Keeping fans breathless until the game ended

By Tom Mattingly

There were 53 tie games across the history of the Tennessee football program. The tie game went out of fashion after the 1995 football season.

In 1955, Bowden Wyatt’s first season, Tennessee and Georgia Tech fought to a 7-7 deadlock on Shields-Watkins Field. Wyatt was disappointed. “It was tied when we started. We wanted to win,” he said, but Tennessee partisans saw it as a positive, a building block for what was to come in 1956 and 1957, an SEC title in 1956 and a Gator Bowl appearance in 1957.

There were three ties early in Doug Dickey’s Tennessee career that indicated Dickey had the Vols on the right track. A fourth tie, the 17-17 deadlock in the 1968 season opener against Georgia, was significant enough to be the lead story in the next week’s Sports Illustrated, written by Dan Jenkins.

There was a 3-3 stalemate in 1964 in which the Vols were heavy underdogs on Homecoming Day at Tiger Stadium. Steve DeLong, the 1964 Outland Trophy winner and a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, led a goal line stand that is revered by those who remember being at the game, seeing it on television, or who have only seen pictures or videotape.

A year later, the Vols and Auburn tied in Knoxville, 13-13. A missed extra point by both teams and two interceptions by Auburn defensive tackle Jack Thornton helped seal the outcome.

Later that season, perhaps the most famous tie in Tennessee history took place at Legion Field in Birmingham, when the Vols squared off against defending national champion Alabama.

The Vols and Tide were locked into an intense defensive struggle going into the final seconds with the scoreboard reading, 7-7. Alabama was in the shadow of the Vol goal at the south end, needing only a field goal to win.

Sophomore signal-caller Ken “Snake” Stabler, who made a career of leading last-second drives for winning points, lost track of the downs, trying to kill the clock to set up placekicker David Ray for the game-winner. It was a good premise, but bad execution. It was fourth down, not third, and the ball went over to the Vols.

Tennessee captain Hal Wantland said, “Alabama tied us.” That statement caused many Vol fans to believe Tennessee had its “swagger” back.

The 1968 Georgia game was an equally memorable deadlock, with the Vols pulling out the tie by scoring eight points on a touchdown and two-point conversion after time had run out. Bubba Wyche led the way, throwing a TD pass to wide receiver Gary Kreis as the final horn went off, then hitting tight end Ken DeLong for the tying two-pointer.

There were two ties in 1974. One came in the season opener against UCLA, the day an injured Condredge Holloway returned from the hospital to lead the game-tying drive. The other came the regular season finale at Vanderbilt, when Condredge found wide receiver Larry Seivers for the tying (and controversial) two-point conversion.

Tennessee and LSU tied in 1982, 24-24, on a night LSU had vendors selling T-shirts commemorating what they had hoped would be LSU’s 500th victory.

The Vols refused to cooperate, however, and LSU ended the evening at 499 wins. That game led to a memorable Vol victory the next week, the 35-28 win over Alabama in Bear Bryant’s final appearance in Knoxville.

In 1990, Tennessee garnered a “good tie” against Colorado in the season opener in Anaheim Stadium, twice coming from 14 points down in the fourth quarter. At Auburn a few weeks later, Tennessee led 26-9 starting the fourth quarter, but Auburn scored 17 points to escape with a tie. It was a “good tie” for Auburn, a bad one for the Vols.

In 1995, a 26-26 tie in the opener against UCLA had the feeling of a loss, as the Bruins came from 16 points down to tie the game. Later in the season, Tennessee tied Georgia Tech on a Carlos Reveiz field goal from 51 yards out. That one felt like a win.

The conventional wisdom would tell us that ties were always exciting, keeping fans breathless until the game ended.

That was not always the case, however, as witnessed by the 1953 Tennessee-Alabama game. The game, telecast by NBC, ended 0-0, with network programming executives repeatedly expressing their displeasure over the course of the game to announcers Lindsey Nelson and Mel Allen, alums of Tennessee and Alabama, respectively.

The tie game is no longer with us but has left us with a treasure trove of memories