Over the course of the University of Tennessee football program's history, there are connections between players and their coaches that aren't readily apparent, but they make sense once you figure out what they are and how they're related.
This particular connection goes all the way back to the 1930s, back to the horse-and-buggy days of Tennessee football, with the single-wing, leather helmets, and much smaller crowds at Shields-Watkins Field, a time that helped set the stage for the tradition we know and appreciate today.
Those years from 1938-40 are among the school's best, 11-0 in 1938, 10-1 in 1939, and 10-1 in 1940.
Edward Michael Molinski was a 1939-40 All-America guard at Tennessee who became team physician at Memphis State and Mississippi, as well as being a prominent physician in the Bluff City.
Ed probably wasn't surprised at Maj. Robert R. Neyland's single-minded approach to football when he arrived in Knoxville in 1937, because he had played high school ball in Massillon, Ohio, under the legendary Paul Brown, who later coached professionally at Cleveland and Cincinnati.
Molinski and Bob Suffridge, the latter being the only three-time All-America selection in school history, anchored the offensive and defensive lines in those days, although they weren't exactly buddies during their careers as Vols. Rumor has it they rarely spoke to each other.
But the lineage is this: Ed Molinski came to the University of Tennessee via Paul Brown to Bob Neyland.
Fast forward 25 or so years.
When Doug Dickey became head coach at Tennessee in December 1963, Bradley County's Bob Johnson was one of the first players he visited, and eventually signed, along with a tackle from Pikeville named John Boynton.
He had considerable help in this effort from Jim McDonald, Dickey's predecessor as head coach.
Bob was the linchpin of Vol offensive lines from 1965-67, a two-time All-America selection and 1967 Jacobs Trophy winner as the SEC's best blocker.
He finished No. 6 in the Heisman Trophy balloting. Boynton was a steady offensive tackle who, as Dickey said, "did his job and didn't say much."
Johnson and Boynton join Elliott Gammage, Joe Graham, and Charley Rosenfelder as one of the great offensive lines in Tennessee history.
Some longtime Tennessee observers say Bob was the Peyton Manning of his day, with any numbers of honors listed next to his name in the record books. A similar number of folks say Peyton Manning was the Bob Johnson of his day.
Just before the 1965 season started, the Knoxville News-Sentinel's Marvin West reported that, "Bob Johnson, 225-pound sophomore, divided his time between defensive tackle and center."
Johnson found a home at center sometime around the Alabama game, good enough that no one thought about his potential defensive prowess again.
He was the starting center from that point on, through the 1968 Orange Bowl contest against Oklahoma.
Texas head coach Darrell Royal visited campus during Johnson's time in Knoxville and said he would be more than glad to take Bob back to Austin with him, if Dickey would let him.
Dickey very politely told Royal he'd keep Johnson in Knoxville. He knew a good thing when he saw one.
Dickey saw something that intuitively told him Bob was something special.
"Bob became a leader immediately," Dickey said. "There was never any doubt he was going to be a leader of whatever group he was a part of.
"He had a stature. There was a demeanor about him that let you know he was a leader. He had the brain power as well as the muscle power to get the total scholar-athlete program done at the University of Tennessee."
In 1968, after having starred for Dickey, Johnson was the No. 1 draft choice, No. 2 NFL selection overall, of the fledgling Cincinnati Bengals, playing for… Paul Brown.
Dickey and Brown each built their success on offense, and the success of their team, around the center from Bradley County.
The lineage is surprising similar: Johnson came to Brown from the University of Tennessee via Dickey.
"Coach Dickey had a lot in common with Coach Brown," Bob said. "They both had backbones made of steel. If they thought something was right, there was no bending. They did not have unrealistic rules, and they didn't care who broke them - everybody was dealt with the same way."
Neyland (1956), Johnson (1989), Molinski (1990), and Dickey (2003) are now members of the College Football Hall of Fame. Brown was a 1967 inductee to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The circle was complete. It started very humbly with Ed Molinski, but great stories often have humble beginnings.
For Tennessee fans who "know their stuff," this is a great story.
Tom Mattingly is a freelance contributor. He can be reached at email@example.com.