Posts Tagged ‘Great Games’

Flashback: The Great Games — Kentucky 1997

The Great Games |

Last year, during the off-season, I began a series on the Great Games played by the Tennessee Volunteers football team over the many years as seen through my eyes.  As I am wont to do, I seem to have lost my focus and have not exactly done a capital job of keep that series going.  Imagine that.

Since the off-season is once again upon us—paired with the fact that I have been coming up pretty spare in terms of ideas lately—I’ve decided it is time to once again take a walk down memory lane and re-live some of the greatest games in Tennessee history.  For those of you who missed the 2008 installments of this series, here are the ones I’ve covered thus far:

In addition to my list, Will, one of the sages over at RTT has been counting down the top-50 games of the Phillip Fulmer era in grand style.  Predictably, some of his favorites are on my list as well.  Trust me, his list is worth a look (and is far better researched, far more thoughtful, far better written, and … well … just far better than my little foray into the ghosts of games past).  Since I don’t want to be accused of stealing his thunder, I will be citing to his accounts of his favorite games liberally.

In fairness, it might be best to just skip this article altogether and just go read his work.  Lord knows I would but for the fact that I have to write it…

22 November 1997

Tennessee Football vs. Kentucky Football

(5) Tennessee 59 •    Kentucky 31

Commonwealth Stadium  •  Lexington, Kentucky

Some folks might think I am crazy for including the 22 November 1997 contest between Tennessee and the Kentucky Wildcats on my list of great games.  I can understand why they might question my thoughts on this (or my sanity).  This game was anything but a flawless game for the Vols and was hardly the Tennessee defense’s finest hour.  In fact, the game as a whole was pretty darn sloppy, as was the weather.  Still, for reasons which I will attempt to explain (a feat I will likely fail utterly to accomplish), this game still ranks as one of the great games in Tennessee football history.  The short answer as to why can be summed up in two words:

Peyton Manning

I make no bones about it.  I am a huge fan of the guy  who wore No. 16 for the Vols from 1994 to 1998.  As many have pointed out, both Andy Kelly (1989-91) and Heath Shuler (1991-93) could—in their own right—claim to be the greatest Vol quarterback in the history of the program during the time they wore an orange shirt.  Then, starting only a few snaps into the 1994 game against the UCLA Bruins in the Rose Bowl, everyone in Orange Nation began the process of forgetting everything they ever knew about quarterbacks at Tennessee, as true freshman Peyton Manning took the reins from senior Jerry Colquitt, who quite tragically (and downright depressingly) suffered a career-ending injury in the first series of his first start at quarterback.

The rest, as they say, is history…

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Flashback: The Great Games — The 1996 Citrus Bowl


The Great Games |

1995-96 CompUSA Citrus Bowl

(1 January 1996)

Tennessee Football vs. FB-OhioState[1]

Tennessee 20 Ohio State 14

Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium

Continuing on with 1995, after beating Bama soundly and ending the 10-year drought against the Crimson Tide, the Tennessee Volunteers finished out their regular season at 10-1. Their only loss coming at the hands of the Florida Gators in a 62-37 drubbing which tarnishes the 1995 team’s otherwise exemplary record. Tennessee finished the season ranked 4th, but in the days of the so-called Bowl Alliance, the “premier” bowls were reserved only for conference champions, thus, Tennessee received a bid to the “first outside the money” CompUSA Florida Citrus Bowl to take on the similarly situated Ohio State Buckeyes, who lost their last game of the season against arch-rival Michigan, and with it the Big 11 10 title, and ended the seasons ranked … uhh … 4th also.

1996 Florida Citrus Bowl

Cover from the Official 1996 Citrus Bowl Program. Ohio State later sued the bowl committee for omitting “THE” (in all caps and 72 pt font) from their name — the matter was ultimately resolved in a settlement whereby Ohio State received a case of oranges and an autographed photo of Mickey Mouse.

The fact of the matter remains, no matter what either school would claim publicly, neither Tennessee nor Ohio State wanted to be in Orlando on New Year’s Day. Both had completed 1-loss seasons, and both came within a half of playing for the National Championship or, at a minimum, playing in one of the top-tier Alliance Bowls. Ohio State wanted to be in Pasadena and Tennessee in New Orleans or Tempe. Regardless of what they wanted, they were set to play one another in a game which — in my book — ranks as one of the best bowl games I’ve ever watched in person or on television.

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Flashback: The Great Games — Alabama 1995


The Great Games |

The Third Saturday in October, 1995

(14 October 1995)

Tennessee Football vs. Alabama Football

Tennessee 41 Alabama 14

Legion Field

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.

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