Tag Archives: Tennessee Volunteers

Bad Football and a Musical Complaint

7 Nov

Lately, I have watched some bad football. The Tennessee Titans leave a lot of be desired. The season of the Tennessee Volunteers has gone from great promise to a quagmire. I am also reading a book about an infamous game in the history of Cumberland University. For those who do not know, our school lost to Georgia Tech 222-0. It is the biggest defeat in the history of college football.

Sam Hatcher, who I have known for years, wrote a book to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the game. Heisman’s First Trophy: The Game that Launched Football in the South is an interesting read that provides a great story of the game. I would recommend it to anyone. Some of it is fictionalized, but the heart of the story remains true.heisman-book

I have been surrounded by bad football, but I have also witnessed some bad halftime performances. The University of Tennessee Marching Band is known as the Pride of the Southland, and they have been performing something called the “Circle Drill” for 50 years. I know that because they announced  that this year is the 50th anniversary of the routine. Certainly, it is a difficult marching formation to perform, but I have one request.


I have been watching the “Circle Drill” for 42 of the 50 years that it has been in existence, and they have played the same songs the entire time. I can even recite the announcer’s script.

They do a musical tour of Tennessee by starting out in Memphis. That is when they play Elvis Presley’s “signature” tune “C.C. Rider.” Then, they go to Chattanooga with “Chattanooga Choo Choo.” Next is a visit to Nashville with “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” They end up in Knoxville with “Rocky Top,” the school’s unofficial fight song.

I understand “Rocky Top.” It fires up the crowd and needs to be played. However, it is time to spruce up the rest of the collection. Tennessee is one of the most musical places around. I know they can do better.

First, “C.C. Rider” is not the “signature” song of Elvis Presley. I guarantee that if you ask anyone to name and Elvis song that one would not be mentioned. I would choose “Hound Dog.” Here is the other thing. Elvis was not the only creator of songs in Memphis. What about doing a Tina Turner songs? Or an Isaac Hayes song? What about a Blues classic or something from Stax Records?

I know that “Chattanooga Choo Choo” is an obvious selection for Chattanooga. However, they could throw the crowd a curve with “Chattanooga City Limit Sign” by Johnny Cash. How about “Lookout Mountain” by Drive-By Truckers?

Nashville, otherwise known as Music City, is home to hundreds of artists and thousands of songs. I think they can find a new one. “Nashville Cats” by The Lovin’ Spoonful would be a great pick. Heck, they could shock the world by playing a Jimi Hendrix tune. It would work since he spent his early days in the clubs on Nashville’s Jefferson Street. I cannot even do this paragraph justice. There are so many songs to play that they could close their eyes and pick one out of a songbook.

Better yet, they could get the band from Tennessee State University to do the “Circle Drill.” I know the Aristocrat of Bands and the Sophisticated Ladies could circle it up.

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?

Big Orange Apathy

7 Nov

I did not attend the University of Tennessee football game this week. That probably doesn’t seem like a big deal to “normal” people, but in my world it is huge. My dad started taking me to games when I was six. In the years since I have been to hundreds of games in thirteen different states. There have been heart-breaking losses and heart-pounding wins; disappointing seasons and surprisingly successful ones. Many games have been forgotten and a lot became lasting memories. Through it all, I was there. In short, I have been a die-hard fan. But, this weekend I didn’t go. After watching this squad disintegrate into the worst Tennessee team in my memory, I couldn’t sit through it anymore. When that happens to fans like me, my dad and my friends, then the University of Tennessee has a problem. Apathy, a killer for a football program, has set in.

All fans have an opinion as to how we got to this point. You can read them on message boards and hear them on radio call-in shows. This is my opinion.

On January 4, 1999, the Volunteers won the national championship in a tough victory over Florida State. A successful coach, Phillip Fulmer, reached the pinnacle of his profession and brought glory to his alma mater. At that point his record was 66 wins and 11 losses. We all thought that a dynasty was in the making a more championships would come. We were wrong. The signs of problems were there, but everyone was too jubilant to see them.

1. Fulmer was 53-11 with Heath Shuler and Peyton Manning, both of which finished second in the Heisman race, as his quarterbacks. Those types of players make coaches look good and do not come around very often.

2. Coaching in the Southeastern Conference was at a low. Steve Spurrier of Florida was the only other coach of any prestige. Fulmer was 2-5 against Florida during this time.

In summary, Fulmer had superior talent against inferior coaching. When he was evenly matched the record dropped.

Still, the first year after Manning Fulmer led the Vols to a victory over Florida and a national championship. That can’t be taken away from him. It was an amazing achievement that brought joy and pride to Volunteer fans everywhere. However, the dynasty never came. In fact, the next year Fulmer took the same players and lost 3 games.

In 1999 and 2000, the years immediately following the national championship, Tennessee went 17-7 with blowout losses in two bowl games.

In 2001, the team rebounded with a record of 11-2, a great season that also brought great disappointment. Tennessee went into the SEC Championship game with an opportunity to return to the national championship game. A victory would bring more glory. Then, they lost to LSU, an underdog playing a backup quarterback. Many see this as the beginning of the slide, but I think it started sooner. The LSU game was simply a missed opportunity along the way. However, the 2001 season also marked the end to an invisible era. Peyton Manning’s UT career ended in 2007, but his impact ended in 2001. These were the last players recruited while Manning was on campus, and talent would slowly weaken as the era passed.

From 2002 to 2008 Fulmer won 57 and lost 32. His supporters will say that he went to two conference championship games and had three 10 win seasons. I say he backed into the championship games as a decided underdog and lost to Vanderbilt. Also, the years he won 10 games, Fulmer lost 3, 3, and 4. Then, there were the two losing seasons.

Many say that the second losing season should be blamed on Mike Hamilton, the Athletic Director, for firing Fulmer in mid-season. I agree that it was Hamilton’s fault but for a different reason. He should have fired Fulmer after he lost to Vandy in 2005. Then, we probably would not have had a losing season in 2008. Anyone who watched the games could tell that the program was in a slow decline. Fulmer had gained success and wealth and was caving in to human nature. Success brought laziness, and his record proves it. Great players made him a great coach. As the talent declined, Fulmer’s coaching ability was exposed.

Firing Phillip Fulmer was the right decision. Hiring Lane Kiffin was the right decision as well. He was a great recruiter and could coach. He took an Alabama team to the wire when his team had no business being that close. Most people disagree because he left after a year. But, I bought in to Kiffin and believe that he will be a success. Unfortunately, here is where the bad decisions began to manifest.

1. When Kiffin said he was leaving for USC, Hamilton did not make a counter offer. It may not have worked, but the attempt should have been made.

2. Hamilton panicked and followed a terrible plan. He should have named an interim coach and searched the nation with an attractive financial offer. Instead, he tried to attract candidates with a weak package and settled for Derek Dooley, head coach at Louisiana Tech.

Dooley found a program in turmoil. One coach had been fired and another left. On top of that, talent was down from years of poor assessment by Fulmer. As a result, Dooley’s record is 10-12 at this point. This includes blowout losses and no victories over rivals. The program has hit bottom under his regime.

So, what does all that mean? It means Fulmer was never a great coach but a benefactor of great recruiting. He topped out and figured his job was done. Fulmer cashed a check for a decade while living off a national championship season. As his supporters crowed about his success, that very success was slowly slipping away. When the athletic director finally got the guts to fire him the fan base was split. He made a good hire but did not try to stop it from backfiring. Then, the AD panicked and hired a coach without the ability to pull the program back.

What’s the solution? Dave Hart, the new AD, should cut his losses. Fire Dooley and put together a financial package that will attract a winning coach. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and an apathetic fan base demands it.