No. 38 UT player: Tony Robinson

Tennessee fans are fond of asking, “What if?”

What if Jerry Colquitt hadn’t been injured early in the 1994 season, thus thrusting Peyton Manning into the starting role as a freshman, gaining the rising star key reps to prepare him for one of the brightest stretches in UT history from ’95-’97. What if Manning could’ve redshirted in ’94, then Tee Martin, then Casey Clausen? What would the chain effect have been all the way to modern day UT football?

What if Tony Robinson hadn’t been injured in 1985?

That isn’t a question asked often, because by the time Robinson went down with a season-ending knee injury, Tennessee had already lost to Florida and was out of the national championship race, and the Vols still went on to finish the season in magical fashion with a No. 4 national ranking.

But if Robinson hadn’t been injured, how much further up the list of UT greats would he have been by the end of the season? Granted, his injury only cost him seven games of his UT career. But he was a Heisman candidate, and wowing new admirers with his throwing abilities every game.

The skinny kid from Florida (6-4, 170 lbs. when he entered college) was initially a wide receiver in high school. But his coach moved him to quarterback when he watched Robinson throw during practice and realized just how effortlessly he could toss the pigskin. That seemingly effortless throwing motion by Robinson was more evident in college, leaving many to wonder where he ranks on the list of all-time greats at the quarterback position at UT. John Majors, who coached a national championship team at Pitt before returning home to Knoxville, called him the best quarterback he had ever coached.

Once he moved to the QB position, Robinson excelled in high school. And he wanted to play college ball at Florida State. But Bobby Bowden and the Seminoles balked on recruiting him. There were charges of racial motivations; accusations that Florida State didn’t want Robinson because he was black.

Tennessee had no such pretenses. The Vols, after all, had debuted the SEC’s first black starting quarterback in Condredge Holloway a few years earlier. But Majors’ 1982 recruiting class already included several quarterbacks, and there didn’t seem to be a spot on the roster for Robinson. Until Majors saw him throw.

Robinson rode the pine at Tennessee for two seasons, until Alan Cochrell made the decision to forego his senior season of eligibility and play Major League Baseball. When Robinson took the field as a starter in 1984, some fans wondered why he hadn’t started over Cochrell to begin with.

Tennessee finished with a mediocre 7-4-1 record in 1984, losing SEC games to Auburn, Florida and Kentucky.

But it was during that Florida game, a 43-30 loss, that Robinson began to shine. He completed a school-record 29 passes for 371 yards. He had a touchdown pass of 52 yards to Tim McGee, and another of 48 yards to Joey Clinkscales — who, like Robinson, signed with UT as a quarterback but was moved to wide receiver after it became obvious that Robinson was the best QB of the class.

Perhaps the most notable game of Robinson’s short career as a starter at Tennessee came the following week against Alabama. Down 27-13 against the hated Crimson Tide as the fourth quarter began, Tennessee rallied behind Robinson. The Vols scored two fourth quarter touchdowns. Johnny Jones’ touchdown run with just over two minutes remaining made the score 27-26. Majors was unwilling to settle for a tie. Like so many other great plays in Tennessee football lore, you can still hear John Ward’s voice echoing through the annals of UT history — “Robinson with the ball . . . Give him two! Tony Robinson keeps and sneaks and Tennessee miraculously has vaulted on top of the Tide!”

Tennessee won the game, 28-27, and the AP named Robinson the Southeast Back of the Week.

Despite a disappointing finish to the season, Robinson wound up with a 61.6% completion percentage, breaking his coach’s school record in that category.

Robinson was the source of much media hype entering the ’85 season. In Majors’ sixth year in Knoxville, the Vols appeared to finally have the pieces together to make a serious run at an SEC championship — if not a national one. And Robinson was a centerpiece of those expectations. He was widely mentioned as a Heisman Trophy candidate.

Robinson threw and ran for 417 total yards to set a school record for total offense in the season-opener against No. 10 UCLA. The Vols entered the fourth quarter up 16 points, but somehow allowed the Bruins to score twice, and add two-point conversions each time, to force a tie that felt more like a loss.

The next week, Tennessee exacted some frustrations on top-ranked Auburn and another Heisman candidate, Bo Jackson. Jackson and the Tigers entered Neyland Stadium and walked away with a crushing 38-20 defeat in a game that wasn’t really that close. Robinson excelled, out-shining Jackson with a school record four touchdown passes. The following week, Sports Illustrated’s cover blared, “Tennessee Waltz: Tony Robinson Buries Auburn.” The Heisman talk was heating up.

The Vols’ lone loss of the ’85 season came two weeks later against Florida. But, even then, Robinson looked good. He completed 26 of 36 passes for 300 yards before a late interception that sealed Florida’s 17-10 win.

Then came the trip to Birmingham to face Alabama. The Tide were ranked No. 15, and favored to win. Defenses dominated the day, but Robinson had led his team to a 13-7 lead in the fourth quarter, and was looking for more when “it” happened.

With the ball inside Alabama’s 10-yard-line, Robinson was scrambling for the goal line when he was cut down by two Alabama defenders. One of them, Cornelius Bennett, said, “T-Man, stay down. You’re hurt. I can feel it.”

Robinson was hurt. He had torn his ACL. His Tennessee career was finished.

Tennessee managed to finish the season strong behind Darryl Dickey, winning the Sugar Bowl with a 35-7 win over highly-favored Miami.

As for Robinson, four of his five games in 1985 came against opponents ranked in the Top 20 in the nation, yet he completed 91 of 143 passes for 1,246 yards and eight touchdowns.

Robinson left UT with 3,527 yards of career total offense, which still stands as 14th highest in school history even though Robinson only started a season and a half. His mark of 13 consecutive games with a touchdown pass stood until it was broken by Heath Shuler; his single-game passing record stood until it was broken by Peyton Manning.

With his college career ended, Robinson turned to cocaine. Just days after Tennessee’s Sugar Bowl win without him, he was arrested by Knoxville PD in a sting operation and charged with selling cocaine. He was sentenced to nine months in prison.

Robinson signed with the Washington Redskins during the 1987 players’ strike. A judge released him from prison to play. He returned after the strike ended to finish out his prison sentence. His legal troubles continued after his release, and he served another two-year prison sentence in the early ’90s. By the mid 2000s, Robinson had been arrested repeatedly. But he finally cleaned up his act in 2006, and these days coaches youth league football.

Robinson returned to Neyland Stadium for the first time in 2013, running through the “T” with Johnny Majors. It was a magical day all the way around, as the Vols stunned Steve Spurrier’s No. 11 South Carolina team that day on an end-of-game field goal.

38 DAYS UNTIL FOOTBALL TIME IN TENNESSEE!

No. 39 UT player: Dale Carter

When Florida visited Neyland Stadium in 1998, John Ward famously quipped before the game started, “People have been waiting for this.”

People had been waited when Florida visited Knoxville in 1990, too. The Florida-Tennessee rivalry was just beginning to bud into the beautiful SEC East hate-fest it would become, and campus was at a fever pitch when a young, brash Steve Spurrier brought his undefeated Gators to Knoxville for the first time, to face John Majors’ undefeated Vols. Tennessee was ranked No. 5, Florida was ranked No. 9, and the stakes were high — Florida couldn’t win the SEC championship because of NCAA probation, but the Gators could certainly prevent Tennessee from winning it.

Before the game started, ESPN’s Ron Franklin said the two teams were so close that it would be hard to pick a winner. For the first 30 minutes, the two teams proved Franklin’s words true. Tennessee led 7-3, but neither team could muster much offense.

Then, the second half kickoff.

Florida’s kickoff appeared to be bouncing out of bounds inside the 10-yard-line. Tennessee free safety Dale Carter tight-roped the sideline and picked up the ball just before it bounced out of bounds to give Tennessee great field position on the 35-yard-line.

Boneheaded play? It was until Carter broke two tackles, reversed the field, and raced 90 yards for a touchdown. It was one of the most electrifying moments in Neyland Stadium history. Tennessee led 14-3, and a rout was on. The Vols scored every which way imaginable in the second half, destroying Spurrier’s Gators by a final score of 45-3.

Carter, a junior, exploded onto the scene at Tennessee with that kickoff return. He would make a lot of other great plays in his short, two-year career in Knoxville, but none that left folks talking the way that 90-yard return against Florida left them talking.

By the end of that 1990 season, Carter led the nation in kick return yardage, with more than 500 yards and a 29-yard-per-kick average. He was named an All-American.

Carter’s production slipped in 1991, as special teams coaches began honing in on him. He averaged 23 yards per kick return and just six yards per punt return as a senior. He finished his UT career with nine interceptions and 102 total tackles. But it was that single kickoff return against Florida in 1990 that cemented his status as a Tennessee legend.

Carter was drafted in the first round of the 1992 NFL Draft by the Kansas City Chiefs. He was named the defensive rookie of the year (fellow Vol Carl Pickens, with the Bengals, was named offensive rookie of the year that same season) in 1992.

Carter spent seven seasons with the Chiefs before Denver signed him as one of the league’s top-paid defensive backs. But Carter’s mounting off-the-field problems with substance abuse caught up with him, and he was suspended for the entire 2000 season. He became a journeyman in the last four years of his NFL career before retiring in 2005 and founding a non-profit to steer kids in a different direction than he took himself.

39 DAYS UNTIL FOOTBALL TIME IN TENNESSEE!

No. 40 UT player: Tim McGee

Several players played an important role in Tennessee’s “storybook season” in 1985 — guys like Jeff Powell at tailback and Tony Robinson at quarterback. And one of the best was wide receiver Tim McGee.

McGee had already emerged as a serious offensive threat for the Vols, catching 54 passes for 809 yards and six touchdowns as a junior in 1984. But his senior season was even more special.

It was obvious that something special was afoot that season when Auburn visited Neyland Stadium. The Tigers were ranked No. 1, featured Heisman Trophy candidate Bo Jackson at tailback, and were heavily favored.

But Robinson upstaged Jackson, throwing four touchdown passes in a sensational performance. And it was McGee who provided the target for a number of those passes. McGee caught six passes for 163 yards. On one of them, he out-raced the coverage to get open for a Robinson deep ball. Walk inside Neyland Stadium when there’s no one else there and everything is quiet and you can almost still hear John Ward’s voice echoing somewhere: “Robinson throws, McGee catches. It was there all the way. McGee had him by five yards and Robinson, Bill Anderson, right on the dollar mark.”

Tennessee dominated the game, winning 38-20. Afterwards, McGee said the Vols were back. And they were.

“We had nothing to lose,” McGee said. “This is Auburn, the No. 1 team with the No. 1 Heisman guy. We could’ve lost 50 to nothing and everybody would have said, ‘Typical Tennessee team.’ Now, we’ve got Tennessee back on the map.”

By the time Tennessee finished the season with a dominating win over highly-favorited Miami in the Sugar Bowl, winning 35-7, McGee had caught 50 passes for 947 yards and seven touchdowns. His career numbers were 123 catches for 2,042 yards and 15 touchdowns — all of them school records. His 18.9 yard-per-catch average in 1985 was a team record that stood for 20 years. He was named a 1985 All-American.

McGee was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in the first round of the 1986 draft. As a rookie, he led the NFL in kick return yards, with 1,007. Two years later, McGee helped lead the Bengals to an appearance in Super Bowl XXIII.

In nine seasons in the NFL, McGee caught 321 passes for 5,203 yards and 28 touchdowns.

40 DAYS UNTIL FOOTBALL TIME IN TENNESSEE!

Chicago: Looking for solution where there’s none to be found

Chicago top cop Garry McCarthy on the city’s latest surge in violence:

“There has to come a tipping point where this changes,” McCarthy said then of the violence. “The illogical nature of what’s happening here — that government can intercede and prevent this from happening is overwhelming. And I refuse to think otherwise in a great country like America that we can continue to allow this to happen — not just on a state, but on a federal level.”

Let’s interpret what McCarthy’s saying: Chicago already has some of the nation’s strictest gun laws, second only to Washington D.C. That hasn’t worked, so McCarthy is saying the federal government should enact the same unconstitutional laws so that it might help Chicago.

In other words: We can’t keep our streets safe, so we need the federal government to trample the rights of law-abiding gunowners across America.

McCarthy actually makes Rahm Emanuel look like the sensible one for a change:

“Everybody says, ‘So what are you going to do?’ As if there’s a single thing that’s going to resolve this problem,” Emanuel said. “It is a communitywide problem, which requires a communitywide solution.”

Candidate decisions are best left to the voters

An editorial in this week’s newspaper:

“The Independent Herald will not endorse candidates for political office, but will make every attempt to keep our readers aware of who those candidates are and the office they are seeking. There will be a clear distinction between paid political advertisements and news reports of a candidate’s decision to seek office.”

Those words appeared in an article introducing the Independent Herald in the newspaper’s very first edition — June 17, 1976. It is a principle that has guided us for nearly 40 years since.

Newspapers have long endorsed candidates for political office on their editorial pages — dating back to 1860, when the New York Times endorsed Abraham Lincoln, Republican, for president. For nearly as long, there has been debate over whether the practice is a good idea of a bad one.

The practice of endorsing candidates is one that is generally in decline. The Wall Street Journal, for example, last endorsed a presidential candidate when Herbert Hoover was seeking the White House. In America’s most recent presidential election, there were 17 national newspapers that did not endorse candidates.

Still, there are far more papers that endorse candidates than there are that do not, and each newspaper regularly weighs the pros and cons of doing so.

As for the Independent Herald, we have not endorsed a political candidate in 38 years. We have occasionally endorsed political positions — editorializing in favor of a new tax to help save the Oneida Special School District in 1990 and supporting a wheel tax as a fair means of helping to retire school debt in 2012 — but never a candidate.

Frankly, we feel the issue of who to vote for is an issue that should be decided by the voter. It isn’t the job of an effective newspaper to lecture, but to inform. Our job is to provide information on who the candidates are and where they stand on the issues, not tell you which of them you should consider when you cast your ballot.

We have faith in our readers — faith that they can make up their own minds which candidate is best qualified for the office.

The latest victim of the thought police: Tony Dungy

Former NFL coach Tony Dungy, the first black coach to win a Super Bowl, is being taken to the cleaners by the politically correct media crowd over his comments when asked about St. Louis’s decision to draft Michael Sam.

Dungy — who, to be fair, is a noted conservative — said when asked by the Tampa Bay Tribute about the Rams’ decision to choose Sams in the seventh round: “I wouldn’t have taken him. Not because I don’t believe Michael Sam should have a chance to play, but I wouldn’t want to deal with all of it. It’s not going to be totally smooth … things will happen.”

CBS Sports rakes Dungy over the coals for his comments, calling them “shameful” and “disappointing.” SB Nation calls Dungy a homophobe and claims that Dungy — not Sam — is the distraction.

If the thought police will hold on just a sec, here’s the problem: Tony Dungy didn’t say anything against homosexuality. He didn’t say anything agains Michael Sam. Reread his comments. He simply said that, as a coach, he wouldn’t have wanted to deal with the distractions. In other words, he said what the majority of current coaches are thinking but not allowed to say because they know doing so would be career suicide by the time the mainstream media was through vilifying them the same way they’ve vilified Dungy.

Anyone who thinks that Sam isn’t a distraction, as CBS and SB argue, is taking a head-in-the-sand approach to the situation. The very fact that his not being drafted until the seventh round created a media firestorm of criticism is proof enough of that.

Now consider what’s going to happen on down the road. Sam is a borderline NFL talent. There’s a reason he wasn’t drafted until the seventh round. He wasn’t projected highly going into the draft. There were players who were arguably as good as him or even better who did not get drafted.

So what happens when he doesn’t make the grade and St. Louis needs to cut him? Think they’re going to be able to do so without catching a ton of flack from the media? Think they’re going to be able to do so without everyone from their coach to their owner being labeled homophobic bigots? 

Nope. 

So, for St. Louis, things very likely will happen. Either they’ll be vilified by the thought police for cutting the NFL’s first openly gay player, or they’ll be stuck paying dead weight on their roster. It’s a gamble; one that will pay off if Sam makes the grade and contributes on the field, but one that was very much too much for many NFL types to consider. Don’t blame Dungy for saying what no one else is willing to.