The way things appeared 19 years ago this month

By Tom Mattingly

AUTHOR’S PREFACE: Last Monday morning (Sept. 4) and into most of Tuesday (Sept. 5), the announcement of the new Smokey Grey uniforms honoring former Vol quarterback Condredge Holloway dominated our attention at the Mattingly household. Channel 10 had called that morning asking about Condredge and his impact on the Vol football program, and I did an interview that afternoon. The next day on, there was a story from July 2004 announcing that the Vols would wear their “throwback white jerseys.” Those jerseys featured an orange collar made famous in road games in 1971, 1972, and 1973. In those latter two years, Holloway was under center for the Vols. It was a fun story to read, until I realized halfway through, I had written it in a long-ago life working in the athletic department. Nineteen years later, here’s a look at another time the color of team jerseys was headline news.

Tennessee unveiled the retro jerseys it will wear in the season opener today at the Wolf-Kaplan Center at Neyland Stadium.

Don’t mess with your binoculars or rub your eyes when you get to Neyland Stadium for the UNLV game Sept. 5. That really is the Tennessee team out there on Shields-Watkins Field in the white jerseys.

That hasn’t happened since the Vols first unveiled orange jerseys on Sept. 23, 1922.

As part of honoring Tennessee’s storied football tradition, the Vols will open the 2004 campaign in a retro-look uniform originating from the 1970s. UT athletics director Mike Hamilton said Tennessee’s road uniform from that era had a unique look.

“The one uniform that stood out in uniqueness was the road uniform we wore in the early 1970s,” Hamilton said. “We’ve decided for one game only, we will wear our road whites and we’ve asked UNLV to wear red. I want to thank Adidas for working with us on this project.”

The season opener in September against UNLV offers a one-game break in that tradition, as the Vols will come out in retro jerseys, the white shirts with the orange shoulder/collars, made famous in the 1971, 1972 and 1973 seasons. It began in 1971 in Gainesville, Fla., a 20-13 Vol win and continued until the 1974 Auburn game on the Plains, when the Vols came out in more vanilla white shirts, ones with no orange shoulder and collar.

Hamilton said the season opener begins the process of having “family reunions” for different sports, beginning with football in 2004. All former UT football lettermen have been invited to the UNLV game for a reunion and will be recognized at halftime.

We’re happy to report that between 375 to 400 former football lettermen will be a part of this weekend,” Hamilton said. “The lettermen will be invited to the team’s final walk-through Saturday afternoon, then have individual team dinners on Saturday night, then participate in the Vol Walk to the stadium on Sunday with this year’s team. It will be a great opportunity for the fans to say thank you for what their contribution has been to Tennessee football history.”

Hamilton added other sports reunions will follow each year.

The whole issue of white jerseys is an intriguing part of Tennessee football history and lore.

Up until 1971, Tennessee wore white shirts on the road only out of necessity. You went to a road game, and the Vols were there decked out in orange. There were a few exceptions, however, that caused Vols fans to have the willies when white shirts were mentioned.

– Texas 16, Tennessee 0, in the 1953 Cotton Bowl

– Alabama 35, Tennessee 0, in 1963 at Birmingham

– Texas 36, Tennessee 13, in the 1969 Cotton Bowl

Former Vol tailback Mallon Faircloth was present that day in 1963 when the Vols trotted onto Legion Field in their new white shirts, part of the “Halloween” look that year under head coach Jim McDonald.

Faircloth, who received his UT law degree in 1968, was the last of the single-wing tailbacks. He is now a magistrate in the United States District Court, Middle District of Georgia, Columbus Division. He remembered that day nearly 41 years ago.

“We had new orange jerseys that season and new white ones had just come in,” he recalled. “They were the jerseys with stripes across the shoulder. I guess Coach McDonald wanted to change our luck.

“He didn’t discuss it with any of us. I think he told us that week we were wearing them. We were undermanned in the offensive line.”

The Vols recovered from their first three games in white to end up playing pretty well in the white shirts, assembling an 81-50-2 (.617) record over that time, all games obviously on the road. That’s 61.7 percent as opposed to an overall winning percentage in the school’s history of 69.8 (736-303-53).

So, Vol fans, you needn’t be afraid of the white shirts any longer.

That was the way things appeared 19 years ago this month.