Posts Tagged ‘Jay Graham’
1995-96 CompUSA Citrus Bowl
(1 January 1996)
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.
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.
Ohio State came in smarting from the late season wrench Michigan had thrown into their "destiny" to play in the Rose Bowl. Despite this failing, Ohio State running back Eddie George had won the Heisman Trophy only weeks before the game in Orlando -- which made them feel a whole lot better about having their entire season implode in Ann Arbor -- as it did so regularly under then coach John Cooper.
Tennessee on the other hand, found itself on the outside looking in as Florida waltzed into a date with the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Fiesta Bowl. In retrospect, however, Tennessee is probably glad it didn’t make the trip to Tempe, since Florida took it the hard-way in a 62-24 slobberknocking by Nebraska, which led Steve Spurrier to ask in a halftime interview, "Can someone ask that scary man with no facial expressions and his corn-fed boys to stop hurting us. Please... "** Still, at the time Tennessee was highly disappointed at being left out of the big one, and all they had gotten to make them feel better was a few free passes to Disney World courtesy of the bowl committee.
By the time the teams, fans, alums, bands, and hangers-on arrived in Orlando, both had several weeks simmer and let the bowl slight fester.
One thing that became immediately apparent to me when I arrived in Orlando was that many Ohio State fans had very little respect for Tennessee. Now this is not meant as an indictment of the entirety of the Buckeye Nation, but at the time it seemed that Ohio State not only felt that they had been slighted in terms of bowls, but also in terms of opponents. In the interest of full disclosure, it is worth mentioning that my better half is an Ohio State graduate and -- when not playing Tennessee -- I pull for the Buckeyes. Still, at the time, in all of my interactions with Buckeye fans during the run-up to the New Years Day game, it seemed that Ohio State was assuming that they would simply show-up and beat Tennessee handily.
In all honesty, at the time, I thought they might be right...
Tennessee had turned the early-season disappointment of getting absolutely slaughtered in the second-half at Gainesville versus the Gators (which is right near the top of my all-time least favorite games), into something really special. Still, there was a lot of uncertainty about how the Vols speed would match up with the strength and running ability of the Buckeyes (where have I heard that one before?). While I was never one to open doubt that team, in my mind, I felt there was a distinct possibility that Tennessee could lose ... and badly.
There was so much going on that week, in preparation for the game, that I didn't have too much time to worry about it ...
If you’ve never been to a game, you really should go, at least once. They can be one hell of a lot of fun, and are wonderful experiences. I must say, despite the misgivings surrounding the 1996 Citrus Bowl, it is (and remains) one of the best run bowls anywhere. Regardless of whether Tennessee and Ohio State thought they deserved to go elsewhere, the City of Orlando really knows how to host events, and they do a bang-up job when it comes to the Citrus Bowl (now known as the CapitalOne Bowl). There are more events, parades, parties, pep-rallies, and so forth than you could possibly attend (unless you actually have to play Rocky Top till you’re blue in the face at each one, that is). In the days leading up to the game, I had a blast ...
... at least that’s what everyone tells me.
At any rate, after several beautiful sunny days in the high 70’s, New Year’s Day arrived, and the weather that day -- more or less -- reflected the physical and mental states of many who had "Given Their All for Tennessee" in the New Year’s Eve Debauchery category. It was foul. The temperature had dropped, and it rained incessantly throughout the 12 hours leading up to the game. By the time I arrived at the Citrus Bowl, along with 350 of my dear friends (the Pride of the Southland Marching Band) it had already been determined that the bands would not be permitted to perform their pre-game shows as planned, because the field -- just like those New Year’s partiers -- just wasn’t up to it.
So, there we sat -- all 70,000 football fans, clad in Orange or Red Ponchos -- in the rain, waiting for the mud to start flying...
The game started and Ohio State scored first, taking a 7-point lead over the Vols, in the first quarter, who were really unable to get things going on the offensive side of the ball. During this time, every time the Buckeyes had the ball all that could be heard was a constant chant from the Buckeyes of "Ed-die, Ed-die, Ed-die, Ed-die!!!" which, got old real fast for Tennessee fans. I also thought that the other 10 guys on offense for Ohio State -- out there busting their hump as a team -- were probably getting tired of it as well.
Then, in the second quarter, Ohio State drove down inside the 5, and looked as if they might add to their lead, putting Tennessee even farther behind. The Tennessee defense, however, held, and Ohio State was faced with 4 and goal. Rather than kick the field goal, the Buckeyes chose to try and run it in on the legs of "Ed-die" and put the game out of reach for the Vols. When the snap came, however, it was Tennessee’s Bill Duff who grabbed the spotlight -- and the momentum in the game -- as he clotheslined "Ed-die" a good yard behind the line of scrimmage and trounced him down to the grass.
At that moment, the entire complexion of the game shifted, and Tennessee began to stretch its legs...
Soon thereafter, Tennessee was on the board with as Jay Graham rumbled 69 yards to knot the score at 7. Peyton Manning added to that in the third-quarter, and Jeff Hall sealed the deal with two field goals in the fourth. Here’s John Ward (along with Fred Thompson) with the highlights:
As for "Ed-die," the Heisman trophy winner was held to a season-low 89 yards rushing, and was effectively stopped from the second quarter on. In an altogether more humorous note, after the Tennessee defense stopped him on the 2 yard line, the crowds shifted and it was the Tennessee fans who started chanting "Ed-die, Ed-die, Ed-die, Ed-die!!!" which ended up being even louder than the Ohio State fans, and far more exuberant.
To their credit, however, the Buckeyes bowed their backs and fought to the very last. In the end, however, it was Tennessee’s tenacity on defense which won the day, as they fought down to the wire to keep the Buckeyes from finding the endzone again, and potentially stealing the game away. Until the final second was off the clock, the game was never a sure thing for either team.
Final Score Tennessee 20, Ohio State 14.
The win over Ohio State was one of the hardest fought victories against long odds that I ever personally witnessed the Vols record. Finishing the season 11-1, propelled the Vols to final ranking of No. 3 in the AP Poll and a No. 2 ranking in the final coaches poll -- ahead of Florida. That final ranking made the Citrus Bowl seem like quite a prize indeed, and looked far better than the beating that the Gators took in the desert of Arizona.
After all, Orange juice tastes much better than Cactus juice ...
** The quote from Steve Spurrier is complete bullshit, but I would have given real money to hear him say that.
Images Courtesy of: UTSports.com • The VIB
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.