Tennessee vs. Alabama: More Than an SEC Rivalry
It has been said that football is just a kid's game. It's foolish to spend time watching it; it's wasteful to spend money on it; and it's pointless to treat it like it's life or death.
Judging by the billions of dollars spent to televise, cover, and support the sport I have to disagree wholeheartedly.
Maybe in some regions of our fine country it's a big deal, but here in the south it's reason to re-schedule weddings, birthdays, and even cancel church services.
College football and its rivalries are as much a part of Southern culture as sweet tea, conservative values, and first-class country hospitality.
One such rivalry was once known as the biggest in the south.
Tennessee/Alabama has long been one of the most storied, classy rivalries in the nation, much less the South. It has decided bragging rights, broken many hearts, and caused sleepless nights.
Once known by the moniker, "The Third Saturday in October,' fans of both programs have circled the date on their calendars for decades.
In recent years the rivalry has lost some of its luster. This is mainly due to television dollars, emergence of other great SEC programs, and the ever-increasing notoriety the sport has gained. But to many fans of both schools it is still "the big one."
My earliest memory of "Bama Week" was 1990. I distinctly remember asking my dad before the game, are we 'Bama fans or Tennessee fans?
His response: "Son, we hate Alabama." And another Big Orange-loving, Bama-hating Volniac was born.
My dad would fill me in on the great history of the series. He told me of the 1966 game in which Alabama came in ranked No. 3 and barely escaped 11-10.
There was the 1982 game, 10 months after I was born, when Alabama came to Knoxville ranked No. 2 in the nation, and unranked Tennessee won 35-28.
In 1983, the Tide was ranked No. 11 when the unranked Vols won 41-34.
Of course more ups and downs would follow in this grand series. In this slideshow I will detail my most memorable UT/Bama games--the gutwrenching losses as well as the exhilarating wins.
10. 2007...Alabama 41-17
I know it must be shocking that this one made my list. Obviously since this is "MY most memorable" list then I apparently have good reason for it to.
The game itself was horrible. Vols fans just knew that since Tennessee was coming off a 35-14 dismantling of a good Georgia team that this would be UT's game to lose. It was and they did.
Even though 'Bama had to sit multiple players out due to a textbook scandal the Tide won with ease picking on a suspect secondary that made Jon Parker Wilson look like Willie Joe Namath.
The memorable part? My wife was pregnant with our second son. Her date? Yep; Saturday, Oct. 20, 2007. My excuse in the months leading up to the game was, "This Bama week is special. I could care less whether we win or lose."
Luckily we were able to schedule the delivery for Wednesday, October 17 leaving three days to worry about the big game.
Elijah Peyton (Yes, he is named after the former Tennessee and current Colts QB), came into this world during Bama week and was sporting the Big Orange digs on his first "Third Saturday in October."
9. 1994...Alabama 17-13
Peyton Manning started his first ever UT/Bama game with high hopes. Alabama was No. 10 in the country, while the young Vols team was unranked.
Adding to that lore, the Vols had not won in this series since 1985.
Alabama led 17-13 with just over a minute to play when the freshman QB from New Orleans led his first two-minute drill.
Unfortunately for the thousands in attendance at Neyland Stadium, Peyton's first comeback attempt didn't end up like the majority of his future attempts would. The drive ended at the 'Bama 10 when Manning's fourth-down pass sailed incomplete.
Another loss to the hated Crimson Tide...
8. 2005...Alabama 6-3
Notice a recurring theme? Good job, if you have. The thing that makes this rivalry so outstanding is that even when my team loses, it's almost always an epic match. The game in '05 definitely followed the script.
In a seesaw affair that saw both teams score late field goals and nothing more the ebb and flow of momentum was nearly enough to make a fan seasick.
The Vols came into the '05 season ranked No. 2 based on the success in 2004. Having lost two of its first five games, however, the Vols were reeling. A win at No. 5 Alabama would have soothed the pain. It was not to be.
With five minutes remaining and first and goal at the 3-yard line Tennessee was poised for the go-ahead score. Two penalties pushed the Vols back to a third and 15 try.
Corey Anderson caught a swing pass and appeared ready to jump into the endzone when Alabama LB, Roman Harper hit him and knocked the ball through the end zone resulting in a touchback.
Brodie Croyle led a tremendous drive to the Tennessee 14. With 18 seconds remaining, Jamie Christenson would split the uprights for the gutwrenching Alabama win.
7. 2006...Tennessee 16-13
I always wanted to attend this game; finally I got the chance. Making the trip with my dad and two of my best friends, one of whom is a big time 'Bama fan, was definitely the experience of a lifetime.
The game was yet another typical UT/Bama game.
The most memorable moment came just before the half when one Ainge's three interceptions was headed to the end zone in the arms of Simeon Castille.
Luckily, Ainge never gave up on the play and he knocked Castille out of bounds at the eight-yard line. The Tide would settle for a field goal.
Late in the third quarter, Alabama scored a touchdown to go up 13-6 after an earlier UT field goal. 'Bama had the momentum and it seemed I had just wasted $160 on tickets.
The Vols would come back to score 10 in the fourth quarter including an Arian Foster touchdown with 3:28 left on the clock which sent Neyland Stadium into a frenzy and sealed the deal for the Vols.
Jon Parker Wilson tried to mount a comeback of his own, but he was sacked twice on the final drive attempt allowing the clock to run out.
6. 1998...Tennessee 35-18
While the close, gritty matchups are usually the best, it's always fun to completely whip Alabama every few years. 1998 was no exception.
On their way to the National Championship, the Vols took the lead early on two Travis Henry touchdowns.
Down 14-3 in the third quarter, the Tide would score a touchdown and two-point conversion to cut it to 14-11.
On the ensuing kickoff, Peerless Price would rumble down the field for a 100-yard touchdown return.
'Bama was demoralized after that play. The Vols would salt it away with two fourth quarter touchdowns to complete the scoring at 35-18.
5. 1990...Alabama 9-6
This was my first Tennessee/Bama game; or at least it's the first one I remember. The Vols were ranked No. 2 facing an unranked, 2-3 Alabama team in Knoxville.
I remember listening to the game on the radio on our way to church (my dad was an associate pastor and we had to go to church no matter who was playing).
Tennessee's field goal try with a little under two minutes remaining was blocked. The ball went nearly 25 yards backwards and 'Bama took over at the Tennessee 35 yard line.
'Bama would run the clock to :04 seconds to play and kick the field goal as time expired. Of course, it split the uprights and once again, broke hearts all over the state of Tennessee.
I'm praying for some revenge this season as the situation going into the game seems eerily familiar.
4. 1996..Tennessee 20-13
Seventh-ranked Alabama led 13-0 midway through the third quarter. Tennessee could not move the ball at all on the ground against the tenacious front four of Alabama.
Peyton Manning went to the air on a play-action play to Joey Kent, surprising the Tide. Tennessee was still down 13-6 at that point.
That's when RB Jay Graham took over. After an interception return to the 8-yard line, Graham would score a couple of plays later.
A few minutes later, Graham would take a handoff 80-yards for the go-ahead score, 20-13.
The Vols defense still had some unfinished business, however.
With :40 seconds remaining in the game, 'Bama had the ball on the Tennessee 12-yard line.
DE Leonard Little came off the edge and hit 'Bama QB Freddie Kitchens' arm as he attempted to throw the ball on fourth down. Game over! Vols win!
3. 2003--Tennessee 51-43
The Overtime Game.
This one pretty much sums up this rivalry. Back-and-forth, gut-wrenching moments sewn together in a beautifully maddening, four-hour display.
At the end of regulation this one was knotted up at 20. It wasn't easy, however. Thanks to a great kickoff return by Tyrone Prothro and a stupid UT penalty the Tide had a chance to win with mere seconds left in the game.
Kicker Brian Bostick missed a 44-yard field goal badly to send it to overtime. All that came after Casey Clausen threw a touchdown pass with 25 seconds left on the clock.
In the overtime, the game once again was back and forth. The 3-6 Tide were not going to go down easily. After all, no visiting team had won three in a row at Tuscaloosa.
The Vols faced a fourth-and-19 in the third OT. All 'Bama had to do was stop them. But Clausen found a wide open C.J. Fayton for a 29-yard gain setting up the tying score.
In the fourth OT, both teams settled for field goals.
Finally and mercifully in the fifth OT, Casey Clausen scored a touchdown by running for the corner of the endzone on third and two.
The Vols made the two-point conversion, a requirement beginning with the third OT, and stopped the extremely tired Tide on their possession.
I didn't sleep for weeks afterward. (It's a joke...)
2. 1993--Tie 17-17
Ah, the dreaded tie. Some say it's "worse than kissing your sister."
On this day, however, it was bittersweet.
In the week long buildup to the game our local JC Penney store was holding a contest.
"Guess the score of the UT/Bama game and win a shirt of the team you pull for" was what the marquee read.
So my dad decided to take a shot at it. After all, Tennessee had not beaten Bama in seven years and this season, with Heath Shuler at the helm, we had a good a shot as any against the defending national champs.
His guess, 17-15--which is exactly what the score was after Alabama scored a touchdown with 21-seconds remaining.
170-lb, David Palmer lined up under center for the two-point conversion try. He had three men in the backfield lined up side by side behind him.
All he did was take the snap and run around the corner with those big backs blocking for him.
The game ended in a 17-17 tie (Overtime was not instituted in NCAA Football until 1995).
One would have thought that 'Bama won the game though as their fans went crazy when the little guy crossed into the end zone. The tie preserved the 28-game unbeaten streak for the Tide.
Dad still won the shirt because he came the closest... What a game!
1. 1995...Tennessee 41-14
FINALLY!!! Four years of frustration for me, nine for the rest of the Volnation comes to a screeching halt!
Peyton Manning set the tone from the get-go. The very first play of the game was a pass play to WR Joey Kent; he went 80 yards for the touchdown.
10-minutes later Peyton would pull off a masterful play fake up the middle. The 'Bama defenders didn't realize Peyton kept the ball until they saw him scamper into the endzone some 15 yards away. That put the Vols up 21-0.
Tennessee didn't stop there, either. With 45 seconds left in the half Marcus Nash scored a touchdown to go up 28-7.
In the third quarter, Jay Graham would give the Tide a glimpse into the future with his 75-yard touchdown run, completely untouched, to put the Vols up 35-14.
We were dancing in the streets on this night.
It wouldn't stop there. The Vols would win seven in a row beginning with this '95 game. They would lose in '02, and win again in '03, '04, and '06. It was the most dominant stretch any opponent had ever been against Alabama.
Here's hoping a new streak starts on Saturday! Go Big Orange!!!