Holloway rolled to his right at the south end zone and made a late pitch to Stanback, who grabbed the ball with his left hand and somehow made it to the two. Haskel scored on the next play, and the Vols had some breathing room at 28-14.

Not for long. State had an immediate reply. Hufnagel moved the Nittany Lions 79 yards in nine plays, cutting the margin to 28-21, the eventual final score.

When Penn State grabbed a fumble at the Vol 34 moments later, it appeared the Nittany Lions might be poised to tie or go ahead. After Hufnagel was sacked, for a 6-yard loss, the Vols stopped three passes and took over on downs.

Penn State had one last chance, as Hufnagel made the plays with Vol defenders clawing at his jersey. The drive was stopped at the Vol 26, and that was the game.

“This was a big game for us, but losing it doesn’t mean the end of our season,” Joe Paterno told Glenn Sheely, sports editor of the Daily Collegian, after the game. “Our kids came back from what could have been a disaster game. They showed their poise.” The Nittany Lions reeled off 10 consecutive victories on their way to a Sugar Bowl matchup against Oklahoma.

Battle praised his colleague across the field.

“I was never a great Joe Paterno fan,” Bill said, “but I became one after the two games we played. After taking care of his team and the media, he came over and shook hands with our players. His classiest line was, ‘I told the people in State College I was not leaving Knoxville without being in the winning dressing room, but I didn’t envision it being this way.’”

As the years have progressed, Vol fans have taken to nocturnal contests with the same zeal, if not more, they’ve always possessed for afternoon games. The ambiance is still there, as is the unbridled support for the players wearing the orange jerseys.