When the experts say football is a "team game," they really mean it. It takes a "team" to win. That's been true since the days of Pop Warner and Amos Alonzo Stagg. Tennessee coaches from the days of Bob Neyland have preached the concept of "team."
Game heroes come in all shapes and sizes, however. Sometimes the heroes are not the ones you might expect. They might be an older player buried on the depth chart or a youngster who only needed a chance to prove himself.
The history of Tennessee football is replete with players who have stood tall, making a key play at exactly the right moment. In each of their cases, their contributions should not be forgotten.
Here are four of them.
Anybody remember former Vol wide receiver Bobby Graham, defensive back Buck Fitzgerald, tight end John Finlayson, and defensive end Xavier Mitchell?
Anybody remember each of their most significant plays as Volunteers?
Think back to the critical moments of the 1999 Memphis game, the 2001 game at Florida, and the 2006 Air Force game. The Vols won them all, but it wasn't easy.
Each of them "saved" a game, as we look back at what they contributed through the prism of history.
Bobby Graham was a sophomore wide receiver from Statesville, N. C., who seemed destined for obscurity until Homecoming Day, Sept. 25, 1999, when the Vols trailed Memphis 16-10 late in the fourth quarter.
The Vols had lost to Florida a week earlier. Three years earlier, they had lost to the Tigers at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. A loss at Neyland, on Homecoming, could have proven catastrophic. Losses to Memphis have that impact, real or imagined.
Things really looked bleak, and fans were expecting the worst until Tee Martin threw what seemed to be a desperation pass in Graham's direction down the east side going to the north end.
Graham hauled it in, the play covering 53 yards. That put the Vols in position for the winning score and sent fans scurrying to their game programs to see exactly who No. 11 was. They know now.
Afterwards, Graham emerged from the shadows to become a capable receiver, often called a "possession receiver" by media pundits.
He wasn't the fastest guy in the world, but he could catch the ball.
When Bobby made his first major contribution as a Vol, Tennessee fans, old and young, breathed a sigh of relief. There would be no loss to the Tigers that afternoon.
Bobby had proven emphatically what he could do, if only given the chance.
Fitzgerald, a senior from Nashville, and Finlayson, a senior from Selmer (McNairy County), were not exactly household words across Big Orange Country. They had been on the roster and made all the travel squads, but there was precious little else to remember them by. They would, however, establish a legacy when it mattered most.
On Dec. 1, 2001, at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Fla., the Vols and Gators met to decide the SEC East crown in what would prove to be Steve Spurrier's final game in the "Swamp." Florida was a prohibitive favorite. Members of the media gave the Vols little chance.
It was a back-and-forth game all day, momentum shifting quickly from the Gators to the Vols. Tennessee led going into the final, frantic moments.
The Gators had pulled to 34-32 when Fitzgerald stepped to the front. Buck made the play on Jabar Gaffney when Rex Grossman looked to Jabar for the tying two-point conversion.
He never had a chance. Buck's coverage was that good. Gaffney had been on the good end of a controversial call a year earlier in Knoxville. This one was not controversial, even though Gaffney did protest.
Mere moments later, Finlayson corralled an onsides kick, one that took an initially scary bounce. John grabbed the ball and fell to the turf, just as he was coached to, setting the stage for the "victory formation" and a wondrous flight home.
Then came Mitchell's turn to make a play. The date was Sept. 9, 2006, against Air Force. The Vols won 31-30, and a stop by Mitchell was one of the game's biggest stories.
Air Force had rallied and had a chance to win the game at the end, needing only a two-point conversion to take the lead and, more than likely than not, win the game.
Mitchell would have none of that, being right where he was supposed to be and stopping a toss sweep to the right side at the south end. Somehow, by the hardest, the Vols survived.
One thing is certain about all of their contributions.
When each of them was given a chance, they made the most of it.
Of such big plays are legend and tradition created.