Tom Mattingly: Jim Maxwell brewed up special run in 1971

The 1971 Tennessee football season offered Vol fans a crash course in what can happen when things are unsettled at quarterback.

From 1965 on, the quarterback position was in good hands: Charlie Fulton (1965-67), Dewey Warren (1965-67), Bubba Wyche (1966-68), and Bobby Scott (1968-70). It wasn't always easy, and there were some justifiable worries about how each of them would play once they got their chance, but things always worked out.

The overall record was 53-11-3 (.813), with six bowl games, two SEC titles, and a host of memories.

Coming off an 11-1 season in 1970, the Vol defense looked like an old friend. The offense was another story. Scott was gone, and there were a number of contenders for the job.

If two quarterbacks are often perceived as one too many, think about what happens with four on the roster, three of whom never were able to separate themselves from the pack.

When the season began, Dennis Chadwick and Chip Howard each had a shot, but fell back and found themselves at wide receiver. Phil Pierce had a shining moment at Florida, leading a game-winning 99-yard drive in a 20-13 victory, but he, too, didn't seem to provide all the answers.

There was another quarterback in the wings, a fifth-year senior named Jim Maxwell, who watched patiently as the whole process unfolded. As things turned out, he was the answer, but nobody really knew it early in the season.

Eight turnovers in a 32-15 loss at Alabama, four fumbles and four interceptions, clearly defined the problem. The score was 22-15 late in the fourth quarter, despite the spate of turnovers, but a missed fourth-down try at the Tennessee 29 and another fumble led to a field goal and touchdown. What was a close game resulted in the first Tide victory in the series since 1966.

Desperate times called for desperate measures. It was time for the coaching staff to make a move.

Wisdom has it that a player just needs a chance to show what he can do. That was the case with Maxwell.

Sportswriter Russ Bebb called Maxwell's senior season "a rags to riches story that seemed to be too improbable to be true." Maxwell earned his opportunity when Bill Battle called his number against Mississippi State at Memorial Stadium in Memphis on Oct. 23.

Maxwell had come to Knoxville as part of the 1966-67 recruiting class. He redshirted in 1968 and held kicks for George Hunt, the placekicker on the Quarter Century All-SEC team (1950-74), in 1970 and 1971.

Maxwell's season stats ended up to be modest ones, 46 completions in 102 attempts for 544 yards, a couple of week's yardage for Peyton Manning or Andy Kelly.

The expectations for Maxwell were simple, i.e., keep a steady hand on the throttle and not make the critical turnover. There might have been those in the Tennessee fan base who went scurrying to their game programs to find out who No. 16 was under center for the Vols.

Fans "knew" the Vols had a quarterback, a youngster named Condredge Holloway, but he was a freshman, and freshmen weren't eligible until a year later. Holloway was busy leading the Vol freshmen to a 4-1 record.

Maxwell's debut was definitely a baptism under fire. When Battle called his name, it was now or never for the fifth-year senior from Nashville.

"Out of nowhere, your name gets called," Maxwell said, "and you ask yourself, 'What's going on here?' I was scared to death, and I remember trotting onto the field and wondering, 'What am I going to do now?' "

All the "Blue Max" did was help lead the Vols to wins over State (10-7), Tulsa (38-3), South Carolina (35-6), Kentucky (21-7), Vanderbilt (19-7), Penn State (31-11), and Arkansas (14-13) in the Liberty Bowl, finishing his Tennessee career in Memphis, where it all had begun.

"I figured after being on the team for five years," Maxwell said, "that the odds were pretty much against me playing at all. You just look on it as one of those dreams that didn't come true. By then, you have to believe your career isn't going anywhere."

Somebody, maybe Doug Dickey or George Cafego, had a ready answer.

Each of them always said, "If you stay, you'll play." Cafego always told his scout squad members to take advantage of every break that came their way.

Maxwell stayed, even through the times it never looked as if he would see time under center. Vol fans who watched him down the stretch in 1971 remember well his contribution to the success of that season.

Seen in the perspective of history, Maxwell delivered the goods when his name was called.

The Vols were 10-2 that season.

He was undefeated as a starter. Tennessee went from 3-2 after the crash landing at Alabama to 10-2 overall.

Score one for the "Blue Max."

Tom Mattingly is a freelance contributor.

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Comments » 6

standfast#211788 writes:

Maxwell ranks right up there with Hal Wantland, Art Reynolds, Mose Phillips, and Nick Riveiz as one of my favorite Vols. Didn't have much, but he gave it all... for Tennessee. Wish we had more like him.

ncvol17 writes:

they used to play highlights of the 14-13 Arkansas game over & over at the disco in Memphis w/ Rick 'disco duck' Dees as DJ....

tnbigg writes:

Loved the way the "Blue Max" turned that season into Volunteer magic. I'll never forget that Penn State game. I had 45 yard line student tickets. A game of a lifetime. All the hype about Penn State, Joe Paterno, Franco Harris, Lydell Mitchell and the "Blue Max" and the rest of the team tamed the lions big time that day. I still have and reread "Searching with Searcy" that Sunday. It was one of the most profound sports columns I have ever read. It was supposed to pour down rain that day. Snow in Nashville. Rain in Chattanooga and sunshine in Knoxville. We Honored the incredible Majors family that day and Bobby had the game of his life. The night before that game a plane flew over campus and dropped leaflets advertising the "coming rout" by Penn State. It was a play on "The night before Christmas". It started out, "Twas the night before the big game and all through the south. All eyes were on Penn State awaiting the rout". Rout it was! We kicked the bejeebers out of them!

orangecountyvols writes:

Tnbigg,

One other name the Lions had was John Capeletti.
You're right, Bobby Majors returned kicks that day for something like 195 yards and was the ABC player of the game.

I was one of the crazies that stormed the field after the game. Then, the Vols hit them again in 1972 to open the season with the first night game in U T history at home. First game was 31-11, and the 72' game was 28-21.

tnbigg writes:

in response to orangecountyvols:

Tnbigg,

One other name the Lions had was John Capeletti.
You're right, Bobby Majors returned kicks that day for something like 195 yards and was the ABC player of the game.

I was one of the crazies that stormed the field after the game. Then, the Vols hit them again in 1972 to open the season with the first night game in U T history at home. First game was 31-11, and the 72' game was 28-21.

Dang. I forgot about Capelletti. Good call! I don't know if you remember the story of that second game. It was a "home and home" arrangement. They tried to duck out the second year claiming, "They could only play at night" and we didn't have stadium lights at that time. BUT. We got lights. FAST! GAME ON! It started out like the first game. We were up bit at the half. They came back and it was a case of "whoever scores last wins". Needless to say, we did win...but an incredible game that was too! Back in the day when players played because they loved the game and money was not such a driving force. Nor was ego. Most guys back then were not like so many today. Completely full of themselves. Thank for the memory though! GO VOLS!

volfan73120#211815 writes:

How can you forget Conrad Graham. He made the play of the day early in the first quarter as Penn State was about to score and take the lead. Graham got into State's backfield and picked up a fumble and returned it 90 yards for a TD. The vols went up 7-0, instead of being down 7-0. The vols then turned it in to a rout. I believe Penn State scored late to get their 11 points. Final score was 31-11.

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