Tennessee Vols Football: The Best of the Decade
It didn't match the 90's—not even close.
There were no championships, no Heisman finalists, and zero No.1-rankings.
No one named Peyton ran the offense and there wasn't even a BCS bowl-berth.
This decade, however, was not a total loss.
Sure, there was a coaching change, two sub-.500 seasons, and a few heartbreaking losses; but Tennessee played their guts out the entire decade as is customary on Rocky Top.
The Vols did play for an SEC title three times, while winning or tying for the SEC East four times.
The Vols did beat Alabama five times, Georgia four times, Florida three times, and Kentucky every time.
There was no Peyton, but there was Erik, Rick, and Casey.
These next few slides will hopefully bring back some memories, as I will share my best of the decade for Tennessee Vols Football.
Plays of the Decade
3. Dan Williams block at Kentucky in OT, 2007:
Tennessee had to defeat Kentucky to win the SEC East and secure its spot in the SEC title game.
In the second OT, Kentucky's kicker and Knoxville native, Lonas Seiber, trotted out to try to kick the game-winning field goal. It was a chip-shot by today's standards and would have easily made it—if not for big Dan Williams.
The block sent the game to another overtime and the Vols eventually won it in four overtimes, 52-50, to continue their now, 25 year win-streak against Kentucky.
2. Travis Stephens 68-yard run at Florida, 2001:
Once again, the Vols controlled their own destiny. Except this time the Vols were the one's that had the monkey on their back.
Tennessee had not won in the Swamp in 30 years. No. 2 Florida was an 18-point favorite and would have had a shot at a national title if they won the game. Of course, so would No. 5 Tennessee, but this one was Florida's to lose.
Thanks to Stephens' 68-yard dash, which set up the one-yard go ahead touchdown run by Jabari Davis with eight minutes to play, the Vols broke the streak and played LSU for the SEC title the next week.
1. Casey Clausen 4th-and-19 at Alabama, 2003:
In the second overtime, Tennessee was faced with a seemingly impossible down and distance.
All the Tide had to do was knock the ball down, hit Clausen, or just have a defender within five yards of receiver C.J. Fayton. None of those happened.
Fayton ran the crossing route to perfection and James Banks did his job of taking the coverage away.
Tennessee won the game six overtimes later, 51-43.
Other great plays of the decade:
-Travis Stephens takes a screen pass for the go-ahead touchdown vs UGA, 2001
-James Wilhoit 52-yard field goal to defeat Florida, 2004
-Casey Clausen hail mary to James Banks at the half in Gainesville, 2003
-Roshaun Fellows blocked punt at UGA, 2006
-Eric Berry 96-yard interception return for a touchdown at Florida, 2007
-Riggs 80-yard TD run in SEC title game, 2004
Games of the Decade
2. Tennessee at No. 6 Miami, 2003:
The Hurricanes were on their way to potentially playing for another national title in '03. Having just missed their shot in 2000, winning it in '01, and being robbed by a rogue official in '02—2003 held big time promise for the No. 6 'Canes.
On this day, however, the Vols would steal the show. Tennessee's touchdown on an end-around on 4th and goal from the two with 20-seconds remaining in the first half would be all the Vols needed.
A gutty defensive performance late in the game allowed Tennessee to hold on for the 10-6 win.
1. No. 10 Tennessee at No. 4 LSU, 2005:
The first game played in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina was a tale of two halves. The game was moved to Monday night and it became an instant classic.
The Vols had been horrendous on offense all season long and the first half proved no different. Erik Ainge was completely clueless and allowed LSU to take a commanding 21-0 lead because of his mental errors.
Former LSU QB, Rick Clausen led the first drive second half for the Vols. The Tennessee transfer immediately made his mark in the game, completing six of seven pass and getting the Vols within 14.
LSU led 24-7 at the start of the third quarter, but Clausen scored on a one yard touchdown run to cut it to 10. Jonathan Hefney intercepted JaMarcus Russell and brought the ball to the one yard line two minutes later. The next play the Vols were within three.
Tennessee tied it up on a James WIlhoit field goal with two minutes left.
The Vols held LSU to a field goal on the first possession in overtime. Tennessee running back Gerald Riggs accounted for all the Vols yards in overtime, catching a pass and running four times, the final time for a touchdown to win 30-27.
Other Great Games of the Decade:
-No. 17 Tennessee at No. 3 Georgia, 2004, 19-14 UT win
-No. 7 Tennessee at Alabama, 2003, 51-43 UT win—5 OT
-No. 18 Tennessee at Kentucky, 2007, 52-50 UT win—4OT
Biggest Wins of the Decade
3. No. 13 Tennessee over No. 9 Florida, 30-28, 2004:
Wins over Florida have been few and far between in recent years. So winning them, especially in this fashion, will leave a definite mark.
After missing the game-tying extra point with three minutes remaining, James Wilhoit hoped for a shot at redemption. He would get that chance just a couple minutes later. With six seconds remaining Wilhoit launched a 50-yard field goal for the 30-28 win.
2. No. 17 Tennessee over No. 3 Georgia, 19-14, 2004:
It wasn't supposed to be close. The 'Dawgs held a four game winning streak over the Vols and Fulmer's boys were young and inexperienced.
Tennessee was a 17-point underdog but played like a champion on this day.
1. No. 5 Tennessee over No. 2 Florida, 34-32, 2001:
From my No. 2 play of the decade, you already know the story. An 18-point underdog, Tennessee gets its first win at the swamp in 30 years. A chance to play for the SEC Championship, a shot at the Rose Bowl, and a national title were all at stake.
Even though the Vols would lose to LSU in the championship game, this one will go down as the biggest win of the decade.
Other Huge Wins this Decade:
-Tennessee over No. 6 Miami, 10-6, 2003
-Tennessee over No. 10 Georgia, 51-33, 2006
-Tennessee over No. 12 Georgia, 35-14, 2007
-Tennessee over Georgia, 45-19, 2009
Most Devastating Losses of the Decade
3. 2009 at Alabama:
If a mule had kicked me in the gut, I don't believe that would have felt as bad as seeing Tennessee come within Terrance Cody's monstrous hand of beating the No. 1 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide as time expired.
2. 2001 vs. Georgia:
I was there so, obviously it hurt a lot worse. After Travis Stephens took a screen pass over 70 yards for a touchdown with barely a minute remaining we all figured it was over. Not hardly.
The 'Dawgs scored a touchdown with nine seconds left for the win.
1. 2001 SEC Championship Game vs. LSU:
Win and you go to Pasadena to play Miami for a National Championship. Lose and it's back to the Citrus Bowl.
Phil Fulmer would later call this the most disappointing loss of his career. Cant say that I disagree.
Other Devastating Losses this Decade:
-at Alabama, 6-3, 2005
-vs. Wyoming, 13-7, 2008
-vs. Georgia, 41-14, 2003
-vs. Vandy, 28-24, 2005
-vs. UCLA, 19-14, 2009
Moments of the Decade
2. The End of the Fulmer Era:
The program was stale—there's no doubt about it. But anyone who watched the press conference and didn't at least feel some remorse is not human. It was a sad, yet necessary, day in Vol lore.
1. The Lane Train:
The opening press conference when Lane Kiffin talked about "Singing Rocky Top all night after beating Florida" was the Vol nation's official introduction to the mouth of the south.
Love him or hate him, he's different. Kiffin took over the program a little over one year ago in what is easily this decade's biggest moment for Tennessee football.
As one writer put it, for better or for worse, he's ours.
Other Big Moments of the Decade:
-Travis Stephens 226 yards vs. Florida at the Swamp in 2001
-Terrence Cody Block of UT's game-winning field goal try, 2009
-Jabar Gaffney dropped pass signaled as game-winning touchdown for Florida, 2000
-Matt Mauck's performance in second half of SEC Championship game in 2001 for LSU
-Eric Berry's hit on Knowshown Moreno of Georgia in 2008
All-Vols Team of the Decade
My only stipulation in compiling this list of the best UT players of the decade was that a player had to be here longer than just one season. In other words, if the player was a senior in 2000 he was not eligible for my list.
QB: Casey Clausen
RB: Travis Stephens
FB: Kevin Cooper
WR: Robert Meachem
WR: Donte Stallworth
TE: Jason Witten
OT: Arron Sears
OG: Fred Weary
C: Scott Wells
OG: Anthony Herrera
OT: Michael Munoz
DE: Will Overstreet
DT: Albert Haynesworth
DT: John Henderson
DE: Parys Haralson
LB: Jerod Mayo
LB: Kevin Burnett
LB: Eddie Moore
CB: Jonathan Hefney
CB: Jason Allen
S: Eric Berry
S: Gibril Wilson
KR: Leonard Scott
PR: Mark Jones
K: James Wilhoit
P: Dustin Colquitt
Player of the Decade
This is what we in the business call a "slam dunk."
Player of the Decade is...
Eric Berry, S, '07-09
Let's see, where to start...
In 2007 he was freshman All-SEC, All-America. Also in '07 he won the SEC and National Defensive Freshman of the Year. He repeated each of those feats in '08 on a team that went 5-7.
This year, he won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation's top defensive back.
He remains just 15 yards shy of the all-time NCAA interception return yardage record.
Oh yeah, and there's a great chance he'll be a top five pick in the NFL draft this year once he makes it official that he is in fact skipping his senior year to do so.