Memorable moments in Tennessee football history

Courtesy of the Mind’s Eye

By Tom Mattingly

One thing I’ve always tried to do, to give context to writing about Tennessee football games, is to let Vol fans know where important moments have happened on the field. It was all about the importance of direction in sports, particularly from the Tennessee perspective.

Consider Dec. 2, 1992, the day of the Tennessee-Vanderbilt game in Nashville and, simultaneously, the Alabama-Auburn game in Birmingham.

That day, Auburn blocked two punts, returning both for touchdowns at the north end of Legion Field. Auburn fans relished the moment as the Tigers overcame a 16-3 deficit to win 17-16. Auburn fans have memorialized the moment as the “Punt, Bama, Punt” game. On hearing the Alabama-Auburn result, someone in the stands in Nashville wondered aloud, “I wonder which way they were going,” after hearing about the blocked punts.

At about the same time, Tennessee was leading Vanderbilt 16-10 with the game still very much in doubt. That caused great angst among the Tennessee faithful, who foresaw the same thing happening right in front of them. The Vols eventually won 30-10, but the game, played in a swirling windstorm, was an adventure all the way.

Once plays are captured in the mind’s eye, here’s an important question. How many significant events have taken place at each end of the field?

Hank Lauricella was going north on his famous run against Texas in the 1951 Cotton Bowl.

In 1959, the Vols — most notably Bill Majors, Wayne Grubb, and Charles Severance —stopped LSU’s Billy Cannon short of the north goal on a two-point conversion attempt early in the fourth quarter, won by Tennessee 14-13. The Tigers had three other chances to win the game, but could not pull the trigger in Vol territory.

Ken Stabler threw the ball away on fourth down, not third as he thought, at the southeast corner of Legion Field in the final seconds of the 1965 contest against Alabama. For Tennessee, that 7-7 deadlock was one of those “inspirational ties.” After the game, Vol captain Hal Wantland said, “Alabama tied us.”

Gary Wright’s missed field goal was at the south end of Neyland Stadium in the 1966 Alabama game.

Bubba Wyche led the first drives of the 1967 and 1968 games against Alabama to the south end of both Legion Field and Shields-Watkins Field. Both possessions resulted in touchdowns that proved pivotal in Vol victories.

Conrad Graham returned a fumbled pitchout against Penn State in 1971 to the north end, with Franco Harris in hot pursuit. Conrad may not have outrun many people during his time as a Vol, but he did outrun Franco.

Johnnie Jones went 66 yards for a score to the north end of Legion Field in 1983 to help defeat Alabama, 41-34.

Alabama was driving to the north end of Legion Field in 1985 when Dale Jones made his point-blank interception off Mike Shula.

Tennessee was heading to the north end of Notre Dame Stadium in the 1991 Notre Dame game, scoring on an Andy Kelly toss to Aaron Hayden. That was the end zone in front of “Touchdown Jesus.” Jeremy Lincoln made the key defensive stop, blocking a Fighting Irish field goal attempt at the south end to cinch the come-from-behind triumph. The final was 35-34, as the Vols, once trailing 31-7 in the second quarter, came all the way back to win and take an improbable victory.

Peyton Manning’s 80-yard TD pass to start the 1995 Alabama game in Birmingham went south to north to Joey Kent, on “Play No. 1,” as John Ward told uncounted thousands on the Vol Network.

In 1999, Tee Martin’s fourth-quarter TD pass to Peerless Price in Tempe went south to north, with Peerless handing the ball to the official after he scored, just the way he was supposed to. That play helped bring the National Championship home to Knoxville.

Buck Fitzgerald’s play against Jabar Gaffney in the 2001 Florida game was at the southeast corner of Florida Field/Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, helping protect a 34-32 lead. It was Steve Spurrier’s final game on the home side in Gainesville.

Chase McGrath kicked a 40-yard field goal at the south end to cap a 52-49 triumph over Alabama in one of the best games ever played on Shields-Watkins Field. That led to a celebration that lasted well into the evening, including one of the goalposts ending up in the Tennessee River.

Is there a pattern here? Do the Vols play better at the north or south end of the field? Or does it matter?



IN MEMORIAM: Over the years, Bob Booker and I shared a friendship and a love for the written word. Getting words on the computer screen or typewriter through to the printed page is never easy, but Bob made it look easy. He was a multi-talented man, perhaps even a “Renaissance Man,” who left his mark on the Knoxville community. He lived a life full of memorable moments and earned the respect of thoughtful men and women. Requiescat in pace.