UT vs. Utah State: 10 points

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1.) I’ve been to a lot of Tennessee football games over the years, and I have never seen a crowd two hours away from kickoff as large as the one that was on-hand for yesterday’s pre game festivities — at least not for a non-conference game. Several others made similar comments. By 2:45 p.m., a full two hours before the Vol Walk, all the “front row” spots along Peyton Manning Pass and Phillip Fulmer Drive were claimed. An hour before the team made its walk to Neyland Stadium, fans were already lined up four- and five-deep along the route. Clearly, the fact that it was a night game on a holiday weekend made a difference, but the bottom line is that East Tennessee is primed and ready for this Vols football program to return to greatness. And last night they caught a glimpse of what that return might feel like.


2.) A.J. Johnson. My goodness, what a game the senior linebacker had. It was easily the game of his career. He finished in double-digits in tackles, forced a fumble, intercepted a pass that he nearly housed, and came within a hair of intercepting another, which would have certainly been a pick-six if he could’ve made the catch. He was, without a doubt, the game’s MVP.

3.) The defense in general simply looked outstanding. It was a daylight-and-dark difference between last year’s defense, and the defenses from the past couple of seasons. There were very few missed tackles, and on the occasions when there was a missed tackle, help arrived to clean things up. Defenders were pursuing the football with speed that has been missing. There were numerous open-field tackles that defenders couldn’t cleanly execute in past years. There were better pursuit angles. Utah State didn’t get past the 50-yard-line until the second half, and only twice the entire game. Take away two big plays in the second half, and it’s a shutout. The Aggies were 3 of 14 on third downs and 0 of 1 on fourth downs. Let’s wait until conference play begins to issue a final judgment on this defense, but at first glance, the improvements are notable. 

4.) YOUTH. It was all over the field for Tennessee. The Vols played 21 true freshman. The previous record for the number of true freshmen playing in a UT game? 12. And it wasn’t like they all played mop-up duty after the game was in hand. By the end of the first quarter, 16 true freshmen had already hit the field. And their names were being called all night long. Jalen Hurd had a touchdown reception, Todd Kelly Jr. forced a fumble, Dillon Bates was big on special teams . . . and the list goes on.

5.) Chuckie who?!? It’s probably safe to say that Utah State can shelve their Heisman Trophy campaign materials. The Aggies were promoting Chuckie Keeton as a Heisman candidate, but UT’s defense made the quarterback — who was spectacular as a sophomore and early last year before missing most of the season with ACL and MCL tears — look very average. He completed 18 of 35 passes for 144 yards and had two interceptions, while averaging only 1.5 yards with his legs.

6.) Tennessee’s rebuilt offensive line has much work to do. The Vols averaged just 2.8 yards per carry (Utah State averaged 4.2) against a defense that is definitely not an SEC-caliber defense. There was very little push off the ball on run plays. In pass protection, the line struggled mightily early on, then appeared to improve somewhat as the game progressed. But throw in the false start penalties (four of them) and the ineligible receiver penalty that negated a big gain into scoring position, and the talent downgrade on the line from last season to this was painfully evident. 

7.) Justin Worley had a good game, completing a career-high 27 passes (on 39 attempts) for 273 yards and three touchdowns. That was particularly impressive considering it was Worley’s first game back from his thumb injury last year. But there’s still plenty of reason for caution. Worley did not look good throwing the ball down the field. He hesitated too long as he waited for receivers to come open (which resulted in one sack) and overthrew receivers who had their defenders beat. Still, the important things were that Worley didn’t turn the ball over, managed the game well, and did a good job completing the many high-percentage passes that his coaches set up for him.

8.) It’s clear that UT sees the strength of its offense as being its receiving corps. The Vols ran many bubble screens and other edge screens against Utah State. The idea is to simply get the ball into the hands of a receiver and let him try to break a big play. It worked, too. Will it work against Oklahoma or Florida or Georgia or Alabama? Probably not as well, but the bottom line is that Tennessee has to get the ball into its playmakers’ hands however possible, and the playmakers are definitely the receivers.

9.) Third down for what?!? It will get old by the end of the season, but Neyland Stadium’s third down rally ditty (a play on the hip-hop hit “Turn Down for What” by DJ Snake and Lil John) was an instant crowd energizer, especially for the student section. At one point on a third down in the first quarter, the cheerleaders’ decibel meter hit 101. On a couple of other occasions, it hit 99. 

10.) It probably goes without saying, but it’s probably best for UT fans to be optimistically cautious. Tennessee was only a four-point favorite going into last night’s game, most of the “experts” at ESPN, Sports Illustrated, et al, were predicting an upset win by Utah State, and the Aggies are one of only nine teams in FBS to win at least 20 games over the past two seasons. But all of that is based on recent results. Utah State featured one of the most inexperienced teams in college football coming into Neyland Stadium — replacing virtually every starter from last year’s team that upset No. 24 Northern Illinois in its bowl game. In a few weeks we may very well be talking about just how bad Utah State is this season. I’m not ready to say that this Tennessee team will win eight games. I still think getting to 6-6 will be an accomplishment. With that said, we didn’t see a lot from UT’s opponents in this first weekend of college football that has a lot of Vols fans quaking in their boots…but, by the same token, it’s probably fair to say that UT’s opponents didn’t see much from the Vols last night that has them quaking in their boots.

No. 1 UT player: Peyton Manning

March 5, 1997. Like thousands of other young Tennessee fans across East Tennessee that day, I was trapped at school.

Like thousand of other young Tennessee fans, I had a Walkman radio with me.

It was Decision Time for Peyton Manning. And smart money said he was headed to the NFL. After three years in college, he had already established himself as the best quarterback of his day, and millions of dollars awaited him as the projected No. 1 pick in the 1997 NFL Draft.

As Manning took the podium in the media room inside Thompson Boling Arena, he began to talk about his experiences at the University of Tennessee. And then: “I also want to have a great experience in the NFL.” 

So there you go. He’s gone. It’s been fun, but he’s gone. 

“I’ve made up my mind; I don’t expect to ever look back. I’m gonna stay at the University of Tennessee.” 

With those words, Peyton Manning endeared himself to an entire generation of Tennesseans. Oh, sure, Manning would’ve still been a Vols legend if he had taken the money and walked away after his junior season. Who could’ve blamed him? But he didn’t. And, for that, the fans loved him.

At Thompson Boling Arena on the UT campus in Knoxville, the standing-room-only crowd erupted into wild cheering. At a small school in Scott County, I drew a stern look from the teacher as I jumped up in the middle of class, did a fist pump and hollered, “Yes!” At schools and businesses throughout East Tennessee, learning and production ceased as principals and supervisors took to P.A. systems to tell students and employees of Manning’s decision.

Peyton Manning never won a national championship, never won the Heisman Trophy (should have, but didn’t), and didn’t even beat Florida.

But he did guide the Vols to their most successful era in more than a half-century, and arguably their most successful era ever. From 1995 to 1997, Manning’s Tennessee team did not lose to an SEC team not named Florida. And the Vols’ only non-conference loss was a fluke upset by Memphis in ’96. 

Along the way, Manning rewrote the Tennessee record book for quarterbacks.

But that’s not what endeared Manning to so many Tennesseans. Heath Shuler had rewritten the record book before Manning, and Andy Kelly had rewritten the record book before Shuler. Both of those quarterbacks guided the Tennessee team through successful eras. Kelly even won twice as many SEC championships as Manning. 

What endeared Manning to so many Tennesseans was his style and personality. From the moment he announced his decision to sign with Tennessee coming out of high school, Tennessee loved Peyton Manning. Not that Kelly and Shuler and all the quarterbacks who came before Manning were anything less than classy — in fact, they were two of the classiest quarterbacks in the game when they played — but Manning took it upon himself to take the extra step to represent his university with class and character.

And perhaps what endeared Manning to fans was his work ethic. Manning was by far the best quarterback to ever play in Knoxville. The stats don’t lie. But Manning wasn’t the most talented quarterback to play in Knoxville. Not even close, in fact. Condredge Holloway, Tony Robinson, Heath Shuler . . . they were all more talented than Manning. Arguably, Kelly was too. But Manning’s work ethic was well documented. No one studied more play diagrams, watched more film, or spent more time around the football facilities during down time than Manning did. With Manning around, non-mandatory workouts were nothing less than mandatory for receivers. Because Manning wouldn’t tolerate anything less than the same dedication that he himself brought to the team.

Mostly, though, what endeared Manning to fans was the fact that he stayed. He bucked a trend. When Heath Shuler had a chance to make millions, he took the money and ran. When Chuck Webb had a chance to make millions, he was going to take the money and run. And everyone wearing orange had convinced themselves that with millions on the line, Peyton Manning was going to take the money and run.

There have been entire books written about Manning’s time at Tennessee — Jimmy Hyams’ is the best — and attempting to effectively sum up what Manning did here and what he meant to the fans in a short post is an exercise in futility.

Many Tennessee fans will argue that Manning is the best quarterback to ever play college football.

I disagree. I think there were several college quarterbacks who were better than Manning — including the one who won the Heisman Trophy the year before Manning graduated: Florida’s Danny Wuerffel. 

But with his work ethic and attitude, Manning was destined for greatness. And greatness is what he has accomplished in the NFL. At this point, as Manning enters the twilight of his playing career, it’s hard to argue that he isn’t the best quarterback to ever play the game of football. He owns too many records. He may not catch Brett Favre in some categories, but his name is affixed to enough records to prove his worth statistically. And he’s proven that there has perhaps never been a single player more valuable to his team than he was during his stint in Indianapolis. Without Manning, Indianapolis went from an annual Super Bowl contender to a 1-15 team. 

Of course there are those who will argue that Manning isn’t the best. They’ll talk about guys named Montana and Favre and Brady and Marino. They’ll talk about Super Bowl rings and crucial playoff losses. 

But you won’t find many people in East Tennessee who will make that argument. Because, in our minds, it was settled back in March 1997. With 20 words, Peyton Manning became a legend: 

“I’ve made up my mind; I don’t expect to ever look back: I’m gonna stay at the University of Tennessee”


No. 2 UT player: The ‘First Family’ of Tennessee football

When it comes to football, Franklin County’s Majors family was once often times referred to as the “first family” of Tennessee football.

Johnny Majors was the first of the Majors can to wear the orange and white, after leading his high school alma mater — Huntland — to a state championship.

Majors was one of Tennessee’s best-ever tailbacks, but he was also a versatile player who could — and did — play multiple positions.

As a junior in 1955, Majors played every single snap — offense, defense and special teams — in a game against Georgia Tech. He was also the SEC’s only player to record 1,000+ yards of total offense that season, and was named the SEC’s Player of the Year.

In 1956, Majors was again named the SEC’s Player of the Year. No other Tennessee player would be named the conference’s top player until Reggie White nearly three decades later.

Majors was also a unanimous All-American in 1956, and runner-up to the Heisman Trophy. And if you think there were conspiracy theories aloof when Peyton Manning finished second to Michigan’s Charles Woodson in the 1997 Heisman balloting, that was nothing compared to Majors’ snub more than 40 years earlier.

There might have been something to those conspiracy theories, though. Notre Dame’s Paul Hornung won the Heisman Trophy in 1956, despite the Irish’s 2-8 record. At that point, and still today, Hornung was the only Heisman Trophy winner to play for a losing team.

Majors finished his Tennessee career with 1,622 rushing yards, 1,135 passing yards, a 39.1-yard punting average on 83 attempts, 782 return yards, 16 total touchdowns and 2 interceptions. He was named to the All SEC Quarter Century Team in 1974.

Next came Bill Majors, who played at Tennessee from 1958 to 1960. He was best known for the stop of LSU’s two-point conversion try in 1959. The Tigers were ranked No. 1 in the nation but were upset that day, 14-13, by the Vols, when the two-point conversion attempt following their late touchdown was stopped cold when standout runningback Billy Cannon was stopped just short of the goal line.

Bobby Majors was the youngest of the Majors brothers, playing at Tennessee from 1969 to 1971. Like his brothers, he was a versatile player, finishing with school records for punt returns (117) and punt return yardage (1,163). He also averaged more than 30 yards per kick return, third-highest in school history, and held a career punting average of 37.3 yards. In 1970, Bobby Majors set a school record with 10 interceptions, and finished his career ranked 13th on UT’s career INT list, with 13.

In October 1965, Bill Majors was an assistant coach at Tennessee when he — along with two fellow UT assistant coaches — was killed instantly in a train-car collision in Knoxville. The coaches were on their way to the UT campus when a train plowed into their car as it was stopped on a track crossing.

In 1966, the entire Majors family — John, Bill and Bob, along with brother Larry and father Shirley, a legendary coach at Huntland High School — were inducted into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. In 1984, Johnny Majors was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

After leading Pitt to the 1976 national championship, Johnny Majors — who had played one season in the CFL after graduation — returned to Knoxville in 1977 and positioned the UT program for a return to greatness. He won SEC championships in 1985, 1989 and 1990. The 1989-1991 seasons were among the best three-year eras in Tennessee football history. But, after angering the wrong people within the university, Majors was fired in 1992 after his offensive coordinator, Phil Fulmer, led the team to a 3-0 start while Majors was recovering from heart surgery (Tennessee lost three consecutive games after Majors’ return to the sideline that season).

Majors returned to Pitt for his second coaching stint there and remained bitter with the University of Tennessee for years. In recent years, however, Majors and the university have soothed their relationship and Majors has once again been embraced by — and has embraced — the UT football program. In 2012, his jersey was retired.


No. 3 UT player: The Artful Dodger

Condredge Holloway’s paternal grandfather was born into slavery in pre-emancipation America. 

As a child in slavery, could he have ever imagined that he would have a grandson who would bring tens of thousands of fans to their feet, cheering his name? 

That’s exactly what Condredge Holloway did more than a hundred years later. Literally. In 1974′s season opener against UCLA, Holloway — by that time a senior quarterback at the University of Tennessee — left the field with an injury. In the third quarter, he emerged from the locker room as the game was ongoing, bringing Neyland Stadium to its feet as he circled the field from the dresser room on the east sideline to the Vols’ bench on the west sideline. He then re-entered the game and led his team to victory.

Condredge Holloway earned his nickname — The Artful Dodger — because of his nifty moves on the field. More than a scrambling quarterback, he was a twisting, turning, spinning bar of wet soap who usually left defenders sprawled on the ground in his tracks. He was a master at eluding would-be tacklers. 

But one thing Holloway didn’t elude was the SEC’s last glass ceiling when it came to racial integration on the football field. Holloway crashed right through that, becoming the conference’s first black quarterback.

That in itself was no surprise. Holloway’s mother — Dorothy — was the first black employee at NASA. And Tennessee wasn’t as deeply impacted by segregation as some of its fellow SEC institutions deeper into the South. By the time Holloway was coming out of high school in 1971, black football players was an idea whose time had come at Tennessee. In 1968, Lester McClain, the Vols’ first black player, received a standing ovation from the Neyland Stadium crowd when he walked onto the field for the first time against Georgia.

It was that willingness to accept that led Holloway to Knoxville. Alabama and Auburn both wanted him. In fact, it was George Wallace — yes, that George Wallace — who called Holloway and tried to recruit him to Alabama. And either team could have probably had him. Holloway was an Alabama kid, you see, and when you’re an Alabama kid you don’t turn down offers from Auburn or Alabama to go elsewhere to play — you didn’t then and you don’t now. But neither Alabama or Auburn was willing to allow Holloway to play quarterback. Crimson Tide coach Bear Bryant told Holloway up front that Alabama just wasn’t ready for a black quarterback.

Tennessee was ready. And so Holloway moved north.

It wasn’t that easy, of course. Holloway was a standout baseball player; he liked baseball more than football, in fact. And the Montreal Expos made him the fourth pick of the 1971 MLB Draft. At 17 years old, he was just about to become a rich man. But Dorothy insisted that her son get himself a college education before pursuing his dreams of professional sports. And, so, Holloway wound up at Tennessee.

Holloway’s first start — against Georgia Tech in 1972; in those days, freshmen still weren’t allowed to play varsity football — was one of those great stories that just makes you feel good about humanity. But there’s more to this story than breaking glass ceilings. Much more.

The Artful Dodger, you see, wasn’t just the SEC’s first black quarterback. He was one of the greatest quarterbacks — black or white — the world had ever seen in 1972. 

After leading the Vols to a 34-3 win over Georgia Tech in that first appearance, he went on to lead the team to a 10-2 season. Ironically, the Vols’ two losses that year were to both Alabama and Auburn. One of his most memorable games was a 28-21 win over Penn State in the first night game to be played at Neyland Stadium. The Vols capped the season with a 24-17 win over No. 10 LSU in the Bluebonnet Bowl.

Holloway finished his Tennessee career with a record of 25-9-2. He had the best interception-to-attempt ratio in school history, with 12 interceptions on 407 pass attempts. He completed 238 of those passes for 3,102 yards and 18 touchdowns. He added 966 rushing yards and nine more touchdowns on the ground.

Oh, and while he was an All-American on the football field, Holloway was also an All-American on the baseball diamond for the Vols, finishing his career as a shortstop with a .353 career batting average. He still owns the longest hitting streak in Tennessee history: 27 games.

Unfortunately, the importance of Holloway’s skin color didn’t end when he firmly established himself as Tennessee’s starting quarterback. When he finished his college career, Holloway slipped all the way to the 12th round of the NFL Draft before being selected — ironically, perhaps, by the New England Patriots. The talking heads said it was almost certainly the color of his skin that prevented him from being drafted higher.

So instead of going to the NFL, where he didn’t appear to be particularly wanted as a quarterback, Holloway went to the Canadian Football League. There, he spent 13 seasons, passing for more than 25,000 yards and rushing for more than 3,000 more while scoring 155 touchdowns. He was the CFL’s MVP in 1982.

For all the things Holloway accomplished as a college athlete, one thing he didn’t do was what his mother wanted most: receive his college degree. So after retiring from the CFL, he returned to Knoxville to do that . . . and did. And he’s still there, serving as the Vols’ assistant athletic director in charge of player relations. He and his wife have two children — Jasmine and Condredge III — and he is a member of the sports halls of fame in both Tennessee and Alabama, in addition to the CFL Hall of Fame.

A 2011 ESPN documentary, “The Color Orange,” recounted the story of Holloway’s career.


No. 4 UT player: Mr. Everything


Francis Edward Lauricella — folks called him “Hank” — wasn’t much bigger than some of the cheerleaders on the sidelines when he came to Knoxville to play football. He was 5-11, and weighed 175 lbs. soaking wet. But he was the perfect size to play tailback in General Neyland’s single wing offense. And he played it perfectly.

Lauricella had led his Louisiana high school — Holy Cross — to the New Orleans city championship in 1947 by perfecting the single wing offense. So it just made sense that he would want to play for Neyland . . . Neyland, after all, was a hold-over by the late 1940s. The rest of college football had switched or was switching to the T-formation, but Neyland was too stubborn to realize that the single wing was an idea whose time had come and gone.

In the single wing offense, the tailback is responsible for both running and throwing, and Lauricella did both well. So well, in fact, that folks started calling him “Mr. Everything.” Because, when it came to Tennessee’s offense, he did pretty much everything . . . and he played safety on the defensive side of the ball to boot.

Lauricella was named an All-SEC player as a sophomore. As a junior, he led Tennessee to a 10-1 record and a win in the Cotton Bowl. Some publications named the Vols the national champions. 

As a senior in 1951, Lauricella led Tennessee to an undefeated regular season and a consensus national championship. He was named an All-American and finished as the runner-up to the Heisman Trophy — which was won by Princeton’s Dick Kazmaier. 

Lauricella’s most memorable play came during that Cotton Bowl win over Texas, when he ran 75 yards from Tennessee’s 20-yard-line to Texas’s five-yard-line, knifing back and forth across the field three times before finally being tackle. (The video is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=voilDlrD8lU ) UT would go on to score, and won the game 20-14. Years later, Lauricella was inducted into the Cotton Bowl Hall of Fame.

As a Vol, Lauricella saw UT enjoy one of its greatest eras ever, going 28-4-1, including 20 consecutive wins. During his junior and senior seasons, Mr. Everything led the team in passing, rushing, total offense and punting.

Lauricella spent one year in professional football, playing for the Dallas Texans, before serving in South Korea in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, then returning to Louisiana and entering the political arena. He was elected to the State House as a Democrat and served eight years before successfully running for State Senate, where he eventually switched to Republican and served a total of 24 years.

In 1981, Lauricella was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. He has also been inducted into the sports halls of fame in both Tennessee and Louisiana. 

Lauricella died earlier this year, at the age of 83. 


No. 5 UT player: The Minister of Defense

When Chattanooga’s Reggie White signed with the University of Tennessee in 1980, few could have imagined that he would go on to become one of the greatest pass rushers the game of football has ever known. But, by the end of his freshman season, he was well on his way o establishing himself as just that.

Before the 1980 season ended, White was a starter at the defensive tackle position, recording 51 tackles and two sacks, and also blocking a punt, during his freshman season.

In his sophomore season, White recorded 95 tackles, eight sacks and seven tackles for loss while blocking three extra point kicks.

A preseason All-American in 1982, White battled a lingering ankle injury to lead the team with seven sacks, recording a total of 47 tackles.

But it was in 1983, White’s senior season, that he really made a name for himself. That year, White — the team captain — recorded 100 tackles and set a school record with 15 sacks — including a single game record with four sacks against The Citadel. He also recorded three sicks in Tennessee’s 20-6 win over LSU.

White was a consensus All-American in 1983 and the Vols’ first SEC Player of the Year since Johnny Majors won the honor in 1956.

White finished his Tennessee career with 293 total tackles, more than 200 of them solo. He had a career record 32 sacks, 19 tackles for loss, four fumble recoveries, four blocked kicks and an interception.

While Corey Miller broke White’s single game sacks record in a 2013 win over Kentucky, White still holds the school records for sacks in a season and in a career.

After college, White played briefly for the USFL’s Memphis franchise before jumping to the NFL, where he became a legend.

In eight seasons as a defensive end with the Philadelphia Eagles, White sacked the quarterback 124 times — including 21 times in 1987, when he set the NFL record for average sacks per game. He has been named by ESPN as the greatest player in Eagles franchise history.

White spent six seasons in Green Bay before retiring, recording another 68.5 sacks. One of the best seasons of his career came in his final season with the Packers. That year, 1998, White recorded 16 sacks and forced four fumbles.

White came out of retirement for one season in 2000, recording 5.5 sacks with the Carolina Panthers.

All-told, White had 14 forced fumbles, 12 fumble recoveries — three for touchdowns, three interceptions, and 312 tackles during his NFL career. Oh, and 198.5 sacks — second on the NFL’s career list, just behind Bruce Smith’s 200 sacks. But when you add his two-year stint in the USFL before that league folded, White had 221.5 career sacks — the most sacks of any individual in the history of football.

The “Ministry of Defense” nickname came from White’s time at Tennessee. There, he was involved with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and, early in his playing career, was ordained to preach. The nickname stuck throughout his professional career.

The nickname was a flattering one, but White’s strict adherence to the beliefs of the church didn’t always benefit his career. After his retirement from the NFL, CBS fired him from a multimillion dollar deal as a pregame panelist when he said in an interview that homosexuality is a sin.

After his retirement from the NFL, White became angry with the University of Tennessee because the Vols hadn’t retired his 1992 jersey number. At that point, Tennessee had not retired the number of any living player.

White died in 2004, at the age of 43. A contributing cause of his death was believed to be sleep apnea.

One year later, the University of Tennessee retired his No. 92 jersey.

White was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006, becoming just the second Tennessee player to be inducted into both the college and pro halls of fame (the other being Doug Atkins).

White was no stranger to Oneida during his UT playing days. He and other players were sometimes guests of the West family. Later, during his professional career, White spoke at a special service at Oneida’s Bethlehem Baptist Church.


No. 6 UT player: Doug Atkins

Doug Atkins didn’t intend to play football at the University of Tennessee. Atkins, a native of Humboldt, Tenn., originally went to Knoxville to play basketball.

But when General Neyland saw Atkins’ ability on the football field, he recruited him to join the team.

The greatest defensive end in the history of football was THAT close to not playing football at all after his high school days.

At 6-8, Atkins was a formidable pass rusher. Actually, that’s being kind. He terrorized quarterbacks. When he wasn’t using his tall frame to bat down their passes at the line of scrimmage, he was leap-frogging linemen to get to them.

It wasn’t just quarterbacks who were afraid of Atkins. As Marvin West relates in his book, Tales of the Tennessee Vols, Atkins was once ejected from a game at Tennessee. When he refused to leave the field, the referee walked to the sideline and told Neyland that Tennessee would have to forfeit the game if the coach didn’t get Atkins off the field. Neyland’s response was, “YOU ejected him — YOU get him off the field!”

Atkins was twice an All-American at Tennessee, lost only three games as a starter, and helped lead the Vols to the 1951 national championship. Following his college career, he was the only unanimous selection to the SEC Quarter Century Team in 1975 and was selected as the SEC’s Player of the Quarter Century that same year.

One of the most dominant defensive players in the history of the SEC, Atkins went on to become just as good in the NFL. He was selected as the fifth overall pick by the Cleveland Browns in 1953, and helped the browns win the NFL championship (precursor to the Super Bowl) in 1954. He eventually wound up in Chicago, where he helped the Bears win the NFL championship in 1963. The last three years of his career were spent with the expansion New Orleans Saints. And despite spending just three seasons there, he is one of only two Saints in the history of his franchise to have his number retired. (He is also one of the few players to have his number — 91 — retired by the University of Tennessee.) He was a 10-time All-Pro selection and an 8-time Pro Bowler, winning the Pro Bowl MVP in 1958.

Stories are told of Atkins showing up at NFL training camp with guns — shotguns, revolvers. It was a different era, and towards the end of his career, he scared a group of rookies in New Orleans by firing his shotgun into the air outside their window. “I needed my sleep; I was old,” Atkins said. “They wanted to keep that music playing so I just quieted them down.” Linebacker Dick Butkus would later say that Atkins was the only player he was ever afraid of. Johnny Unitas said the same thing. On another occasion, Atkins walked into the New Orleans locker room and turned off a teammate’s radio that was blaring popular rock music, which Atkins hated. “We’re going to listen to American music here because we’re all Americans,” Atkins told his teammates as he put in a tape of Johnny Cash. For the rest of the year, the team listened to country music.

Atkins was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1982 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 1985, and is one of just two former Vols to be inducted into both — the other being Reggie White. Ask most football historians and they’ll agree: The game of football has never known a better defensive end than Doug Atkins.


Keep eye to sky on Memorial Day weekend

Tropical Storm Cristobal — the storm that once looked like it might impact the Southeastern U.S. over the Labor Day weekend — continues to slowly strengthen in the Atlantic, but he isn’t coming to America.

Another tropical disturbance continues to trek across the Atlantic high seas, meanwhile, and could eventually become the fourth named storm of the 2014 hurricane season. It still seems that the most plausible outcome of this system takes it along a path similar to Cristobal, but that is far from written in stone.

And yet another tropical wave has peeled off the coast of Africa and could very well threaten the Atlantic Basin further down the road.

Just because there isn’t a tropical storm to dump rain on the South this holiday weekend doesn’t mean it’s going to be a dry weekend, however. A totally different weather setup — a developing trough behind a cold front that will sag south across the region — promises to deliver at least scattered storms during the holiday weekend. With a lot of outdoors events planned for East Tennessee this weekend — from ATV festivals in Huntsville to Boomsday in Knoxville to the Vols’ football opener — folks will definitely need to keep an eye to the sky and to the weather forecast.

Both models of choice — the GFS and the ECMWF — show widely scattered storms by the weekend, especially Sunday. Today’s 18z GFS, for example, shows a half-inch of rain across much of East Tennessee on Sunday. The 12z GFS shows more like three-fourths of an inch of rain. Of course, the storms will be convective in nature, so those model numbers aren’t gospel, but they are a good guideline…and they’re a pretty good indicator that you might want to take a poncho if you’re headed to campus on Sunday for the Vols’ game against Utah State.

The trend has been to slow down the arrival of the front, so it isn’t outside the realm of possibility that it will be delayed even longer than the models currently show. For now, though, it looks as though Sunday — and, to a lesser extend, Saturday and Monday — could be a little wet.

Vols’ Tyndall makes Melia’s day

For the seventh consecutive year, the University of Tennessee men’s and women’s basketball teams took part in the Down Syndrome Awareness Group of East Tennessee’s “Hoops for Hope” Saturday. Men’s coach Donnie Tyndall and women’s coach Holly Warlick were both on hand, as were several players — including the Vols’ Josh Richardson, Brandon Lopez and Galen Campbell.

The event allows individuals with down syndrome to play basketball games and receive instruction from players and coaches. After the games, the players and coaches pose for pictures with the families of the participants. And that’s when it gets special.

Oneida’s Melia Gilbert — a student at Oneida Elementary School — is one of the participants at Hoops for Hope each year. She and her family have been at the event when Bruce Pearl was coaching, and when Cuonzo Martin was coaching. By the end of the day Saturday, she was tired and not in the best of moods. When Coach Tyndall tried to pose with her for a picture, she would have none of it . . . instead, she decided to “make eyes,” a funny face that she makes with her fingers.

After two attempts at a “serious” picture, Tyndall gave up.

“I’ll just make a face with you,” he said. And he did.

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Before long, Melia was laughing. Coach Tyndall laughed with her, and signed her shirt.

“I’m happy,” Melia said.

Melia’s mother, Melissa Marcum Gilbert (who, coincidentally, was a standout basketball player at Scott High School in the mid 1990s), said that Tyndall made her daughter’s day.

“That little interaction with her made a huge difference,” Gilbert said.

Afterwards, Tyndall posed for a picture with another of the families in attendance, whose down syndrome daughter was only around one year old. He gave the girl’s father his personal cell number and asked him to send him the picture, Gilbert said.

“I don’t know how well of a coach he’ll be,” she said, “but he has sure won us over with his character.”

Introducing Cristobal

Cristobal has been born in the western Atlantic — the third named storm of the 2014 hurricane center. But, even as the storm becomes official, it’s becoming more likely — now almost a certainty, in fact — that it will not have a serious impact on the U.S. mainland. All the latest from the National Hurricane Center.

Meanwhile, another tropical wave has peeled off the coast of Africa and is currently making its way across the high seas. It doesn’t currently appear likely that this one will impact the U.S. mainland, but it’s being watched by meteorologists.