Compliments of Sports Illustrated
On September 28, 1985 when Auburn rolled into Knoxville, Tigers Head Coach Pat Dye had a No. 1-ranked team and an unstoppable weapon: a running back named Bo Jackson—the premiere runner in college football that year.
Jackson's rushing total for the season was 1,786 yards. That was within 200 yards of the all-time college leader Georgia's Herschel Walker, who had 1,891 yards in 1981. Jackson's efforts allowed him to win the Heisman Trophy that season.
When Auburn came to Knoxville, they were the No. 1-ranked team in college football. They had won their first two games by a combined score of 78-25.
At the time of the Auburn game, the Vols were not ranked. They had played one game so far, a 26-26 tie vs. No. 10-ranked UCLA. As a result, Auburn was heavily favored in the game.
At the time of the Auburn game, Tennessee’s senior quarterback was Tony Robinson. He had waited not so patiently behind UT’s Alan Cockrell for his chance to start since he was a freshman. When Cockrell got a baseball contract in June of 1984, Robinson got the nod.
He had a decent season in 1984, but nothing that said he would break out big in 1985. However, that is exactly what he did.
In his first game of 1985, he threw for 387 yards against No. 10-ranked UCLA. In this second game against No. 1-ranked Auburn, he threw for 259 yards and four touchdowns.
Robinson was as skinny as a bean pole at 6’3” and 183 pounds, but he was as gifted an athlete as I ever watched. His elusiveness and his quickness are what made him special.
But he was a smart quarterback, as well.
His ability to change John Majors' play calls at the line of scrimmage over 50 percent of the time—and not get benched—spoke highly of his ability to understand the game as a player. This is something even professional coaches seldom allow their quarterbacks to do that, but Robinson's calls often resulted in huge gains.
By halftime of this coming-out game for Bo Jackson, Tennessee led Auburn 24-0.
By now, the Tennessee defense was getting in on the act as well. In his game the previous week, Jackson had gained 123 yards by the end of the first quarter. In this game, he had 29 yards at the end of the first.
Jackson ended the day with 80 yards on 17 carries. He pulled himself from the game with an ankle injury in the fourth quarter.
Sports Illustrated made the trip to Knoxville with the idea of doing a write-up on super star, Bo Jackson. Instead, after seeing the game, the article was titled "The Tennessee Waltz" and starred UT quarterback Tony Robinson.
In the long version of this story, Bo Jackson turned out to be what everyone expected. He was a record-setting, Heisman Trophy winning back. For "Touchdown" Tony Robinson, things went the other way.
Robinson was injured during the fifth game and was to be out for a while. Instead of a trip to New York for the Heisman vote, he wound up being arrested in Knoxville on cocaine charges later in the year. That got him tossed at UT.
Instead of a good pro career—which he could have easily had—he continued to make drug-related mistakes over and over in his life. Robinson wasted his youth and his talent on drugs and what they bring.
The few games in 1985 I saw, he was a special athlete with Heisman potential. He was one of the most incredible athletes Tennessee ever had to play quarterback.
Coach Majors said he had the best natural instincts of any quarterback he ever coached. High praise, indeed.
Fortunately for Tennessee in 1985, there was Darryl Dickey. He came on and picked up the Vols when Robinson got hurt. Thanks to his steady hand, they finished the year at 9-1-2 and ranked No. 4 in the nation.
Those of us who watched this game will always remember the Tennessee Waltz.