Tag Archives: Heath Shuler

A Tale of Four Quarterbacks

26 Aug

This week marks the beginning of college football season, which means that I will be driving to Knoxville for another opening game for the University of Tennessee. This made me think about past seasons and other opening games. Then, I realized that it was 20 years ago that the Volunteers had one of their most interesting starts.

In 1994, Larry and I flew to Pasadena, California to watch the Big Orange play UCLA at the Rose Bowl. A few things about that trip stand out.

Our room overlooked Colorado Boulevard, the main route of the Rose Bowl Parade. It is too bad that we were there in September.

The temperature was super hot. It felt more like Tennessee temperatures than what you would find in southern California.

A man and his son brought their luggage to the game. Apparently, they did not have time to go to the hotel. They came to the stadium straight from the airport. Can you imagine someone trying to bring suitcases into a stadium during these times?

Larry upset one of the concession stand workers. We tried to get a cup of ice, and the guy said that it would be $10 or some other outrageous amount. That is when Larry said, “Damn, Jesse James carried a gun when he robbed people.” Apparently, the guy did not like the Jesse James reference.

There is something else I remember. Those were good times to be a fan of the University of Tennessee. Although we had lost Heath Shuler, who had finished second for the Heisman Trophy, we had a senior quarterback ready to take the helm. Jerry Colquitt had patiently waited his turn, and it was his time to shine.

Another upper classman, Todd Helton, was the backup. Everyone knew he would be drafted into the Major Leagues and had a bright future in baseball. He did not expect to play that often, but the team needed someone with experience because the other two quarterbacks were freshmen. They were also highly recruited.

One was Branndon Stewart, a son of Texas who came from the Heath Shuler mold. He could make things happen with his arm and his legs. The other was Peyton Manning, the son of a southern legend who played more traditionally. Everyone knew that there would be a quarterback battle in the future, but that was a year away.Quarterbacks

At least, everyone assumed it would be a year away. On the seventh play of the game, Colquitt injured his knee and was out for the season. Suddenly, Tennessee was down to a baseball player and two talented freshmen. Before the game was over, all of the quarterbacks would take snaps, and Tennessee would lose 25-23.

Helton became the reluctant starter and led the Volunteers to a big win over Georgia. However, he was injured in another game, and no one wanted to ruin his chances at baseball. He stayed on the team, but the freshman quarterback battle was at full force.

Stewart and Manning split playing time, and the fans were split, as well. Remembering Shuler, some fans wanted Stewart. Seeing a pro typical quarterback, other fans wanted Manning. Eventually, the coaches settle on Manning.

Stewart, seeing the writing on the wall, transferred to Texas A&M and led them to the 1998 Big 12 championship. In the title game, they beat Kansas State, which insured that Tennessee would go to the first BCS Title Game. The Vols won the National Championship, and, ironically, Stewart helped them do that.

Helton was drafted by the Colorado Rockies and recently retired after playing for them his entire career. Not long ago, they also retired his number.

Despite his injury, Colquitt by drafted into the NFL, but his playing career did not last long. He got into coaching and made it onto the staff of the Seattle Seahawks.

Manning is, well, Peyton Manning and is considered to be one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. Like Shuler before him, he finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting, which is one of the greatest travesties in that award’s history. Then, he was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts. Now, he plays for the Denver Broncos.

Thinking about the opening game of 1994 made me wonder about how lives were changed by one injury on one play. What would have happened if that injury had not taken place? Would Colquitt have gone on to a more promising NFL career? Would Helton have come in during a later game and gotten hurt more seriously? Would another year allowed Stewart to beat out Manning for the starting job? Would Manning have transferred? Would Tennessee have won the National Championship in 1998?

I have no idea, but I know what we were thinking when that injury took place. Holy crap, what are we going to do now?

Tennessee Traditions

16 Aug

I am a fan of the University of Tennessee, and that has been a rough experience in the past few years. While most Tennessee fans follow several sports, the university is considered a “football school”, and the football team has gone through the worst seasons in its history. Coaching changes. Bad losses. Few good wins. To put it bluntly, it has sucked.

Now, there is a new coach, Butch Jones, who is trying to breathe some life back into the program. He has hit the recruiting trail. He has reached out to fans and former players. Every fan I know thinks he has done a fantastic job – until yesterday. That’s when he unveiled a new uniform that the team will wear for a couple of games.Uniform

Immediately, the howls began from fans who said the uniforms were terrible. Reading Twitter and message boards, people typed over and over about how this was destroying Tennessee tradition. The team is Orange and White – not some charcoal gray.

This made me start thinking about some of the Tennessee tradition that they were talking about. My dad started taking me to football games when I was 6 years old. That was in the mid-70s. Since that time, I have been lucky enough to attend almost every game, both home and away. I have experienced the traditions of Tennessee, and they have become a big part of who I am. However, all of those traditions had a beginning. There was a first time that each one happened. I wonder what fans during those times thought about this new things that was being introduced.

Orange Jerseys – The team first wore orange on the field in 1922. Before that, they probably wore some color like gray. Oh, wait. I wonder if some fan sat in the stands and said, “This is a man’s game. Why are they wearing orange? It looks like those flowers over there.”

T on the Helmet – Have a big T on the side of the helmet is a Tennessee tradition. It started in 1964. I don’t know if anyone complained about it. However, Johnny Majors became coach in the 1970s and CHANGED THE T!!! It was blasphemy, I say.

Running Through the T – One of the most exciting times as a Tennessee fan is when the team runs onto the field through a giant T formed by the band. I guarantee that every fan dreams of doing it. The tradition began in 1965. That means Tennessee played football for 70 years before the team ran through the T. I bet some fan said, “Why are they making them run across the field like that? They should save their energy for the game.”Running Through the T

Rocky Top – This is one of Tennessee’s most famous traditions. Throughout a game, the band plays and the fans sing “Rocky Top” dozens of times. Opposing coaches and players have talked about how it drives them crazy. This song has become synonymous with Tennessee football. It was first played at a game in 1972. Before that, fans heard spirited renditions of “Down the Field”, the official fight song. I can hear it now. Some fan says, “We’ve been playing ‘Down the Field’ forever. It’s a tradition. I can’t believe they are playing this hillbilly music.”

Checkerboard Endzones – I saw a poll that said Tennessee’s checkerboard endzones are one of the most famous traditions in college football. They first appeared in the 1960s, then were taken away for a while. This is a tradition that wasn’t even thought enough of to keep around. I bet some fan said, “This ain’t checkers. It’s football, by God.”

The Vol Walk – This is a tradition that a lot of fans love. They line the street as the players walk to the stadium. It’s a long-held tradition that started IN MY LIFETIME! Nevertheless, it is a tradition.

I wrote all of that to say that traditions have to start somewhere and that the traditions of the program have always changed. There is a first time for everything, and, sometimes, that leads to something that people value for years to come. However, without the introduction we never know.

Here’s the bottom line for those who hate the new uniforms. It was not done for the fans. It was done for the current and future players. Guess what, they all love it. One recruit said the uniform was prettier than his girlfriend.

As I wrote at the beginning, the program has gone through hard times. Today’s recruits don’t remember that Tennessee won the first BCS title. They don’t know Heath Shuler, Condredge Holloway, Hank Lauricella or George Cafego. What’s more, they don’t care.

Here’s something else, all of those other traditions were probably started for the players, too. If I remember my Vol history, then the program struggled through the early 1960s. A young coach came in and jazzed things up with the T on the helmet; the checkerboard endzones; and a new way to enter the field. He did it to attract players. That’s what Butch Jones is doing with the new uniforms.

Oh, the color orange was picked by a football player.