The Third Saturday in October, 1995
(14 October 1995)
Tennessee 41 • Alabama 14
There are a fair number of people in Orange Nation who -- ignoring the whole "national championship thing" in 1998 -- are of the opinion that the 1995 Tennessee Volunteers may have been the best football team fielded by the Big Orange in the modern era. Regardless of whether they were better than any other team -- the 1995 Vols were pretty darn good, and were a hell of a lot of fun to watch. Thus, a few of the games from that season make my all-time list.
It’s probably not all that hard to figure out the first one (No, I’m not referring to the stinkin’ East Carolina Game)
I don’t know that I necessarily agree or disagree with the folks who think the 1995 team is better than the 1998 team. I think there are strong points that can be made for both squads, but hardly settle the issue. After all, who is "best" is really a matter of opinion. This is the sort of debate which leads Basilio to offer his catch phrase of deepest profundity:
"Hmmm .... Interesting."
Translation: "I really don’t feel like arguing with you about this because I can’t prove you’re wrong, and you can’t prove you’re right." Of course, some folks love trying to prove their opinions are fact or -- at a minimum -- are superior to your opinions ("Oh, but I can prove it! Really, I can -- with a crayon, a note from my Mother, and this bit of string..." ). The type of people who seem to gravitate toward that sort of behavior are usually a little short on knowledge and a little long on ego which, while annoying at times, is forgivable. The rest are just egomaniacal degenerates, politicians, and lawyers (ugh)...
... but I digress (sigh).
By the time 1995 rolled around Tennessee had managed to keep from beating the Alabama Crimson Tide for nine (that’s right, I said "NINE") utterly abominable years. To that point, Tennessee had only beaten Alabama four times in my entire lifetime, which -- from my perspective -- sucked. The Vols came within a hair of beating Alabama in 1993, only to tie (that game was later forfeited to Tennessee due to Bama having offered big piles of cash to their players from 1958 until ... well ... minutes before the sanctions were imposed. Still, a forfeit on paper is hardly a win.). In 1994, my freshman year on the Hill, another freshman -- some Manning kid -- didn’t see an open passing lane to James "Little Man" Stewart who was standing in the endzone, all by himself, and practically sending smoke signals begging for the ball on the final play of the game. Victory to the Tide. Needless to say, I -- along with every other Tennessee fan -- was ready for that streak to end.
The game, like every other Tennessee-Alabama contest played in the state of Alabama from 1932-1999, was played at Legion Field in Birmingham.
If you’ve never been to Legion Field ... skip it.
I always referred to Legion Field as "Gray Lady Down Stadium," because it had a remarkable resemblance to a WWII vintage US battleship sunk into the ground up to its gunwales, with the exception of its hood-ornament. This was shortly after the Mercedes-Benz plant had opened in Alabama and, as a result, the stadium was festooned with an obscenely large Mercedes hood-ornament over the scoreboard in what I think was the South Endzone. It was probably somewhere between 30 and 50 feet high (and according to the New York Times weighed 5600 pounds). Apparently, the locals liked to refer to the stadium as "The Mercedes Benz of College Football" -- I always thought it was more in the class of "The 1977 AMC Eagle with Bondo Fenders and a Cracked Engine Block of College Football," but that was just me.
Mercedes or AMC? You decide.
A few years later, the hood-ornament disappeared from the stadium after Logan Young stole it and had it made into a necklace which he gave to Albert Means in return for Means agreeing to play for the Tide.**
Good Old Logan Young ... Good Times
Many people also think the area around the stadium is also a little rough. I have always felt this is an unfair characterization. In 1995 it wasn’t a little rough -- it was like stepping into Dresden after the Air Force carpet bombed it for several months. Think Baghdad, but without the "local color." I’m not trying to be pissy toward the Bammers, but I have never understood why in the name of God the Tide chose to play at Legion Field when they have a great facility in Bryant-Denny Stadium situated on campus in Tuscaloosa. Fortunately, since 2003 all Alabama home games have been played at Bryant-Denny since Legion Field was declared partially unsafe and the upper deck was demolished.
Moving right along...
On that particular Third Saturday in October, I sat on about the 10th row of the North Endzone because I was in the Pride of the Southland. I had a friend who had decided that it was unlucky for him to actually watch the game since everytime he watched Tennessee lost. Thus, he resolved that he would sit in the stands facing away from the field. It was funny, until the game started, and after the first play from scrimmage, everyone in my section decided he was absolutely right and forcibly restrained him from turning around for the next 4 quarters.
Tennessee got the ball on the 20 due to the touchback, and the offense came up to the line to get things going, then this happened (Ron Franklin with the call):
I can still remember watching Joey Kent running straight toward me, and thinking that I must be dreaming. When I saw the referee’s arms go up, however, I knew it was for real. Tennessee scored on the opening play, and never let up the entire night.
It was less than 11 seconds into the game and -- truthfully -- it was over ...
Bama never came back, and never really even made it a game. Tennessee went on to rack up 41 points that night, including a touchdown off of Peyton Manning’s beautifully executed bootleg ...
... and another off of a fabulous run by Jay Graham to put the game away.
The 1995 Alabama game was literally a virtual highlight reel as the Vols absolutely pounded the Tide and found themselves back in the saddle again -- finally scratching that 10 year-itch
I can honestly say that the 1995 Tennessee-Alabama game was one of the most electrifying displays that I have ever seen from a Tennessee team. That night was truly memorable.
In my own way, I did my part to let loose on the Crimson Tide that night as well. More accurately, I actually "let loose a Crimson Tide." At halftime, I got hit in the mouth by a cymbal as the Pride of the Southland performed the 1995 iteration of the Circle Drill. I swallowed about 5 inches of my horn (hey now, no comments from the peanut gallery) and managed to bash both of my lips into a bloody pulp. I finished the show (pretending to play as I bled like a stuck pig), but by the time I came off the field, my once white glove and the front of my uniform were covered with blood. I ended up being unable to play for almost 2 weeks after that little crunch, and I still have scars in my mouth from that one...
... but you know what, it was worth it.
** The bit about Logan Young stealing the Mercedes symbol is, of course, complete bullshit, but you believed it for a second, didn't you?
Images Courtesy of: The VIB • ESPN.com • Cascade Ramblers
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