‘Memories by the bushel’

By Tom Mattingly

Over the years, football fans seem to make critical, life-changing decisions about team allegiances in their most tender years and live with the impact of those decisions through the rest of their lives. College football fans rarely change their allegiances except under the most dire circumstances.

David Housel’s experience is a classic.

Housel, former sports information director and athletic director at Auburn and an unswerving Tiger loyalist, attended his first Auburn-Alabama game in 1956 (Auburn 34, Alabama 7). Afterwards, Housel, then 10 years old, wrote letters to both schools, asking for information about their teams.

Housel has recalled that Auburn sent him a football guide, along with a note thanking him for being an Auburn fan. Alabama sent him a media guide and a bill for two dollars.

As a result, Alabama got its two bucks.

Auburn got his heart.

Clay Travis, author of “On Rocky Top: A Front Row Seat to the End of an Era,” remembered what it was like when he was six years old as his family prepared to watch the 1986 Sugar Bowl game against Miami.

“As the seconds ticked down to kickoff,” Clay wrote, “the University of Tennessee’s ‘Pride of the Southland Marching Band,’ wearing fluorescent orange, formed the T and the UT players rushed out from the tunnel into the bright lights. For the first time in my life, I felt butterflies in my stomach.”

Tennessee fans know, perhaps instinctively, they wouldn’t want to be anything but Vol fans. Fans of other schools may also feel that way, but they can tell their story themselves.

Fans remember carefully what has transpired, harking to the drama and excitement that are part of Vol football. There are stories, stories, and more stories, some embellished over the years and some not needing to be.

“Tennessee football is long-winded discussions about which group was greatest and who was the best player of all-time,” Marvin West once wrote. “Was it Gene McEver or Bob Foxx or Bert Rechichar or Condredge Holloway or Carl Pickens? Bob Suffridge thought it might have been Bob Suffridge. Peyton Manning would have never been so presumptive.”

There are memories by the bushel, from a passel of influential people who wore orange and white on Saturday afternoons and evenings. It doesn’t take much to get the memory banks cranked up, the discussions started.

Someone says, “That reminds me of the time,” and things are off and running. Everyone has a favorite Tennessee memory. Most of them are true. Here are a few of the best from the 1960s and 1970s.

In the 1964 season, team captain Steve DeLong dominated the defensive front, winning the Outland Trophy while playing for a 4-5-1 team.

Dewey “Swamp Rat” Warren earned a chance under center against Ole Miss in 1965 and somehow found his way to the winning score in the UCLA game a few weeks later. Frank Emanuel also earned All-American honors that season.

There were an amazing three years of Tennessee-Alabama, 1965–1967, when the tally was 1-1-1, yet either team could have won all three games. Each went down to the final frantic moments.

Gary Wright deserves another shot at a game-winning field goal at the south end of Shields-Watkins Field in the rain against Alabama in October 1966. How does Tennessee 13, Alabama 11, sound in retrospect, instead of Alabama 11, Tennessee 10?

Bubba Wyche led the final drive against Georgia in 1968, completing a touchdown pass to Gary Kreis and a two-point conversion to Ken DeLong after time had run out.

Then there was Condredge Holloway (1972-74), continually making something out of nothing, evading tacklers time after time and looking brilliant while doing so.

We might wish for Bill Dyer to draw one more DyerGram. We might also want to take one more look at the scoreboard clock on the Hill that was really a clock, with minute and second hands.

When it comes to loyalty and service to their fellow teammates, more people should know what Elliott Gammage and Rod Harkleroad, both now deceased, did for Steve DeLong in his hour of greatest need. When they reunited Steve and Doug Dickey at a North Knoxville healthcare facility, there were precious few dry eyes in the room.

Elliott was an inspiration to everyone he ever knew. The same can be said about Rod.

Dave Loggins, a native of Mountain City, wrote and performed a song called “Orange Memories,” as part of the “100 Years of Volunteers” ceremonies in November 1990. It’s about five minutes long and is full of memories of the players and games that have enriched and defined the fan experience and added excitement to all our lives. You can find it on Vimeo “Orange Memories.”