Tom Mattingly: Holloway's magic brought the Vols back from the brink in 1974

If all else fails, the saying goes, wipe the slate clean and start over. There are officially no mulligans, no do-overs, no second chances, if you will, in football, but when the ox is in the ditch, anything goes.

After starting the 1974 season 2-3-1 ("The 2-3-1 record," Russ Bebb wrote, "brought gloom you could cut with a knife"), being bloodied by Auburn, LSU, and Alabama, Tennessee coach Bill Battle, who had been under duress from portions of the fan base since a 3-4 finish to the 1973 campaign, proclaimed a "New Season" in late October.

After Battle declared the Vols 0-0-0 going into the Clemson game, the Vols were 5-0-1 thereafter and earned a spot in the Liberty Bowl.

It was quite a bounce-back, aided considerably by an easing of the schedule from the one faced earlier in the year. There was hope, at least from Battle's point of view, fans would remember what the Vols did down the stretch run.

This also was about the time Battle had offered quarterback and co-captain Condredge Holloway the option to leave the team, not quitting, but getting a head start toward on his post-collegiate baseball career.

"I think you have a chance at a professional career," Battle had told him. "If you think that your professional career is going to be hindered by you continuing this season, I'm offering you the opportunity not to play any more, to just get ready for your professional career."

Condredge's response was to the point: "I have to be at practice."

The Clemson game was a tight one, back-and-forth, up and down the field, an offensive battle, with Clemson ahead 28-27 in the final moments. The Vols needed a miracle. A loss to Clemson would have been disastrous.

Fortunately, the Vols had Holloway under center, a Houdini in orange, the "Artful Dodger," a player who pulled off more than one miracle in his career. Sportswriters ran out of adjectives, adverbs and nouns to describe Holloway's impact.

Battle said it best, calling Holloway "indescribable."

There was no overtime in those long-ago days, so the word came from the braintrust on the west sideline: go for two. "New Seasons" should never start with ties, it was reasoned, so it was all or nothing for the Vols.

The Vols needed every inch of available real estate to get the ball into the end zone. Hearts grew faint as the Vols came to the line heading to the south end. What they saw was one of the most memorable moments in Tennessee football history.

Holloway rolled to his right and found all avenues blocked. He then began a desperate journey back to his left, looking for an orange shirt anywhere in the vicinity. He wasn't going to take a sack and wasn't going to throw the ball away under any circumstances.

As Holloway bought as much time as possible, he narrowly avoided a collision with referee Don Safrit. Just as he was going down under a white shirt with orange Tiger paws on it near the Clemson 22, Holloway lofted a pass in the direction of sophomore wide receiver Larry Seivers, the Clinton native who earned All-America honors each of the next two seasons.

Seivers made the catch in the left corner of the end zone, acting as if the play had been drawn up that way all along. He barely escaped the clutches of Gus Manning, who kept one hand on his briefcase and his cigar in his mouth while celebrating the winning score.

"That one stands out in my mind for two reasons," Seivers said later. "One, it was a remarkable play by Condredge. And two, it was the first time I felt I had done something at Tennessee."

During the season-ending streak, there were victories over Memphis State, Ole Miss, and Kentucky, with a tie thrown in on a rainy day at Vanderbilt.

The streak was capped by a 7-3 win over Maryland in the Liberty Bowl, on a night nobody in orange could block Maryland's Randy White. He knocked Holloway out of the game and did a real number on Vol tight end Tommy West.

With Holloway on the sidelines, sophomore quarterback Randy Wallace completed his only pass of the evening, an 11-yarder to Seivers for the winning score.

Battle rallied the troops to finish the 1974 season in a positive fashion. Unfortunately, the 1975 and 1976 seasons weren't up to Tennessee standards, as the Vols complied records of 7-5 and 6-5, respectively. The "Battle Era" ended in 1976 with Johnny Majors marching home for the 1977 campaign.

Battle left and went into private business. He founded and built The Collegiate Licensing Company (CLC) into an entity of major influence on the sporting scene, providing sports licensing services for colleges and universities.

Tom Mattingly is a freelance contributor.

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Comments » 6

orangecountyvols writes:

Vols,

What Mattingly failed to mention about the 2 point try at the end of the Clemson game was this......Battle had drawn up the play for Condredge to keep it and try to score himself.
He told him if he couldn't get in, to fumble it into the endzone and hopefully the Vols would recover. Clemson met him too far from the goal to execute the play, so Holloway put on the brakes and retreated, looking for a receiver.

They had tear away jerseys then and his was being ripped away when he spotted Seivers in the endzone ( 6:04 ) being covered by 5:09 Charlie Neel of Clemson. With that catch for the 29-28 win.........bedlam in Neyland Stadium was an understatement.

rockytopatl writes:

So was this a story about Holloway and his exploits or Battle's coaching career? It didn't do either possible theme justice, though Condredge's performance that day against Clemson was one for the ages. I was there and the play seemed to take forever. At one point, I swear Condredge had scrambled all the way out to the 35 -- on a two-point play!

Vol4EVA writes:

Condredge could really make it happen. As mediocre as the records were those years, he still made it exciting to watch.....special days when most of us had to listen to John Ward call it on the radio and then watch the Bill Battle show on Sunday morning...Slow motion replays and the tear away jerseys...Great memories...Go Big Orange!...I'll hang up and listen to your comments...

orangecountyvols writes:

in response to rockytopatl:

So was this a story about Holloway and his exploits or Battle's coaching career? It didn't do either possible theme justice, though Condredge's performance that day against Clemson was one for the ages. I was there and the play seemed to take forever. At one point, I swear Condredge had scrambled all the way out to the 35 -- on a two-point play!

Rockytopatl,

You are correct. Condredge did in fact go back quite a distance to make the play.......easily from 20 to 35 yards. Clemson had a fabulous tight end in Benny Cunningham. A big fullback from Halifax County here in Virginia, Don Testerman took a run 65 yards for one Tiger score. Yep, we were there and it was one of the most exciting finishes ever for the Vols.

Sort of like the first game on artificial surface with Georgia and the 17-17 tie.
Bubba Wyche to Kenny Delong to score on the final play to make it 17-15 Dogs. Then Wyche hit Gary Kreis for the 2 points in that thrilling finish.

Gmoney58 writes:

Was @ that game...What a moment!

JohnnyU writes:

I remember being at that Clemson game, too. Had a couple of friends in from Clemson for that weekend. Amazing finish, a big sigh of relief after almost losing.

The Liberty Bowl win was overshadowed for Bill Battle. His father died in the stands of a heart attack right after the game. Coach Battle was even up in the stands while they were trying to revive him.

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