Mattingly: Sunday's sports page of 1950s, 1960s was special

Bill Dyer’s play-by-play chart of Tennessee’s upset of LSU in 1959 that appeared in the News Sentinel.

In the 1950s and into the 1960s, the college football season started, almost without fail, on the last Saturday in September. That was always an orange-letter day. It was a 10-game regular season, without open dates.

The excitement of the last Saturday in September logically led to the next day’s coverage, as Tennessee football finally returned to the pages of this newspaper after a hiatus that lasted way too long.

For football fans in Knoxville and anybody else who had access to the paper in those pre-Web days, the sports pages of the Sunday newspaper were a compilation of everything important about the preceding day’s game.

There was a soothing stability to its coverage. On page 1, there were a game story by Frank (Red) Bailes or Marvin West (with alternating bold and regular-type paragraphs) and a game column penned by sports editor Tom Siler (unless he was covering another SEC game or even the World Series).

The main headline was always a classic (“Vols Make a Wreck of Rambling Tech, 22-14,” Nov. 7, 1964, or “SEC Leading Vols ‘Curt-tail’ Georgia, 17-3,” Nov. 1, 1969).

Many times, there was a sidebar game story by Roland Julian, among others, also on page 1, plus a line score, stat box, and other game notes, often in a box. The stat box always had a title, such as “Great Scott!” That came Oct. 25, 1970, when Bobby Scott threw the ball all over Shields-Watkins Field in a 38-7 win over Florida.

There was often a pithy summary of one of the game’s high moments in a box near the bottom of the page. EXAMPLE: “Coach, Officials Differ: LaSorsa’s Run Looked like Fumble … Bryant,” Oct. 16, 1960, as Alabama coach Bear Bryant disagreed with the call on a defensive touchdown scored by UT captain Mike LaSorsa in a 20-7 win.

There was also a regional summary of all the Saturday scores.

Page 3 yielded a full dose of game photos, shot by the incomparable Bill Dye and Mickey Creager.

These pictures often included little paste-on cartoons, showing the ball and the path the running back or pass receiver was taking down the field. Many times this path would stretch across three pictures. There was a cartoon cheerleader who signaled “Touchdown!” when someone scored. Some people liked this novel touch. Others didn’t.

The DyerGram from the pen of cartoonist Bill Dyer was the dominant feature on page 5, along with the “jump” of the page 1 game story.

Dyer’s magnum opus was a masterpiece of sports cartooning, with Bill not only charting the flow of the game, but also adding highlight commentary and cartoon characters to illustrate how the game was won (or lost). The Vols always marched left to right on the cartoon.

While he had a seat in the Shields-Watkins Field and Neyland Stadium press boxes, Dyer relied on George Mooney’s broadcast for non-televised games away from town.

Dyer was not only a cartoonist, but would also cover prep games in the Knoxville area, games he also officiated. He had a large regular Sunday cartoon called “Whatta Life” that was not only entertaining, but incisive as well.

Dyer had Vol mascot Smokey in tears after the 1953 Mississippi State game (MSU 26, Tennessee 0), Sept. 27. The 1965 UCLA game (Tennessee 37, UCLA 34, Dec. 4) must have worn Dyer out.

Here’s his commentary on that game, keeping pace with the ebbs and flows of 10 touchdowns, a field goal, and a two-point conversion: “UCLA took the stage first at the Rosebonnet a-go go … then the Vols danced the next three numbers to intermission. UCLA got the action and routines got wilder and wilder. The older generation never saw the likes of such head-knocking! When it was over, there were broken records all over the joint!!”

You don’t find that type of analysis these days. Dyer covered the Vols from the 1934 North Carolina game through the 1976 Florida game. He died during the open week between Florida and Memphis State.

In those days, the News Sentinel also provided a “participation chart,” listing everyone who got into the game (by position) on each side. A reporter would also always talk to visiting scouts in the press box and provide other background information about the game.

The record reflects that someone once called the Neyland Stadium press box (telephone number supposedly unlisted) during the 1968 Georgia game and reminded folks there that Bubba Wyche’s name was “Why-ch” not “Witch,” as ABC television people were saying.

Everyone would like to go back in time, to relieve the magic moments of a bygone era.

It’s still fun to read the News Sentinel coverage of UT contests, but there’s always something special about the games of our youth.

And the way sportswriters and photographers covered them.

Tom Mattingly is the author of “The Tennessee Football Vault: The Story of the Tennessee Volunteers, 1891-2006” (2006), to be published in second edition in 2009, and “Tennessee Football: The Peyton Manning Years” (1998). He still reads long-ago microfilm about UT football and basketball at local libraries. He may be reached at tjmshm@comcast.net. His News Sentinel blog is called “The Vol Historian.”

© 2008 govolsxtra.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 10

eutefan writes:

Gawd, this makes me feel old. I was there during those days Mattingly writes of, rubbing elbows with West, Riggs, Mr. Siler, Haywood Harris, Gus Manning and others in the press box.

Lots of great... and heart-breaking memories... from those days.

ktemaque1 writes:

Back in the days before I even got to go to a UT game, I would always look for the "Dyer-Gram" on Sunday morning so that I could see exactly what happened in Saturday's game. Between that and "Whatta Life" featuring Polly Pipp from Inskip, Mr. Dyer kept me informed and entertained for many years! He was an institution and a blessing to all of us!

WeLoveTennesseeVols writes:

What will people say about this crowd at the News Sentinel when they are gone? Will they have as much class or will people feel less inspired?

eutefan writes:

in response to ktemaque1:

Back in the days before I even got to go to a UT game, I would always look for the "Dyer-Gram" on Sunday morning so that I could see exactly what happened in Saturday's game. Between that and "Whatta Life" featuring Polly Pipp from Inskip, Mr. Dyer kept me informed and entertained for many years! He was an institution and a blessing to all of us!

Polly Pipp from Inskip was a Hugh Allen creation, not Dyer's.

Two problems with old age: Loss of memory, and I forget the other one.

eutefan writes:

in response to WeLoveTennesseeVols:

What will people say about this crowd at the News Sentinel when they are gone? Will they have as much class or will people feel less inspired?

Good question.

I doubt that today's print journalists will ever command the awe and reverence we attached to those scribes of the mid 20th century. In most respects, sports wise, anyway, they were our one and only contact with baseball, football and other major sports, and they were directly responsible for most of the sports legends we hear of today.

Not everyone got to go to Shields-Watkins field on Saturday afternoons, and there was no tv, of course.
We had to depend on the word pictures offered up by the radio broadcasters and/or the print media descriptions.
We had to depend on these folks to supply us with correct information.

Today, the TV viewer at home often has a better picture of what happens than do those in attendance. There's no need for someone else to tell us what happened; we see it ourselves, although it is sometimes difficult to get any two people to agree on what they think the saw, but that's another discussion.

Those guys back in the day were respected, and, for the most part, lived up to their responsibilities.

yeavols#228407 writes:

This might make you feel young again..
http://muschampforut.wordpress.com/

richvol writes:

I couldn't wait to get home from church on Sundays to get my hands on the sports section. The first thing I turned to was Bill Dyer's diagram of the game. You could relive the plays by following his "dyergram" due to how detailed it was.

That was a special time of boyhood heros...and the KNS did a great job of reporting it.

SKO_Vol82 writes:

Fantastic story. Brings back alot of memories. I remember reading the Sunday sports page and many of the features you detail. Oh, those were great times and many fond memories are flooding back to me. Thanks for a nice touch of nostalgia in time that few will wish to remember fondly, or at all.

TheVolMan writes:

in response to WeLoveTennesseeVols:

What will people say about this crowd at the News Sentinel when they are gone? Will they have as much class or will people feel less inspired?

They'll probably laugh about the strange and poorly informed comments like yours as well as those who get riled up with John Adams' columns. I guess it's all part of being a member of the Hater Crowd.

BTW, this was an excellent article on Dyer and the KNS coverage from that era.

AllforTenn writes:

Remember it well. The good old days of sports reporting. The Knoxville Journal had great writers, too. I read the sports sections of both newspapers religiously. I miss that type of reporting.

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