Remembering The Ancient Enemy
My apologies to NorCalVol and other readers for my absence of two weeks or so; however, the near-clinical depression that I have been suffering after the losses to LSU and Georgia has inhibited my rational thinking, and caused something of a writer’s block. So, with some trepidation I share a few memories and thoughts with you about Tennessee’s ancient enemy — the Crimson Tide of Alabama.
I call them our ancient enemy, because Tennessee first played Alabama in 1901, a game that ended in a 6-6 tie; after which Tennessee and Alabama played intermittently until 1928, when the two teams have played against each other every year since (save 1943), most recently with Alabama winning last year in Tuscaloosa in a heartbreaker for UT fans, 12-10. There have been 92 games in this series since 1901, with Tennessee having a series record of 38-47-7; as NorCalVol mentions in another article, this year is the 93rd meeting of the teams.
I begin this particular walk down memory lane with the 1967 epic in Birmingham. My parents had gone down to the game, leaving me with my grandparents for the weekend. I listened to the game on the radio, and kept hearing Albert Dorsey’s name being called over and over — he would come up with three interceptions that game, and he made the cover of Sports Illustrated for his performance in that game.
When the dust had settled that day, Tennessee had beaten the previously undefeated Alabama Crimson Tide by a score of 24-13; and Albert Dorsey was later named an All-American for 1967.
After my parents returned from the game, my mother told me of how there had been an altered photograph that was popular in Alabama at the time — it showed a picture of Paul “Bear” Bryant appearing to walk on water. Well, after the game was over and the people were all leaving the stadium, one Tennessee fan held up a wad of cash and said, “I’ve got $50 here that says Bear Bryant can’t walk on water!” All the other Tennessee fans hooted with laughter; when a small boy nearby, dressed in red and white, all of a sudden turned and yelled, “He can too! HE CAN TOO!!”
(This may also have been the game my mother told me about where an Alabama fan, sitting behind my parents, yelled out as Tennessee receiver Richmond Flowers caught a pass, “Run, nigger! Run!” Flowers’s father had been State Attorney General in Alabama, and was responsible for enforcing the federal laws that banned segregation throughout that state; he was none too popular with many of the Bama faithful, as this one fan reminded us.)
The next meeting between Tennessee and Alabama was at Neyland Stadium in 1968 — and it was also the first time that I got to see Tennessee play Alabama in person, when I went with my father to the game. Candidly, I don’t remember too much about it, except that Tennessee was leading 10-9 near the end of the 4th quarter when Alabama drove the ball down to the shadow of the north end zone, and set up to kick a winning field goal on the last play of the game. After the ball was snapped, however, defensive back Jimmy Weatherford knifed through the Alabama line to block the field goal, thus preserving a 10-9 Tennessee victory.
After the 1968 victory, there was a hiatus in my attendance of several years, until I was an undergraduate at UT, and Bill Battle had taken over from Doug Dickey as head coach. This was in the middle of a long stretch of 11 straight years when Alabama beat Tennessee — a string of losses that did not end until Johnny Majors beat Bear Bryant in 1982, 35-28, in what turned out to be the Bear’s last UT-Bama game (the Bear died in January 1983).
Every game during my undergraduate years was a variation on a theme of misery; perhaps my subconscious blocks out those memories as a way of allowing me to keep my mental health.
But all things, good and bad, have an end; and I was living in New Orleans when Tennessee finally snapped that long losing streak in 1982. My mother was thoughtful enough to send me a copy of the Knoxville News-Sentinel Sunday edition that had all the game stories, statistics, and summaries (and I still have it to this day).
By the time that I returned to Tennessee, the Vols were in the midst of another losing streak to Alabama. In the 1990 game, a more talented Tennessee team lost 9-6 to Alabama. The Vols — which had spent most of that afternoon trying unsuccessfully to run the ball on Bama — attempted a long field goal to break a 6-6 tie with just a minute or so left on the clock, only to have Alabama block the kick, recover the ball, and drive into position to kick a last-second field goal for their 9-6 victory. (Where was Jimmy Weatherford when you needed him?) I was sitting with a buddy in “B” section during the game; and the rest of the day after the botched field goal was one long obscenity for both of us, as we watched the Bama fans in a state of jubilation both inside and outside of Neyland Stadium. I actually was so mad that I wept from the sheer anger of losing that game.
The 1992 game in Knoxville vividly stands out for several reasons: First, I attended this game with my fiancee (now the Mrs., if you will). Second, David Palmer ran wild that day for Alabama for what seemed to be 500 yards of offense. Third, sitting right behind me and my fiancee was a morbidly obese Alabama fan and his tiny little wife; and every time that David Palmer (wearing number 2 on his jersey) touched the ball, the buffoon from Bama behind me would yell out, “WHOOOOAAA!! THE DEUCE IS LOOSE!!!” And his diminutive wife would immediately pipe up with, “You tell ’em, Big Daddy!” I mean, I had to sit through three-and-a-half hours of this redneck comedy routine; and, not wanting to behave badly in front of my fiancee, all I could do was bear it with a stony face. (But my wife has not forgotten it, oh no; to this day whenever I say something to our kids in a slightly too pretentious manner, my wife will just smirk at me and say, “You tell ’em, Big Daddy!” And I shut up.)
Who can forget the 1995 game at Legion Field in Birmingham? I was there with another buddy, sitting in the corner of the end zone with all the rest of the Tennessee fans; and even before Peyton Manning hit Joey Kent for an 80-yard touchdown on the opening play of the game, everyone seemed to know that it was going to be a special night. What seemed like a short time after the opening touchdown, Peyton ran the ball into the end zone on a naked bootleg; the rout was on; and the Tennessee fans were going berserk. At halftime, I walked up the stadium stairs to find a restroom, and went past a little old man sitting on the end of a row, wearing crimson and white; he looked like he had been pole-axed. It was a satisfying feeling to see that, after ten years of frustration.
After the game, my buddy and I watched with a mixture of amusement and anger as the Birmingham police ran down and arrested every fan wearing orange who had wandered out onto the field; they even arrested a credentialed photographer from a newspaper. (A friend who lived in Birmingham later told me that all of these cases — the charges ranged from disorderly conduct, or trespassing, to just being a Tennessee Vols fan — were all dismissed by a local judge, who after each defendant was brought out of the dock and before him would say, “Charges dismissed!”, bang his gavel, and yell, “Roll Tide!”)
After these and many other games, suffice it to say that I hate our ancient enemy with a passion — although I do have a grudging respect for them and some of their fans (Big Daddy excepted), unlike some teams (Florida comes quickly to mind). If there is one game each year that I focus on, it’s the Tennessee-Alabama game.
And I know that most of you have your own happy (and unhappy) memories of Tennessee-Alabama football games. But the memory that I look forward to making this year does not involve the final score, or great plays on the field; rather, it is that I am taking my son to his first Tennessee-Alabama game, as my father did with me so long ago back in 1968. (Coincidentally, my son is the same age I was when I attended my first UT-Bama game.) I wonder what memories my son will take away from tomorrow’s game? And I wonder what he will see in the Tennessee-Alabama games of the years to come, that he will look back on one day and marvel at through the haze of memory?
With any luck (okay, a lot of luck) he may come to view tomorrow’s game as fondly as I do that first Tennessee-Alabama game that I went to so long ago. To paraphrase The Bard:
“Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember, with advantages,
What feats they did that day. Then shall their names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words –Dooley the Coach, quarterback Bray, Reveiz the linebacker, Palardy the kicker —
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember’d.
This story shall the good man teach his son.”
Go Vols!! Beat Bama!!