Adams: Loss to Nebraska led to UT's 1998 title run

Editor's note: The following is the first in a series of John Adams columns commemorating the 10th anniversary of Tennessee's 1998 national championship season. Throughout the year, former UT strong safety Fred White will offer his insight into what was going on with the team at the same time of year 10 years ago.

No one was talking national championship when Tennessee went through its winter workouts leading up to spring practice in 1998.

The goal was more basic, more personal. The returning players had something to prove.

So you couldn't fully appreciate the success of 1998 without understanding the failure that preceded it.

Never mind how much UT accomplished in 1997 - an SEC championship, 11 victories and a No. 7 national ranking - the season ended with a devastating 42-17 loss to Nebraska in the Orange Bowl.

The victory gave Nebraska the national championship in the coaches' poll. The defeat gave UT the impetus to win the 1998 national title.

UT had been a popular pick to win the national championship in 1997. And the team had prepared accordingly.

"We had Peyton Manning (at quarterback)," White said. "And a defense like ours. We ain't gonna lose. That's how we felt. So we worked out really hard."

A regular-season loss to Florida virtually killed UT's national championship hopes. It didn't affect the Vols' confidence. They were intent on showcasing their talent in the Orange Bowl.

White, who played mainly on special teams in 1997, went home to Griffin, Ga., before the bowl game. He remembers being kidded at the local barbershop about how good unbeaten Nebraska was.

"They had me boiling," White said. "I said. 'We're gonna kick their butt.' "

After hard, physical practices leading up to the bowl game, White was even more convinced his team would handle the Cornhuskers. Although Manning had bursitis in one knee, White had seen enough of his quarterback in practice to believe the injury wouldn't be a factor.

"We were gonna show everybody how good we were," White said.

Instead, Nebraska showed why it deserved the national championship. And the Vols received a painful lesson in what it would take to win one.

The shocking outcome was preceded by a series of mini-shocks - each one denting the Vols' confidence while reminding them they were in uncharted water.

"They were a different breed," White said.

As the teams went through pregame warm-ups, White couldn't help but notice how big Nebraska's offensive linemen were. In fact, they weren't any bigger than UT's linemen, according to the listed weights.

"But our guys weren't built like that," White said. "They looked huge."

The Cornhuskers played differently, too. They ran the ball, then ran some more, deftly knocking down UT defenders with cut blocks that quickly had the Vols playing tentatively.

"We always thought of ourselves as a physical team," White said. "We could fight and play with anybody. Bring it on. We're ready."

But they weren't ready for Nebraska.

White remembers being knocked down on kickoff coverage for the first time in high school or college. Taken aback, he conferred with fellow cover man, Eric Westmoreland.

"What's happening on your side?" White asked.

"I was on the ground," Westmoreland replied.

Nebraska began to take charge in the second quarter. As the teams prepared to return to the field for the second half, the Cornhuskers made it clear they were just getting started.

"We're about to wear you out," they told White.

"It wasn't really trash talk, the way they said it," White said. "They just said it (matter-of-factly), 'We're about to wear you out.' And they wore us out."

No matter how a game was going, White said he always expected his team would prevail.

"That feeling began to go away in the fourth quarter," he said.

White recalled all the work that had gone into the season - winter conditioning, spring practice, summer workouts - and wondered, "What did we do wrong?

"We were embarrassed."

They also were determined to do something about it.

"Nebraska was our measuring stick," White said. "They were stronger than us and just as fast. It was a rude awaking.

"But it was something we needed."

White stayed home only two days. When he and his teammates returned to UT, they began laying the groundwork for their unbeaten season.

"We had one of our best teams in '97," White said. "Then all of a sudden, we looked bad against Nebraska, lost those seniors, and people were saying we were going to be 8-4 (in 1998). We had to prove we could play."

Before they could play, they had to work. And as hard as they worked before the 1997 season, they realized they had to work even harder.

During winter workouts, the players went the extra mile on a daily basis. If a player missed a voluntary workout, teammates called him.

The message: "You better get your butt out here."

White credits his strength coach, John Stuckey, with providing added incentive when called for. Stuckey didn't mind playing the Nebraska card, either.

White remembers working out with Stuckey right in his face, shouting and prodding while bringing the weights to life.

"That's No. 50 (of Nebraska), who put you on the ground, Fred," Stuckey would say. "Get him off you, Fred. Get him off you."

"That gave you the extra edge to lift that weight," White said.

The voluntary workouts, the exhortations from Stuckey and all those 5 a.m. morning runs did the job.

"When we got ready for spring football, my body was ready," White said.

But the Nebraska game was still with him. He watched the videotape over and over, wondering how a team seemingly so talented, confident and prepared had been beaten so soundly.

He wondered the same thing on that 15-hour drive home from Miami with his parents.

"Anytime my team lost, I spent the next two days trying to figure out how we could have won the game," White said.

Neither he nor his teammates had an answer this time. No matter how many times they played the game in their mind, the conclusion was inevitable. They had lost convincingly to a national champion. But they had gained something, too.

No one would realize how much until a year later.

Sports editor John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284 or

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Comments » 66

TommyJack writes:

Excellent article. Many have said that after the Nebraska game, work in the UT weight room was never the same.

va_vol16 writes:

johns weak attempt to suck up

bordenride writes:

O.K. John so you gave us a re-hash of a succesful period of time when the team came together and worked hard. Is this your way of saying I am sorry for the dis-respectful Fulmer bashing article? How many lineman have you lined up agaisn't offensive or defensive? How many plays or players have you dealt with on the sidelines? Not to mention off the field. Sorry, but that article you recently wrote just let us all know how little you really know about athletes,coaches and the game of football...

thesavageorange writes:

TommyJack ,It needs to return to that.It seems(the last few yr's)we have tried to get smaller weightwise,and faster.They say Clawson is taking on that Stuckey type of attitude.I hope the player's take on Fred's attitude.He wasn't the biggest or fastest ,but he played w/ passion.

volfan73120#211815 writes:

Bordenride, That was a good post. I agree.

TommyJack writes:

Savage: I'm with you. I think (and hope) that a lot of things will change with Coach Clawson. Coach Cutcliffe was granted HUGE authority by Dr. Fulmer. Hope the same goes for Clawson.

bordenride writes:

volfan73120, thanks for the support. We should let these writers know that we're not the dummeys just reading and taking in all the subjective garbage they want to write about. Sorry but some of us went to college to. And some of us played varsity sports as well. If you want to get rich go write for some tabloid in England. Maybe write about rugby players having swing sex parties,,etc...

TommyJack writes:

General: I think (hope) that the coach from Richmond knows the discipline, effort and dedication it takes to win it all. Maybe 1 or more of these has been missing lately. Here's to hope.
Here's to coaching, not just mentoring.

OldNumber7 writes:

It has always disturbed me that it took a beating like that, or job-on-the-line media hounding like pre-Georgia this past year, to motivate a bunch to play like champions. Why isn't this message going through the conduit paid millions to do it? I realy hope the new coaches can get it done - and I hope their enthusium is not thwarted by the top.

vol52 writes:

It was the spring of 98 when Fulmer told us tradition does not graduate. I now believe Tennessee has lowered it's standard regarding tradition.

EDis4UT writes:

Good article. Why do you write football articles like this in March? Johnny you might want to wait until August to write stories like this. If you don't you may get a writers block.

Then again...

pkaplan writes:

Editor's note: The following is the first in a series of John Adams columns commemorating the 10th anniversary of Tennessee's 1998 national championship season. Throughout the year, former UT strong safety Fred White will offer his insight into what was going on with the team at the same time of year 10 years ago.

cjraney writes:

The title of the article sounds interesting. I would read the article if not for my self-imposed boycott of John Adams' material.
Go Vols. Beat Kentucky.

agentorange writes:

boycott hall's salvage and any business advertising on this site until John Adams is fired. read

EDis4UT writes:

Thanks kaplan. I kinda see now why a story like this was written on 1-March.

agentorange writes:

mike hamilton should pull all university of tennessee advertising from all scripps-related media. send him letters/emails regarding same.

TommyJack writes:

agent: Don't be ridiculous.

TommyJack writes:

CJ: You're peeking, aren't you? Come on, admit it.

VenomousVol writes:

I love the idiots who come on here, read the article, then put in the comment section don't read the KNS. Give it a fargin rest! Ain't nobody stupid enough to fire a columnist who gets as much attention as Adams. You morons need to get over the fact that somebody picked on poor little Phil. Nobody is above criticism, not even St. Philip. I bet some of these same idiots that go nuts over a columnist calling out Fulmer would cheer a column bashing President Bush.**NEWS FLASH** NOT EVERYBODY LOVES PHOOLMER!

Vol13 writes:

Johnny Long ought to be run out of town with Fulmer and Mike Hamilton. We've been soft ever since John Stuckey became ill and ultimately had to resign his post.

BTW, it's ironic that so many of you morons who disagreed with John Adams recent article are over here still crowing about it. We have the dumbest fanbase in the the SEC by far. I wish you would have the same passion for getting rid of Fulmer and maybe we could get our football program back on track.

EDis4UT writes:

I hate to bust your bubble guys, but boycotts NEVER work. I never found one that did. I doesn't mean that I'm glad they don't work. Most of the time I wish that they would make a difference. Just being realistic.

VenomousVol writes:

These people yelling boycott probably run to the mailbox in the morning to see what is in the KNS today. No other paper covers the vols as closely as this one, thats why the fools are on this site now. If its about UT, vol fans are gonna read it, they are all blowing smoke.

Volfan1 writes:

Uh...boycotts DO work. Evidently you don't know enough about them. Of course, they must be organized properly, but they do work.
BTW, you CAN comment without reading the article.
It's called scrolling down.
I don't mind reading other writers from the KNS, but not Adams, no matter how much he is trying to suck up. An apology is appropriate, not a history lesson.

EDis4UT writes:

Oh Adams! What did you write that damn article!


I know I'm beating a dead horse here. As I stated here before, I didn't totally disagree with Johnny's article. I took offence to the tones of a writer attacking a man personally. Like when he blamed Fulmer for some of the former VOL players for getting into trouble in the NFL. That's BS!

My God, when you have your own peers writing a column about you being out of line (a.k.a. David Climer; Tennessean) which very very rarely happens - your practicing 'yellow journalism'. These guys stick together like glue. If you think most fans are going to sit back and say NOTHING you're crazy.

And I'm no "PHOOLMER" kool-aid drinker either. If he announced today he was starting to plan for his retirement - I would not lose a lot of sleep over it. It also doesn't help this not the first time Johnny has thrown knifes at Fulmer's back.

Just take chill pill man, it's all good...well, I don't know about all...

Vol13 writes:

Adams shouldn't apologize to anyone. His initial article was DEAD ON and FACTUAL. Adams didn't make any of our malcontents go out and get arrested. The program is Fulmer's ultimately responsibility and he has to be accountable when things go bad just like he gets to take the glory when things go good. It's a two way street.

Don't like the message so let's just shoot the messenger. That's the Tennessee fanbase for you.

LongtimeVol writes:

TJ, regarding your admonition to agent at 1:43.

You are are quite the idealist, aren't you? Uh, if not for the ridiculous postings on this site, what would we read?

Agree Vol13, many on this site appear to have stronger literary sensibilities than desire for excellence in the football program with their hatred of Adams and support for Fulmer. Never ceases to amaze me.

EDis4UT writes:


I have no problem with you and other fans if you never read Adams column again. That's wasn't my point. IMO, I never heard boycotts of a person, place or thing ever working. I may be wrong, it's just my opinion.

I agree that Adams owes Fulmer a PUBLIC apology for some of the things he said. As you well know that's never going to happen. What a "journalist" admit they were out of line? No way! I know how prideful and arrogant some of these people are. Adams would resign before he had publicly admit he was wrong.

Okay.. that's all I'm going to say about is. I'm going back to the basketball side of the UT world.

rootin4volz writes:

Yeah...but where's the apology to Fulmer?

VenomousVol writes:


Just sick of all the whining about a opinion column. It is what he is paid to do. People have said it was wrong to bring up Goodrich/Little, maybe so but they do reinforce the stereotype of UThug. I remember Goodrich getting in trouble for being drunk at the Rocky Top on Cumberland and raising cain over some chicken wings. If he had been booted off the team for that Things could be a lot different.

He doesn't get that pick-6 in the championship game.
UT loses to Florida state, no 1998 national title.
Fulmer is fired after 2005.
Goodrich doesn't make the NFL, end up in Dallas, and kill two people while driving drunk. Ending up in prison.

I know it is a stretch, but it is possible.

TommyJack writes:

LongtimeVol: Thanks. I take pride in my ridiculousness. You don't think boycotting KNS, advertisers, etc is not a bit over the line? Over an op-ed piece? Come on man. This is Amurca.

bordenride writes:

Hey venomousVol I am not whining. I just say Adams dicscredits himself all the time. He does not know football,does not know coaching, and has no experience in lining up agaisnt 250 llb. linebackers with 4.4 speed. Sports writers in general are the guys as kids were always picked last when you chose up teams in your back-yard. And don't even try to argue that fact. Even sports writers with enough brass admit this.....

TommyJack writes:

Kingsport: lmao

TommyJack writes:

bordenride: Sooooo, you propose only ex-jocks be sports writers? Is that your position?

pdhuff#552644 writes:

TJ, where you pushing carts in 1998?

TommyJack writes:

Goeff: Is that my cuzzin?

TommyJack writes:

PD: Naw, I was still selling dirt. Sold enuff that now all I have to do is annoy peeps on this board. lol

b writes:

STFU, Adams--you moron!!!

Don't give Fulmer any credit, you Fool!!!

Leave Knoxville!!

MrBamSeydu writes:


You're sitting here reading his articles, but yet you hate him sooo bad just because he bashed your precious Fulmer (the same guy 9 out of 10 of you wanted fired after UF beat us up and then again after Bama drilled us).

It's just like cable... if you don't like what's on the screen, change the channel but don't whine and b*tch about it like a bunch of girls. If you don't like Adams, DON'T READ OR COMMENT HIS ARTICLES!!!! Get over it.

volfan_in_mississippi writes:

Why does the fire Fulmer article have to come up again? I did not like that article, but this piece was well written and the first part of what looks to be an interesting series.

Why can we not just enjoy this story without regard to any previously written Adam's story?

MrBamSeydu writes:

exaaaactly volfan_in_mississippi

moral of the story: move on! get over it!

MrBamSeydu writes:


What you posted makes no sense whatsoever. So John Adams isn't an executive, therefore he can't write his opinion and state that he feels we need a new head coach? I didn't know you had to have people "work under you" to share an opinion.

Oh, and all the dashes really do not make your emphasis on a terribly written post stand out any stronger. Nothing you said connects with anything I said, nor anything anyone here has said. Please do not repond to this because, quite frankly, I don't want to hear that Adams can't call for Fulmer to be fired since he... used to have a goldfish..... or maybe because he's never ice fished before.....

I mean.... wow... really.

pdhuff#552644 writes:

yemmusdarb -9:01 I could buy maybe Adams icefishing, but I ain't getting in no shack on Lake Woebegone with ol' Phil, 12" ice or not!

Hard to trace missing with only floating fritters to go on.

movol77 writes:

"Why can we not just enjoy this story without regard to any previously written Adam's story?"

Very simple. You don't spit in someone's face one day on the next encounter pat him on the back. If someone sucker punched you on one day, should you act like it never happened on the next encounter?

John Adams is responsible for John Adams. Most of us can't take him seriously until he seriously corrects his sucker punch article from last week. Right now JA looks like a journalistic twerp.

MrBamSeydu writes:

I've been through basic training, too. But again, that has nothing to do with bashing a journalist for writing an article which contains his opinion. If you don't like him, don't read him. Standing for something and jumping on a bandwagon are two different things.

I've never been an executive, but I've thought "We need a change at the top at UT!" So am I not entitled to that opinion?

And by the way, I think that Adams' article would be considered someone standing for something, would it not? He's entitled to his opinion. He doesn't have to have been a former head coach, President of the US, or an executive with 200 workers beneath him to have the opinion that Fulmer needs to go. Do I agree with his article? Not in it's entirety. However, this is a free country and all he was doing was expressing his opinion.

All you people are doing is jumping on a bandwagon. I'm sure everyone at one time or another has thought we needed a coaching change. It's like when you call your sibling a name, it's okay. But when someone else does it, it's not okay.

Adams writes solid material for the most part and, maybe, he shouldn't have said some of the things he said. But he did. So my one and ONLY point to this entire argument is: move on, get over it. That doesn't mean I don't stand for anything, it simply means I'm mature and respect his opinion.

LongtimeVol writes:

TJ, of course I think those things are way over the line and ridiculous. My comment to you was with tongue firmly planted in cheek.

MrBamSeydu writes:

PS: I even respect your opinion, Walt, because you've done it respectfully for the most part. You don't like Adams. I don't mind him. We're all Vols fans in the end.

MrBamSeydu writes:

movol: Noone sucker punched anyone. Noone spat in anyone's face. Those are two comparisons that are way off from what the issue is at hand. He wrote an article. You're getting all worked up over one man's opinion. Stop being a woman... that's what women do.

TommyJack writes:

LongtimeVol: frequently slow on the uptake here.

DarthVol writes:

I guess there wasn't an Al Wilson there to WILL that team to victory. Oh, wait...

Vol13 writes:

Whether or not Adams has coached football is pointless. If that is a requirement, then the next time one of you thinks you are running a little fever, then by all means go to the doctor. Don't take Tylenol and get some rest. Go see a doctor. Since you aren't a doctor and never have been, then you are not qualified to diagnose yourself.

Apparently, some of you think that coaching is a lot harder than it really is. Who do you think is going to have more leadership savvy? A guy with an MBA or a guy with PE degree? I know the answer.

I got news for you. Fulmer hasn't managed anyone either. He's never fired a soul in his coaching tenure unless you count Mark Bradley. And he's had countless assistants who weren't performing up to standard in many a year. Fact is that if this were a corporate business performing for shareholders (and it is essentially) then Fulmer would have been axed or stepped down himself long ago.

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