Mattingly: No question, Vols history has answers

In this business, people are always asking intriguing questions, whether it's on the street, in restaurants, via E-mail, or on the telephone. There's never really a dull moment.

There was a postal employee in Chattanooga who called one year and asked who the third-string tailback was in the 1950s, probably in 1956 or 1957. When I said "Al Carter," he said "Thanks" and hung up.

There was apparently a bet in his section of the Post Office, and I never had a chance to find out who won. I also got the impression he dropped 50 cents into the cash box to cover the cost of the call.

I also was asked who the most underrated player I ever saw was. My answer was Shawn Bryson, one of the captains of the 1998 national championship team. He could do it all, run, block, catch passes, and always be in the right place at the right time. Think about his touchdown catch in the 1999 Florida State game and a very big fourth-down reception when the Vols were trying to kill the clock late in the game.

One December, a lawyer called and asked when the Vanderbilt game had started and ended. He also wanted to know what the weather conditions were. That was all readily available on the official play-by-play put out after the game. It seemed a client had fallen outside the stadium, and he was preparing the case. That's about all I could get out of him. There also was no word about the disposition of the case, either.

When people call and ask about my favorite teams, I always ask "what generation?" It does make a difference. I always try to discuss teams I actually saw play.

In much younger days, I always liked 1965, 1967, and 1970. The 1965 bunch was the one that put the Vols back on the national radar. There's always something special about those types of teams. The 1967 and 1970 teams were flat-out good.

The 1985 team was a personal favorite. Then there was 1989, the Cotton Bowl team, and the 11-1 team in 1995 that defeated Ohio State.

The 1998 national championship season was interesting week-by-week, despite some close calls along the way. Once the Vols got to No. 1, things became very exciting, but not without a few anxious moments.

There was Nov. 14. Tennessee versus Arkansas. It was late in the game. Arkansas led and had the ball.

Then came a moment never to be forgotten, one that led to a Vol win.

Billy Ratliff not only caused a fumble, but recovered it as well. Billy was an exceptional player who suffered more than his share of injuries. He was injured once on the practice field and left via ambulance. That was a scary moment.

There was a sad sidebar to this game. The Arkansas lineman Ratliff faced off against was Brandon Burlsworth, a very good player who bore a striking resemblance to comedian Drew Carey. Burlsworth was later killed in a traffic accident April 28, 1999, near Alpena, Ark. He was a walk-on who became an All-America and third-round draft choice of the Indianapolis Colts.

I liked the way the 2001 team came back from the loss to LSU and took Michigan apart, piece-by-piece, New Year's Day 2002. Hearing "Hail to the Victors" was a great deal of fun. Watching Vol receivers slice through the Wolverine secondary was more fun. That 2001 team won at Florida, Alabama and Notre Dame.

To this day, the LSU game was an inexplicable loss and will always be so. Fourth-quarter fumbles by Donte Stallworth and Travis Stephens were killers. One sportswriter led his game story as follows: "Uneasy lies the head that lies near the crown." It wasn't quite Shakespeare, but it was as good an explanation as any.

I once received a call from SEC official Jimmy Harper about getting a copy of a Volunteers Magazine cover that showed the coin toss of the 1989 Auburn game. There was this deep voice on the phone identifying himself, and my response was to the point: "Should I be talking with you?" He said, "Yes," and later profusely thanked me for the photo.

One of the officials from the 2001 SEC championship game, I believe his name was Mike Wallace, called with a similar request. He also asked the following pertinent question: "Why couldn't No. 14 come up with an interception when he had the ball right in his hands?"

No. 14 was Julian Battle, and he did nearly have a couple of picks that might have changed the course of the game. I never came up with a good answer why he didn't.

Those are just a few of the interesting questions about significant moments.

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 June 2009, and "Tennessee Football: The Peyton Manning Years" (1998). His E-mail is tjmshm@comcast.net. His News Sentinel blog is called "The Vol Historian."

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Comments » 10

atomicvet62 writes:

Nice story ,Go Vols

teampenny#658108 writes:

Goes to show college football is way more important than turning out pros. Hope all coaches realize this. Go Vols

dvols writes:

lots of great memories here...

although its the sad ones that make them great

i'm just sayin

jphilli5#240013 writes:

FIRST IN jACKSON

graphpro#231211 writes:

With the success the program had in the 90's. Who does everybody thing the most valuable coach was?
Fulmer
Chavis
Cutclif

My vote is for Cut. When Peyton was recruited he wanted to go where Cut was. There were also significant coaches like Garner. He brought in tons of talent (Lewis, Grant, etc.) I might even put him second behind Cut. I would then put Chavis for his ability to develop linebackers. Fulmer would go at the end.

bytusbk#272652 writes:

in response to ButchIsBack:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

All you trolls think if you keep repeating or saying something it will come true. Here's a clue it ain't going to happen. Tennessee may be down a year or two at times but they will always come back with a vengance. lesbutchonyourback

blitzshoot writes:

No one person will ever be Tennessee Football. Go Vols!

woodwr#217203 writes:

The bravest or smartest or luckiest play was in 1980, against Rutgers.

The Scarlet Knights had it over with, but foolishly tried a short field goal that Tennessee blocked and recovered sending a small convoy of large perhaps slow Volunters something like eighty yards for the win. Some little guy (I thought it was the holder) got up from the pile and chased them down. No one peeled off to block him, but all he could have seen were orange jerseys & white pants. He picked the Vol with the ball and tackled him from behind, leaving only time for a few long incomplete passes, breaking hearts and setting up the Notre Dame upset the next week.

orangebloodgmc writes:

Another fine article, Tom. Thanks.

With the first half ticking away, here's the pitch to Vegas Ferguson, deep in the backfield, running downhill, nearing the Tennessee goalline ... PUUU-KIII meets him head-on in the hole, and Notre Dame is 4 and out.

gnm53108 writes:

in response to graphpro#231211:

With the success the program had in the 90's. Who does everybody thing the most valuable coach was?
Fulmer
Chavis
Cutclif

My vote is for Cut. When Peyton was recruited he wanted to go where Cut was. There were also significant coaches like Garner. He brought in tons of talent (Lewis, Grant, etc.) I might even put him second behind Cut. I would then put Chavis for his ability to develop linebackers. Fulmer would go at the end.

Chief.

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