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.