Tennessee Volunteers Football: 10 Best Bowl Victories in School History
Though the 2011 Tennessee Volunteers may not be going bowling this year, it's no reason not to celebrate the Vols of the past who have made us all so proud to wear orange.
From the big Orange Bowl victory in 1939 at the hands of Gen. Robert Neyland to the timeless Fiesta Bowl win in 1999 with Phillip Fulmer at the helm, there are plenty of great bowl victories for the Vols.
These wins are the reason Tennessee is where it is today. That may sound silly after back-to-back losing seasons, but if you look at the football program in the big picture, it is still one of the finest in the country.
It may take a while to get the Big Orange back where it belongs, but it will happen, without a doubt. In the meantime, take a trip through the annals of Vol bowl victories.
No. 10: 1965 Bluebonnet Bowl, Tennessee 27, Tulsa 6
The No. 5 ranked Tennessee Volunteers took their 7-1-2 record to Rice Stadium in Houston to take on the 7-3 Tulsa Golden Hurricanes.
The game in a steady downpour, perfect for the old-fashioned style of play in 1960s college football.
The Vols jumped out to a 6-0 lead after a touchdown reception by Hal Wantland. Tulsa countered with a touchdown drive in the closing minutes of the first quarter, but that would be the end of the Golden Hurricanes' scoring.
Tennessee scored two more touchdowns in the second quarter and tacked on one more in the third quarter, leading to a 27-6 thrashing of Tulsa. It remains one of the most lopsided finishes in the now defunct Bluebonnet Bowl's history.
No. 9: 1971 Liberty Bowl, Tennessee 14, Arkansas 13
In this gritty contest, scoring plays were at a premium. The No. 9-ranked Tennessee Volunteers edged their future conference partner, the No. 18 Arkansas Razorbacks.
The Vols took the lead first with a 2-yard run by Bill Rudder, but the Razorbacks quickly answered with a long 36-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 7-7 before halftime.
In the fourth quarter, it appeared that Arkansas' pair of field goals would be good for the win, but a fumble recovered by Tennessee in Arkansas territory set up the game-winning touchdown just three plays later.
No. 8: 1943 Sugar Bowl, Tennessee 14, Tulsa 7
During John Barnhill's short tenure as head coach of the Tennessee Volunteers, he amassed an astonishing 32-5-2 record, but only one bowl win. The 1943 Sugar Bowl was it.
The Vols entered the game with a 7-1-1 record and were poised to take on undefeated Tulsa. A win for Tulsa would've surely garnered a handful of national championship votes, but it was not to be.
Tulsa scored a touchdown in the first quarter, but failed to get on the board again the rest of the game. Tennessee answered with a touchdown, blocked punt that resulted in a safety and a second touchdown in the fourth quarter to upset the fourth-ranked Golden Hurricanes.
No. 7: 1971 Sugar Bowl, Tennessee 34, Air Force 13
At just 29 years old, Bill Battle led the Tennessee Volunteers to a Sugar Bowl over the No. 11 Air Force Falcons. The Vols entered the game with a 10-1 record and left with a convincing 34-13 blowout win.
The game was over almost before it began as Tennessee posted 24 points in the first quarter to Air Force's 7. The Falcons put eight men in the box to try to stop Tennessee potent rushing attack, but quarterback Bobby Scott still found holes for him and his backs to run through.
The 1971 Sugar Bowl win marked the first of three consecutive 10-win season for Bill Battle's Volunteers.
No. 6: 1990 Cotton Bowl, Tennessee 31, Arkansas 27
Chuck Webb's relentless performance
The 1990 Cotton Bowl was loaded with side stories:
- Tennessee athletic director Doug Dickey was on Arkansas athletic director Frank Broyles' original coaching staff in 1958.
- Broyles later had Tennessee head coach Johnny Majors on his staff as secondary coach during the national championship year of 1964.
- That same year, Major's best defender was Ken Hatfield, now head coach of Arkansas.
- Dickey hired Hatfield, current coach at Arkansas, to his staff at Tennessee in 1968.
Can you keep that straight?
As if that wasn't enough, the game was one for the ages, which saw offensive records being broken left and right. Volunteer tailback Chuck Webb exploded for 250 rushing yards, while quarterback Andy Kelly launched an 84-yard touchdown bomb, one of the longest in bowl history.
The firepower left the Vols with a commanding 31-13 entering the fourth quarter, but Arkansas roared back with some big plays of its own, scoring two unanswered touchdowns before running out of time.
No. 5: 1996 Florida Citrus Bowl, Tennessee 20, Ohio St 14
Before losing to Michigan in the final game of the season, Ohio State was a viable national championship contender. Instead, they met in the Florida Citrus Bowl, each ranked in the top five in the nation.
The game featured numerous future NFL stars, such as, Buckeye running back and Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George and Volunteers quarterback and actual Heisman winner Peyton Manning.
The game went back and forth in the first half with touchdown runs from George and Tennessee's Jay Graham (a 69-yarder) to knot the bout at seven before halftime.
The big play scoring continued for the Vols as Manning hooked up with his favorite target, Joey Kent, for a 47-yard touchdown and a 14-7 lead entering the fourth quarter.
Ohio State tied it up in the last period, but the ever-accurate Jeff Hall nailed two field goals to put the Big Orange out of reach.
It was, is and will always be great to beat the Buckeyes.
No. 4: 1951 Cotton Bowl, Tennessee 20, Texas 14
A classic recap of the game
The Tennessee Volunteers carried their 9-1 record to meet the Texas Longhorns with their identical 9-1 at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. The Vols were ranked fourth in the country, while the 'Horns were ranked third.
In other words, these two teams were quite evenly matched.
Volunteer legend Hank Lauricella was instrumental in the Big Orange victory, so rather than dilute the game with my own words, I'll let the iconic sounds and images of college football do that in video to the left.
No. 3: 1939 Orange Bowl, Tennessee 17, Oklahoma 0
Gen. Robert Neyland was immortalized in the minds of Tennessee Volunteer fans long before the hallowed stadium was named in his honor. Bringing the first national championship to Knoxville after the 1939 Orange Bowl did that.
In Miami awaited the likewise 10-0 Oklahoma Sooners, No. 5 in the country at the time. Neyland's No. 2-ranked Volunteers boasted on the best running games in college football history, and this game didn't disappoint.
The ball control ability of Tennessee's offense coupled with the stifling defense led to 197 rushing yards for the Vols to only 25 for the Sooners.
It wasn't until garbage time that Oklahoma was able to get into any offensive rhythm, but Tennessee preserved the shutout and took home its first national championship.
No. 2: 1986 Sugar Bowl, Tennessee 35, Miami 7
In one of the most iconic games in Tennessee football history, the heavily favored Miami Hurricanes were pummeled by a ferocious Volunteers team.
An anecdote from my father, who went to the game:
When we sat down we could see in the stadium the differences between the fanbases: Tennessee fans were "typical" Southerners, a bit raucous, but fun-loving folk all the same. Miami fans were flashier, carrying around their "Hurricane Warning" balloons and looking like they owned the place.
I saw a conversation between one Vol fan and 'Cane fan from afar when I took my seat. It was obvious that the Tennessee fan wanted the Miami fan to take down his balloons that he had tied to his seat because it was blocking his view. The Miami fan wouldn't do it.
Moments later, I saw the Tennessee fan calmly take out his pocketknife (that any good Tennessee native carries) and cut the balloons off sending them flying toward the top of the Superdome!
I love that story. Always have.
Miami was an undefeated 10-0 and had a vaunted passing attack led by Vinny Testaverde and Michael Irvin.
After driving the field with relative ease to start to the game 7-0, Tennessee responded by slowing the passing attack and controlling the ball.
No. 1: 1999 Fiesta Bowl, Tennessee 23, Florida State 16
Peerless Price's 79 yard catch
The best bowl victory in Tennessee history was its most recent and only undisputed national championship at the Fiesta Bowl in 1999. The Vols were ranked No.1 and the Florida State Seminoles were No. 2.
It's not just the recency effect that awards this bowl as the best of all, but the media attention around it, too. It was the year after Peyton Manning had graduated. Jamal Lewis had gone down with a season-ending injury. The Vols had won three extremely close games already. It was the first ever BCS National Championship.
Peerless Price's 79-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter had fans allowing themselves to think about actually winning it all. It's become one of the most famous plays in Tennessee history, along with John Ward's coinciding call.
The Vols never trailed and controlled nearly the entire game, earning their long awaited sixth national title.