National Signing Day is upon us Wednesday, complete with University of Tennessee functions across the state, in Knoxville, Nashville, and Memphis. It's always an exciting day, complete with up-to-the-minute reports on the signees as quickly as the technology of the day can get them out to a waiting media and public.
UT's official Web site, utsports.com, will probably get a record number of hits Wednesday. For perspective, the athletic department Web site received 319,154 page views during signing day last year with 454,641 the entirety of February.
Media will likely "cut in" to regularly scheduled programming to announce each signee. New coach Lane Kiffin's initial comments on the class will also be anxiously awaited.
Sports Information staff will be talking with each one, procuring all kinds of interesting tidbits for future use, and confirming height, weight, school records, big games, sports played, and other priceless gems that will be a part of countless stories over the next years.
Microfilm from a long-ago signing day, e.g., Saturday, Dec. 11, 1965, was illustrative. Singing day was sandwiched between the UCLA game, and the Bluebonnet Bowl the next week against Tulsa.
"Just the way they do at Gemini Control, somebody came up with a countdown, high noon finally arrived and zoomed off in another spectacular flight," Knoxville News-Sentinel sportswriter Marvin West wrote. "As fast as pens would write and coaches could shake hands and relocate, the Volunteers signed 16 prep football stars yesterday."
The recruiting class obviously paid attention to the way Doug Dickey was building the program in only his second year and to the events that made the 1965 season one of the most memorable in school history. Some big names were becoming Vols that day.
Some made it.
One of the "big names" was halfback Jim McEver, son of tailback Gene, the linchpin of the "Flaming Sophomores of 1928," who had helped start all this madness 37 years before with his kickoff return against Alabama. Jim was described as "perhaps the top prize in North Carolina."
Then there were tailback Bubba Dudley, most valuable player in Nashville, Wayne Smith, lineman of the year in the state capitol, Kingsport's end Vic Dingus, and Chattanooga's talented duo of tackle Steve Carroll and running back Eddie Hudson.
Jackson halfback Don McLeary, who had scored 23 touchdowns and rushed for 1,174 yards, made the early returns, Vol assistant George McKinney calling Don "one of the most complete players in the state."
Also added to the fold were linebacker Fred Pipkin of Gate City, Va., and tackles Walter Jordan of Smyrna and Tommy Baucom from Glencliff.
There were "home-grown" quarterbacks Gary Kreis of Oliver Springs and Steve King of Greenback. Over the years, Kreis, nicknamed "High Pockets," has made a name for himself in local coaching circles.
There was also a major push around Atlanta, as tackle Richard Brooks (Griffin), fullback Greg Berry (Decatur), halfback Lanny Pearce (Clarkston), and end Herman Weaver (Villa Rica) inked scholarship papers.
Weaver, described as "a 6-4 future split end," became a punter ABC's Don Meredith later called "Thunderfoot" for the kicks "Dandy Don" thought brought rain. That appellation came during Weaver's distinguished pro career with the Detroit Lions.
There was hope that the state's No. 1 quarterback, John Rippetoe of Johnson City, trying to decide between Tennessee and Vanderbilt, would later sign with the Vols, and he did.
There were several players who didn't sign the first day, including Cincinnati's Jack Reynolds and Tampa's Steve Kiner, who were All-America selections as linebackers during their career.
There were also Nashvillians Mike Jones, running back, and defensive back during his time at Tennessee, Manley Mixon, who became a defensive end, and Bobby Patterson, a running back. Fullback Steve Wold came from Port Orange, Fla. West Virginia fullback Tom Callaway also came later. The class ended up numbering 33.
"We have to start right here at home every year," Doug Dickey said. "If we can get the best boys in East Tennessee, we'll be OK other places. I'm very pleased with our first day's work and with the young talent we've signed. It looks like a good crop and a good start."
You could definitely say many of these guys made an impact during their careers, some in 1967-69, others redshirting and ending their careers in 1970. There were SEC titles in 1967 and 1969, and an overall 37-7-1 record. None of them ever lost a game on Shields-Watkins Field, a 17-17 tie in the 1968 Georgia game spoiling their record.
There were big moments, four straight wins over Alabama, for example, and two crash-landings, Jan. 1, 1969, in the Cotton Bowl against Texas, 36-13, and Nov. 15, 1969, in Jackson, Miss., the so-called "Jackson Massacre," 38-0.
Looking back, however, the abundance of the good times definitely outweighs the bad.
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 may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His News Sentinel blog is called "The Vol Historian."