No. 11 UT player: Eric Berry

Two things I can tell you about Sept. 15, 2007: It was hot — very hot. And Eric Berry housed an errant pass from Tim Tebow.

I was in a tree stand on the side of a hill at Prentice Cooper Wildlife Management Area outside Chattanooga, participating in an early season whitetail deer archery draw hunt. Tennessee’s football team was in The Swamp. And getting beat.

I was attempting to listen for deer movement with one ear while listening to Bob Kesling and Tim Pries on the Vol Network with my other ear . . . and failing at it pretty miserably, I might add.

Not that it mattered; Florida was dominating the day, anyway. Almost halfway through the third quarter, the Gators were leading 28-13 and driving into the Tennessee red zone. A touchdown would make it 35-13, and that would be lights out.

And then Berry — as CBS broadcaster Verne Lundquist put it — took the cape off Tim Tebow. Defending Florida’s Riley Cooper in one-on-one coverage, Berry stepped in front of Cooper, picked off Tebow’s pass and returned it 95 yards for a touchdown. He was so fast that only Tebow had a shot to tackle him . . . but the slow white guy had no chance against the 18-year-old who had won state championships as a track athlete in Fairburn, Ga.

Berry’s name was a familiar one to Tennessee fans by that scorching September afternoon. He was considered the top cornerback prospect in the nation coming out of Creekside High School, and had been a big “steal” for UT coach Phillip Fulmer — though it really wasn’t much of a steal, since Berry’s father had played for Tennessee.

But on that day — the only time I’ve ever jumped up and done a fist-pump while hanging on the side of an oak tree 25 ft. off the ground — the true freshman found his way into the hearts of most Vols fans.

The 95-yard return was the fourth-longest interception return in school history. And, yeah, Florida went on to continue dominating the afternoon, eventually winning 59-20. But that didn’t make the INT any less exciting. By the end of that freshman season, despite having only five interceptions, Berry had accumulated 222 return yards, a new school record. He was named a freshman All-American and was Sporting News’ national defensive freshman of the year.

As a sophomore in 2008, Berry was named a team captain — one of the very few sophomores in UT history to obtain that status. With seven interceptions, he broke his INT return yards record from the previous season, totaling 265 yards and two touchdowns.

With a total of 487 INT return yards, Berry had already set the SEC record for interception return yards despite only being a sophomore. And he wasn’t finished.

Berry entered his junior season in 2009 needing only 14 yards to break the NCAA record for interception returns. But something predictable happened that season: teams stopped throwing at him. He finished with just seven return yards on two interceptions. After being named a consensus All-American for a second straight season, and winning the Jim Thorpe Award, he opted to forego his senior season of eligibility and entered the NFL Draft.

Berry was selected by Kansas City as the fifth overall pick of the 2010 NFL Draft. He was selected to the Pro Bowl as a rookie. In three seasons with the Chiefs — he missed all the 2011 season due to a torn ACL — Berry has 8 interceptions, 236 return yards and 3 touchdowns. He wears No. 29, in honor of former Vol Inky Johnson, who suffered a career-ending and life-threatening injury on the field.

For your viewing pleasure, Eric Berry de-caping Tim Tebow:

11 DAYS UNTIL FOOTBALL TIME IN TENNESSEE!

Ferguson is a mess for all the wrong reasons

I have purposely avoided commenting on the Ferguson situation because, frankly, there’s no winning ground. There’s my opinion, your opinion, and no middle ground. For reasons maybe I’ll only understand when I’m old and gray and have nothing better to do but sit on the porch watching the corn grow in the garden and pondering matters like this, we seem to trip over ourselves to throw rationale and common sense out the window when racial politics are involved. On the one hand, you have those who believe that the Po-Lice are out to destroy minorities. On the other hand, you have those who believe that if you’re a minority in a predominately black (or hispanic, etc.) neighborhood, you’re automatically up to no good. There are very few of us in the middle…kinda like being stuck between rioting protestors and a police squad’s tear gas.

But here’s the truth about what’s happening in Ferguson: it’s a mess for all the wrong reasons. At the center of this is a dead man and a police officer. Both of them — not one of them; both of them — deserve justice.

Here’s what I think is going to happen in Ferguson: I think Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, is going to go to prison. He’s going to go to prison to satisfy a bunch of people with political axes to grind — not necessarily because justice demands it. 

And maybe Darren Wilson needs to go to prison. If he shot an unarmed man out of spite, justice cannot allow him to walk away unscathed — even though the unarmed man was a criminal who had just robbed a convenience store. In America, we don’t give up our civil rights because we allegedly committed a misdemeanor. 

But whether Darren Wilson acted rightly or wrongly is a fact we’ll never know. Not now. Because the politicians have decided to jump in and muddy the waters.

Politicians like the President of the United States, who has time and again over the past six years interjected himself into local matters in which he has no damn business. With his attitude that he and his federal administration know better than local jurisdictions or the states what is best for us, the people, the president has rushed to tell us when police officers are acting stupidly, and stepping in his own mess hasn’t stopped him from doing it over and over again. Obama needs to butt out. Should the feds be involved in Ferguson? Clearly. But within the Justice Department, that’s a job for the law enforcement agents and attorneys who are hired to handle these matters, not a photo op for their boss — Eric Holder — and certainly not an opportunity for Holder’s boss to lecture all of us on race relations before the sound of the gunshots has even echoed away, let alone the facts emerged. 

Politicians like the Governor of Missouri, who has outrageously called for Wilson to be prosecuted. The governor, too, needs to butt out. The surest way to prevent justice is for people like the governor to stick their finger to their tongue, hold it to the political winds, then go wading in to throw their weight around in an effort to score political points. If witnesses at the scene can’t even agree on whether Wilson acted rightly or wrongly, how on earth can the governor, from his comfortable mansion hundreds of miles away, possibly know that the officer in question should be prosecuted? The obvious answer is that he can’t, but does that even matter? Or is Wilson a sacrificial lamb for a governor who sees one of his cities in the turmoil of racial divide and wants calm to prevail at any cost? 

We won’t know whether Darren Wilson acted rightly or wrongly because a minority of the people in Ferguson — and others from across the nation who have rushed to their aide — have decided to act like animals in the streets instead of civil-minded adults who can peacefully make their feelings known without resorting to violence. Does anyone think the members of the grand jury empaneled to determine Wilson’s fate will act under the blindfold of justice, determining only the facts of the incident? Or will they concern themselves with the violence that is certain to erupt in Ferguson and perhaps across the nation if they opt to not indict? 

We won’t know whether Wilson acted rightly or wrongly because the politicians and the news media have been fanning the flames. By and large, the so-called “mainstream” news media has handled the situation in Ferguson appropriately. But the fringe journalists, who have plenty of readers despite being on the fringe, have their own axes to grind, they buy their ink by the barrel, and they shout opinion more than investigate fact. They excuse vandalism by condemning law enforcement for using pepper spray and tear gas as enforcement and dispersement tools. One account even excused vandals for busting out the glass of a McDonald’s restaurant, saying that the protestors were simply trying to get milk to treat “victims” of tear gas. Where’s the condemnation of the actions within the crowd that even required tear gas to be used in the first place? They tweet photos of children — even infants — on the streets and condemn police for firing tear gas into those crowds. Where is the condemnation of “parents” — and, yes, I’m using that term very loosely — who would take their children into a scene like this in the middle of the night, knowing that violence might erupt? 

Did Michael Brown deserve to die? Probably not. But one thing we can be reasonably sure of, from all accounts, including Brown’s friend who accompanied him that night, is that he had been smoking marijuana, robbed a convenience store, then got into an argument with a police officer who was doing his job. If Brown wasn’t a threat, Wilson knew that, and shot him anyway, indict him. Prosecute him. Send him to prison. But if I have to give the benefit of the doubt to someone until the facts are known, I’ll give it to the police officer who had no prior record of wrongdoing, who was in fact a decorated officer, before I’ll give it to someone who was obviously just out to stir up trouble. 

But the benefit of the doubt is just that — affording someone the luxury of being innocent until proven guilty. That’s the way our system of justice in America is supposed to work, is it not? The key word there is supposed. Because once the situation has been muddled by politicians like the president and the governor, justice becomes a lost cause.

Speaking of the weather…

Another update on the looming heat wave in East Tennessee. Raw data from today’s 12z GFS model has temps topping out at 97 degrees in Oneida on Wednesday of next week — which would be a record. The current record is 94, set in 2007. The GFS raw data has the high temperature tying the record on Tuesday, at 96.

The 18z run of the model is a degree or two cooler, but has the heat ridge much more stubborn to break down, with temperatures well into the 90s here on the Cumberland Plateau all the way through next week, into the weekend, and on into the following week. It is a worst-case scenario for this time of year . . . and suggests we might be about to pay dearly for the tolerable summer we’ve enjoyed.

Daily highs from the 12zop’ GFS raw data. Keep in mind, these are for the northern plateau, which is typically a few degrees cooler than the surrounding valleys and basin areas.

Thursday, Aug. 21 – 90
Friday, Aug. 22 – 92
Saturday, Aug. 23 – 92
Sunday, Aug. 24 – 94
Monday, Aug. 25 – 93
Tuesday, Aug. 26 – 96
Wednesday, Aug. 27 – 97
Thursday, Aug. 28 – 87
Friday, Aug. 29 – 77
Saturday, Aug. 30 – 86
Sunday, Aug. 31 – 90
Monday, Sept. 1 – 90
Tuesday, Sept. 2 – 85
Wednesday, Sept. 3 – 90

(Keep in mind that the cooler temperatures on Aug. 28-30 depicted by the 12z GFS are the result of a tropical depression riding over East Tennessee as depicted by the same model.)

Here are the daily highs from the 18z GFS raw data:

Thursday, Aug. 21 – 91
Friday, Aug. 22 – 91
Saturday, Aug. 23 – 90
Sunday, Aug. 24 – 95
Monday, Aug. 25 – 95
Tuesday, Aug. 26 – 94
Wednesday, Aug. 27 – 96
Thursday, Aug. 28 – 92
Friday, Aug. 29 – 91
Saturday, Aug. 30 – 88
Sunday, Aug. 31 – 91
Monday, Sept. 1 – 95
Tuesday, Sept. 2 – 95
Wednesday, Sept. 3 – 95

Can you say “ugh”??

Here are numbers for the next 7 days from the 12z GFS’s model output statistics, which are weighted somewhat for climatology:

Thursday, Aug. 21 – 91
Friday, Aug. 22 – 91
Saturday, Aug. 23 – 92
Sunday, Aug. 24 – 90
Monday, Aug. 25 – 90
Tuesday, Aug. 26 – 89

Notice that it’s in line with the raw data for the first few days, then gradually departs from the raw data further out. That’s because the further out it goes, the more it weights itself towards climatology. In essence, the model is saying, “Hey, let’s not get too extreme because that usually doesn’t happen this time of year.” But the raw data from the model has been very consistent with a potential record-breaking (or at least record-threatening) heat wave over at least the next 10 days.

Tropics heat up

Don’t look now, but there’s a chance of a tropical storm impacting East Tennessee just in time for Knoxville’s Boomsday, Huntsville’s SXS Roundup and Ridin’ Dirty, and of course, a little scrimmage at Neyland Stadium.

A very quiet hurricane season in the Atlantic Basin is beginning to heat up a little bit, with two areas of interest in the eastern Atlantic that have a shot of eventually becoming tropical cyclones.

It’s the lead one, currently projected by the National Weather Service’s National Hurricane Center to have a 30% chance of cyclone formation within the next 48 hours, that some models are attempting to develop into a storm that could eventually impact East Tennessee.

Two atl 2d0

Currently located off the northwest coast of South America, this still disorganized cluster of thunderstorms should gradually develop as it moves into the Lesser Antilles and eventually into the Caribbean. NHC forecasters give it a 50/50 shot of becoming the third named storm of the hurricane season within the next five days (Cristobal will be its name, should that occur).

Where it goes from there remains to be seen, but today’s GFS computer model wants to bring it ashore right about New Orleans as a hurricane late next week.

Obviously, the impact to the Gulf of Mexico coastal areas is the biggest concern, but the remnant tropical depression after this projected storm washes inland could eventually impact East Tennessee, according to today’s GFS.

Today’s 12z GFS dumps nearly two inches of rain here on the northern Cumberland Plateau. Most of that would fall late Thursday and through the day on Friday, getting out of the way before the end of the Labor Day weekend. But if this storm comes to fruition, chances are good that it will come in slower than the model currently estimates. Of course, there is also a good chance that it won’t develop at all, or that it will take a different track than the GFS projected today, making this entire discussion moot. But it’s something to keep an eye on.

For visual reference, here’s the GFS for early Thursday next week, bringing the storm ashore directly over New Orleans:

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And here’s the GFS tracking the remnants of the cyclone directly over East Tennessee by late Friday:

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To show you how these things aren’t set in stone, here’s the 18z run of the GFS, which ran this evening, slowing the storm down and bringing it ashore further west, and a bit weaker. In this scenario, the remnants would track further north, over the Midwest, though it would still pull enough moisture ashore for a relatively wet Labor Day weekend in East Tennessee:

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It remains to be seen what will happen with this storm, if it does become a tropical cyclone. But it certainly has the attention of U.S. forecasters. Hurricane hunters are on standby to possibly fly into the low pressure system Thursday for investigation.

Dr. Roy Spencer is sounding the alarm on a possible landfall near New Orleans.

No. 12 UT player: Cobb-Webb

On Tennessee football’s list of “What Might Have Been,” nothing ranks higher than the Cobb-Webb — two promising football careers cut short by injuries and drug abuse.

First was Reggie Cobb. The Central High School star signed with his hometown Vols as part of John Majors’ heralded 1986 recruiting class that began Tennessee’s decade of dominance in the SEC.

After redshirting the 1986 season, Cobb entered the 1987 season listed as No. 3 on UT’s tailback depth chart. But it didn’t take long for him to work his way into the lineup, and from there he simply impressed everyone who saw him play.

Cobb set a school record his freshman season, with 1,721 all-purpose yards. His 20 touchdowns were an SEC single-season record, and second-best in all of college football.

Injuries limited Cobb’s time in 1998. A nagging ankle sprain cost him almost half the season, but he still rushed for 547 yards and scored a total of 8 touchdowns.

Trouble was lurking, however. By the end of the ’88 season, it was apparent that Reggie Cobb had a drug problem. He had failed two drug tests. When he failed a third one just before the start of spring practice in 1989, he was suspended from the team indefinitely and entered rehab.

In the meantime, Tennessee signed Chuck Webb, a Toledo, Oh., native who had a standout prep career.

Webb burst onto the scene as a freshman in 1989, rushing for 1,236 yards and 12 touchdowns. He became Tennessee’s first freshman runningback to rush for 100+ yards in each of his first five games, and there wouldn’t be another UT back to do it until Arian Foster a decade and a half later. Memorably, Webb set a school record with 294 yards against Ole Miss.

As for Cobb, he successfully completed rehab and was reinstated to the team just prior to the start of the ’89 season. That’s where the “Cobb-Webb” came in. As good as Webb was, Cobb was even better. He was on pace to be the first UT back not named Johnnie Jones to lead the SEC in rushing since 1968 — running neck-and-neck with Emmitt Smith for that title.

But just before Tennessee’s trip to Alabama, Cobb failed another drug test, and was kicked off the team for good. He was drafted into the NFL, never amounted to much as a pro, and these days serves as an NFL scout.

Webb picked up the pace when Cobb left, finishing the season with 1,236 rushing yards. That got some folks around college football whispering Webb’s name in the same sentence as the Heisman Trophy heading into the 1990 season.

Regardless of whether he would build a solid Heisman campaign, Webb had already said that his sophomore season would probably be his last in school. He intended to forego his final two years of eligibility and enter the NFL Draft. While Cobb’s drug addiction struggles had gotten all the attention, Webb had also been a little less than squeaky clean. He had gotten in trouble in 1988, while redshirting, for forging a teammate’s signature. In 1989, he was accused of cheating in a class and suspended from school.

In the second game of the 1990 season, against Pacific, Webb suffered a season-ending knee injury. He would never play at Tennessee again. He was drafted into the NFL, but his pro career was even shorter lived than Cobb’s.

On results alone, Cobb and Webb can’t be justified ahead of Tennessee players like Al Wilson and Arian Foster and Leonard Little and Johnnie Jones. But the short time they spent at the University of Tennessee was plenty enough for everyone to see how special they were as college football players. In just one season, Chuck Webb proved himself among the greatest tailbacks the college game has ever known. Legendary UT broadcaster John Ward calls Webb the most exciting player he ever watched play, and many Tennessee fans agree that they’ve never seen a runningback at Tennessee who was as good as Chuck Webb.

12 DAYS UNTIL FOOTBALL TIME IN TENNESSEE!

Vols face uphill battle for bowl eligibility

A simple story I wrote for inclusion in this week’s newspaper football preview. 

10228964Photo: UTSports.com

KNOXVILLE — Butch Jones can recruit. Butch Jones can unite. Butch Jones can excite.

Can Butch Jones win?

That is the question that remains as the University of Tennessee prepares for the 2014 football opener when Utah State visits Neyland Stadium on Aug. 31.

After landing a consensus Top 5 recruiting class to start off 2014, Jones and his staff are assembling what appears to be at least a Top 10 class for 2015. Jones has united and excited the fan base, as evidenced by the more than 40,000 fans who turned out for an open practice at Neyland Stadium Saturday evening.

But can Butch win?

After languishing in the wilderness of the Lane Kiffin and Derek Dooley debacles, the Tennessee faithful are looking to Jones as the children of Israel must have looked to Moses. “Butch gets it” is a phrase that has been repeated so often that it has become a cliche mocked by internet memes.

Butch does get it. Saturday’s open practice — like the open practice prior to the 2013 season opener — had a gameday feel. Fans tailgated and played cornhole along Cumberland Avenue; the Pride of the Southland Band was on-hand to blast countless renditions of Rocky Top. Jones challenged Peyton Manning to an ice water challenge to the roar of approval from fans inside the stadium. Yes, Butch gets it.

But can Butch win?

It only took Jones a half-season to get a “signature win” at Tennessee; his Vols used a last-second field goal from Michael Palardy to beat No. 11 South Carolina in 2013.

But then Tennessee turned around and lost to hated Vanderbilt. Inside Neyland Stadium. In a game that cost the Vols’ a chance at a bowl game.

Can Butch win?

That’s a question that can’t be fully answered in 2014. Not unless, of course, Butch does win. If the Vols win seven or — dare we think it? — eight games this season, Butch may very well send Bill Haslam notice that he’s looking to move into the governor’s mansion.

But if the Vols do what just about everyone expects them to do — that is, win only five or six games — the Tennessee fan base will have to be patient for at least one more year.

It is the 2015 season that Tennessee fans should have circled on their calendars. That’s when the Vols should be primed to begin making noise in the SEC once more, if Jones and his staff are up to snuff as coaches in the nation’s most powerful football conference. In the meantime, the Big Orange faithful are simply going to have to have patience. A 6-6 or even a 5-7 season are not necessarily indicators that Butch can’t win . . . not in this league; not with this schedule.

Tennessee’s schedule includes a trip to Norman to face powerful Oklahoma, in addition to the always-tough slate of SEC foes.

Renowned prognosticator Phil Steele calls it the second-toughest schedule in all of college football. And it’s easy to see why. On this schedule, even the cupcakes are tough. Utah State and Arkansas State could very easily walk into Neyland Stadium and stun the Vols with an upset win. The only guaranteed win on this schedule? Little sister Chattanooga. Jones and his Vols will have to fight tooth-and-claw for the rest of them.

If you assume Oklahoma, Alabama and Ole Miss are losses — and that’s probably a fairly safe assumption going into the season — the Vols will have three guaranteed losses. If you assume that games at Georgia and South Carolina will probably also be losses, that number jumps to five and there is suddenly no room for error if Tennessee has hopes of a bowl bid.

On the other hand, if you assume that Arkansas State, Chattanooga, Vanderbilt and Kentucky are wins — and that is not an assumption that many fans would be willing to put money on — things begin to even themselves out. That leaves Utah State, Florida and Missouri, with Tennessee needing two out of the three for bowl eligibility.

And that’s why a visit from Florida in early October and the visit from Utah State in a little over a week are the most important games of 2014 for Butch Jones and his squad.

Florida is a team the Vols should probably lose to but could beat. Win that one and you truly unite the fan base, you give recruits something to hang their hats on, and you set the stage for big things to come in future seasons. Bowl eligibility wouldn’t be guaranteed, but it would become a safe bet. Florida is down, by Florida standards, and Will Muschamp — the guy most UT fans wanted instead of Jones — is squarely on the hot seat, but a win over the Gators could well serve as the catalyst for a return to the Tennessee football glory days.

Utah State, on the other hand, is a team the Vols should probably beat but could lose to. Lose that one and you give the doubters in the fan base plenty of fuel, you give opposing coaches plenty of fuel for their negative recruiting battles, and you risk throwing the entire season into turmoil before it even gets started. Bowl eligibility will become almost an impossibility.

It isn’t fair to call Utah State a “must-win” game for Butch Jones. But for a second-year coach in the first game of his second season, it’s probably as close as you get to a “must-win” game.

So are Jones and his staff up to the challenge? Is senior Justin Worley due a breakout season? Can he get the ball close enough to the Vols’ heralded receiving corps — in terms of raw talent, maybe the best receivers in the SEC this season — to make a difference? Can the Vols effectively rebuild their entire offensive and defensive lines? Can linebacker Curt Maggit stay healthy? Can the Vols find a capable replacement for Mike Palardy? Can the numerous true freshmen who will be called upon to contribute in 2014 grow up in a hurry?

When you pause to consider just how many uncertainties face this Tennessee team, it’s easier to comprehend just why bowl eligibility is going to be a stretch for the Vols in 2014. You don’t have to look at UT very long — on the field in pads or on paper — to see that this squad is slowly but surely starting to resemble a football team again. But winning SEC football teams — like Rome — aren’t built in a day. “Brick by brick” looked awfully good in the advertising campaign featuring State Farm last fall. But many a brickmason can tell you just how painfully slow the process of bricklaying can be.

Can Butch Jones win? Maybe the better question is, Can Tennessee fans be patient? Nick Saban probably couldn’t finish above .500 in SEC play with this Tennessee team. If UT fans remember that, and excuse one more season of lumps and bruises, Butch Jones just might prove that he can win . . . but don’t expect it to happen this year.

Sweat update

As an update to a post from this morning, the GFS computer model has backed off the heat projections a bit in its last two runs. It now shows temperatures on the northern Cumberland Plateau topping out a 94 degrees next Tuesday afternoon. Still, that’s plenty hot. It continues to look as though the hottest weather of the season is on the way for this weekend and at least the first part of next week.

Current raw numbers from the GFS vs. GFS model output statistics vs. the National Weather Service forecast:

Thursday, Aug. 21 – 91, 90, 88
Friday, Aug. 21 – 92, 89, 89,
Saturday, Aug. 23 – 90, 88, 89
Sunday, Aug. 24 – 91, 89, 91
Monday, Aug. 25 – 93, N/A, 91
Tuesday, Aug. 26 – 94, N/A, N/A
Wednesday, Aug. 27 – 93, N/A, N/A
Thursday, Aug. 28 – 90, N/A, N/A

No. 13 UT player: Tee Martin

Tee Martin played hundreds of snaps as Tennessee’s starting quarterback. But he’s remembered for just one.

9:27 to go in the inaugural BCS National Championship Game in Tempe, Ariz. Tennessee clinging to a 14-9 lead over Florida State. The Vols facing a 3rd and 9 from their own 21-yard-line. Tee Martin’s 3-step drop…Martin slipping as he plants his right foot…Martin stepping up and launching a bomb just as a lunging Florida State defender was reaching for his right arm…Peerless Price grabbing the on-the-money ball and out-racing Seminoles to the end zone for a 79-yard touchdown.

It was the play of the game as Tennessee defeated Florida State 23-16 for the school’s first consensus national championship since 1951.

Tee Martin had spent a lot of time on the bench, waiting his turn in the shadows of Peyton Manning. Perhaps Martin — a standout quarterback in Mobile, Ala. — chose Tennessee because he thought Manning would turn pro after his junior season. Regardless, when Martin finally got his chance in 1998, he made the most of it, with a magical season that will never be forgotten.

Martin’s numbers were just average that year — 2,164 yards and 19 touchdowns with a 57.3 percent completion percentage. But they were good enough. With the Vols’ stout defense and powerful running game to compliment him, Martin led Tennessee to a 12-0 season and a second consecutive SEC championship before the Fiesta Bowl win over Bobby Bowden’s Seminoles.

By the time he completed his encore season in 1999, Martin ranked 6th on Tennessee’s career passing list, with more than 4,500 yards and 32 touchdowns.

Perhaps Martin’s most spectacular moment came en route to that ’98 national championship. In a game at South Carolina, Martin completed his first 23 passes, setting an NCAA single-game record. His final pass against Alabama the week before was also a completion, and the 24 consecutive completions is another NCAA record.

In two seasons at Tennessee, Martin’s only loss against the Vols’ top rivals — Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Vanderbilt and Kentucky — was a setback to Florida in 1999. He was 9-1 in those games.

Drafted in the 5th round of the 2000 NFL Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers, Martin spent four seasons in the NFL before retiring in Oakland. These days, Martin is the wide receivers coach at Southern Cal after spurning an offer from Butch Jones to leave Lane Kiffin and come back home to Knoxville. For that, Vols fans may never forgive him. But for the ’98 national championship, they’ll never forget him.

13 DAYS UNTIL FOOTBALL TIME IN TENNESSEE!

Well, that’s awkward

A stinging rebuke of Obama’s handling of press freedoms from an unlikely source, the New York Times’ Maureen Dowd:

It’s hard to fathom how the president who started with the press fluffing his pillows has ended up trying to suffocate the press with those pillows.

How can he use the Espionage Act to throw reporters and whistle-blowers in jail even as he defends the intelligence operatives who “tortured some folks,” and coddles his C.I.A. chief, John Brennan, who spied on the Senate and then lied to the senators he spied on about it?

“It’s hypocritical,” Risen said. “A lot of people still think this is some kind of game or signal or spin. They don’t want to believe that Obama wants to crack down on the press and whistle-blowers. But he does. He’s the greatest enemy to press freedom in a generation.”

Obviously it’s nice to see that some issues rise above the obtuse left vs. right divide, and freedom of the press is obviously one of our most important rights, but this underscores just how puzzling it has been that the mainstream media has by and large spent the last six years holding hands with the Obama administration.

Butch gets his crowd

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When Tennessee held an open practice on Saturday, more than 40,000 orange-clad UT fans poured into Neyland Stadium to see a preview of the 2014 Vols — as evidenced by the photo above that I snapped during the practice. The lower bowl was nearly full all the way around.

”At my junior college, we only had about 200 people at the games,” wide receiver Von Pearson said. ”And this is only practice.”

By comparison, SEC foe Arkansas held an open scrimmage on Saturday. Reportedly, attendance was 5,000.

Some notes from Tennessee’s practice:

• Michael Palardy may have been the best kicker in the house Saturday, even though he’s nursing an injury. Unfortunately, he has no eligibility left. If he does any more kicking, it will be with the Oakland Raiders. Jones drew a grin from Palardy — who stood on the sidelines munching sunflower seeds and chatting with UT punter Matt Darr — when the team was sprinting to the north end zone for field goal drills. “Where’s Mike Palardy?” Jones shouted over the P.A. system. “Oh, wait. He ain’t here.” It might not take Butch long to wish Palardy was still around, though. All three of UT’s kickers struggled mightily on kicks of 51 yards — a combined  0 of 6, and most of them weren’t even close. But they were a little more solid on closer kicks.

• Nathan Peterman, who split second team QB reps with Josh Dobbs, looked like the sharpest of the three quarterbacks, though all made mistakes. Potential All-SEC wide receiver Marquez North looked more human than UT fans might remember from last season, getting stripped of the ball once and dropping a couple of passes.

• The game day atmosphere was pretty incredible. There were people playing corn hole and tailgating off Cumberland, and throngs of people waiting in line more than a half-hour before the gates opened — more than 90 minutes before the start of practice. The Pride of the Southland Band was on hand to provide sing-along opportunities for Rocky Top — complete with the “woo!” All this for a practice.

• Jones drew a roar from the crowd when he challenged Peyton Manning to the ALS ice bucket challenge. Jones also challenged Jon Gruden to take the ice bucket challenge — on live TV, in all orange. A little subtle humor from the head ball coach. (For reference, Gruden was the guy all UT fans were convinced they were going to get instead of Jones, and the message boards went nuts when Gruden appeared on TV for his Monday Night Football gig wearing an orange tie.) 

• Emmanuel Moseley (CB) looks good. Real good. He could make a big impact as a true freshman. It was he who stripped North, and he made a couple of other big plays in one-on-one drills as well. Moseley was a 3-star recruit coming out of high school last year, and the guy nobody wanted. Tennessee, in fact, was his only major offer. His other offers were from Charlotte, East Carolina, N.C. State and N.C. A&T. At this point, he’s looking like a steal for the Vols.

• Darr looked really good punting the football. He may be the most improved player on Tennessee’s roster at the moment.

• Jalen Hurd. Real deal. The running back position is one of the few positions where a player can make a big impact as a true freshman in the SEC, and Hurd may be set to do just that.