By Tom Mattingly
Through the years, there have been a number of famous quotations from Tennessee players, coaches, and others associated with the Vol program about any number of subjects. They’re definitely part of the Tennessee lore and legend.
When Tom Elam, trustee and athletic board member, asked future head coach Doug Dickey how to change from the single-wing to the “T,” Dickey had a three-word answer: “Get a quarterback.”
After meeting Bob Johnson and John Boynton, offensive linemen in the 6-3, 240-pound range, on a recruiting trip shortly after he was hired in December 1963, Dickey was pleasantly surprised. “This has to be the greatest job in the world if the first two guys I see look like that,” he said.
Before the 1976 Vanderbilt game, Bill Battle told his team that there were several definitions of “class.” “Class is when they run you out of town and make you look like you’re leading the parade,” he said.
After the 1956 Tennessee-Georgia Tech game, a 6-0 Vol win, writers asked Bowden Wyatt why Bobby Dodd punted on fourth-and-four at the Vol 29 instead of going for the first down. Wyatt, like Dodd, a star player under Gen. Bob Neyland, said, “Because he wouldn’t have made it.”
While Tennessee was building a new press box in the early 1960s, Neyland laid down a challenge to the media covering the Vols. “We’re going to build the best press box in the country. We hope it will improve the writing that’s done there.”
Former wide receiver Lester McClain had a clear thought process about being the first African-American to play at Tennessee: “There was a time you question whether you want to pack your bags and go home. I would be lying if I said I never considered that. But I just couldn’t. I knew the next day the headlines would read, ‘Lester McClain, first black athlete, quits U-T.’”
Condredge Holloway knew the drill when he became the first African-American quarterback at Tennessee and in the SEC. “I never went out thinking I was Martin Luther King or anything like that. I went out to do my job and play football. That was as much self-survival as anything.”
In 1972, after a 14-0 win at Georgia, defensive back Conrad Graham summarized the contest in 19 well-chosen words. “I don’t know how well we played, but when the game was over, the other side didn’t have any.”
When Chancellor Jack Reese introduced John Majors on Dec. 3, 1976, as Tennessee’s new head coach, his opening remarks began, “After an extensive nationwide search….” Majors, on his way to a national championship at Pittsburgh, was the “people’s choice.” No one else would have been acceptable.
“It is enough for longtime residents of this community to say he was a Majors.” That’s what Haywood Harris wrote after the death of Bill Majors in October 1965. That sentiment could have equally applied to any other member of that famed Tennessee family.
When Neyland promoted Gus Manning to Business Manager in 1960, he told Gus to do a “nationwide search” for his replacement. Gus had a ready answer. “I think Haywood is in his office,” he said, and that settled that.
There was another media conference on March 5, 1997, when everybody expected Peyton Manning to announce he was going pro. This time, the conventional wisdom was wrong.
“I made up my mind, and I don’t ever expect to look back,” Peyton said. “I’m going to stay at the University of Tennessee.” That brought cheers and applause from the non-media types in the audience.
In June 1998, when John Ward announced he was retiring from the Vol Network, he was as succinct as always.
“I have a prepared statement, and I’m going to read it. Verbatim.
Ward was equally succinct after the Vols, trailing 24-22 late in the 1998 Arkansas game, got the pigskin on the Arkansas 43 after a Razorback fumble. Henry got the ball five times covering the requisite yardage, and the Vols won on their way to the national championship.
“They need to give it to Henry,” Ward said.
Former offensive guard Don Denbo (1968-70) was sitting at practice one day many years ago, when a heralded freshman came onto the field. Somebody asked him how many of his 1967 recruiting class—which included Tim Priest, Bobby Scott, Chip Kell, Jim Woody, McClain, Mike Bevans, George Silvey, Joe Thompson, and Ronnie Drummonds—could have played as freshmen. After a significant pause, Don came up with another right-to-the-point answer.
“Other than me?”
What does all this prove?
There was never a dull moment being around the Vols.