By Steve Williams
This had become a season to remember on Rocky Top before it was even half over.
The remarkable rally past Florida had many UT fans calling the 38-28 victory the greatest comeback in Tennessee football history.
For some folks it may very well be. For others, like me, who were around to enjoy the Miracle at South Bend in 1991, the 35-34 win over Notre Dame was also special.
I’ve watched the replay of that game many times over the years and never get tired of it.
The Vols were down 31-7 late in the first half and the Fighting Irish were moving in for more points. With the guys in those gold helmets lining up for a field goal, it was looking like it would soon be 34-7, but then we hear John Ward’s call: “Darryl Hardy blocks, Floyd Miley picks. Floyd Miley can fly. He returns it all the way for a touchdown and turns this thing back Tennessee’s way.”
(The quote above is from memory and may not be exactly word for word, but I guarantee you it’s very close).
Before I go any further, I want to make something clear. My objective is not to argue which comeback – the one against Notre Dame or the one against Florida this season or any other– is the greatest. I look forward to watching the replay of this season’s Florida game over and over. What was it? Thirty-eight unanswered points by our Vols after being behind 21-0 in the second quarter? I could feel the momentum turn, couldn’t you?
And I’ll never get tired of Tim Priest’s on-air call on Jauan Jennings’ catch, bobble, catch and run down the sideline just an inch or so away from being out of bounds. “Get ya some of that Jalen Tabor …” shouts Tim.
Then there’s the game at Georgia the following week. And we are treated to the greatest winning play in UT football history. The Hail Mary. Jennings, again, making a play even bigger than the week before as he pulls down the game-winning pass from Joshua Dobbs.
Is there another play in Tennessee football history that even rivals it? Nope, not in my book.
Now, we’ve seen a lot of great plays. Some of my favorites … Peyton Manning’s game-opening bomb to Joey Kent at Alabama in 1995 and Manning’s naked bootleg against the Tide in the same game, a 41-14 blowout… Larry Seivers stretching as high as he can for a two-point catch of a pass from Condredge Holloway that beat Clemson in the 1970s … Peerless Price pulling down that long pass from Tee Martin just inside the sideline and end zone to put the Vols ahead of Mississippi State in the 1998 SEC title game … Dale Jones’ interception of Alabama quarterback Mike Shula’s pass at point-blank range in 1985… Bill Duff stuffing Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George at the goal line as the Vols whipped Ohio State in the 1996 Citrus Bowl. I think that’s when Ward exclaimed: “He … did … not … make … it!”
There’s never been a finish like we saw this season Between the Hedges. Georgia throws a bomb and goes ahead with only 10 seconds left. Georgia fans go crazy. Then the Hail Mary and Tennessee fans are rejoicing. I can’t remember feeling that good since the Clint Storner fumble in 1998 opened the door for Tennessee to beat Arkansas and stay on track for its perfect season and national championship.
With the second half of the season getting underway this week, I have a request. Could we please see the Crimson against the Orange when Tennessee hosts Alabama at Neyland Stadium this coming Saturday? Traditional fans of both teams, I believe, would absolutely love it.
It would be like a cherry on the top of one special season. And like Phillip Fulmer once said, “It ain’t over yet!”