The day was June 2, 1998, 13 years ago this past Thursday.
In that day, the communication device of choice to send out important athletic department information to the media was a "Fax Expander."
There was a master list of all media, and once the button was pushed, the course of history was changed. The information surged its way through cyberspace and reached the intended recipients within mere seconds.
There was a release sent to all Tennessee media that day that read as follows:
"MEDIA CONFERENCE SET FOR WEDNESDAY: The University of Tennessee Athletic Department will hold a media conference in the Team Meeting Room on the second floor of the Neyland-Thompson Sports Center on campus tomorrow (Wednesday, June 3) at 11 a.m. The media conference will involve Vol broadcaster John Ward."
The die was now cast, and whatever would happen, would happen. All that was left now was the inevitable discussion on the talk shows.
The next day, the official announcement came that Ward and sidekick Bill Anderson, on the air since the 1968 Georgia game, were stepping down as the Vol Network football broadcasting team.
Ward, who had broadcast Vol basketball starting in 1964-65, was also stepping down from Vol hoops, effective with the final game of the 1998-99 season.
During this time the duo became the most popular sports figures across the width and breadth of Big Orange Country.
"When 107,000 people show up for a football game or 24,000 come for basketball, part of the legacy goes to John Ward and Bill Anderson for creating an aura about our place that has just been tremendous," AD Doug Dickey said. "I appreciate all they have done, and all they have meant to us."
Ward was succinct, as always.
"I have a prepared statement, and I'm going to read it."
Here came the news.
With that, he sat down, although he did answer questions later.
Edwin Huster of the Vol Network observed, "You can't imagine John without Bill or Bill without John."
John Ward brought home the story of Vol athletics as no other man could. It goes back to the time John was the public address announcer at Shields-Watkins Field, his taking over the football and basketball broadcasts.
When the Vols earned a second chance to win the 1998 Arkansas game after the famous "Stoerner Stumble," Ward offered this piece of unsolicited advice over the airwaves to the coaching staff.
"Just give it to Henry," he said.
The staff obliged, giving Travis Henry of Frostproof, Fla., the pigskin. He had five carries for 43 yards and the game-winning score with mere seconds left. It was a grand and glorious day. Ward defined the moment, just as he had throughout his career.
In hoops, there was the magic year of 1966-67, when the Vols surprised everybody by winning the SEC, and Ward's broadcasts of Tennessee games were the hottest show in town.
When the Vols were at home, everybody was at the brand new Stokely Athletic Center on campus to see the games in person, many with portable radios listening to Ward's broadcast.
Tennessee won the SEC title that year in a triple overtime game at Starkville, Miss., when sophomore guard Bill Justus canned two free throws to give the Vols the victory. When the game ended, Ward said something like this: "Wrap it up, tie it in orange and white, and send it to Bill Justus, care of Gibbs Hall, Knoxville, Tennessee."
The beat went on over the years. There were the "Ernie and Bernie" years when Ward did the radio broadcast on an ever-growing Vol Network, and everybody in Stokely went home to watch the game replay on Channel 26 or Channel 2 with Ward's radio call of the game dubbed over the video.
John was the glue, the frame around the broadcasts and the coaches' shows, doing the job the right way, whether it was after a big win or a tough loss. The shows started on time, finished on time, and were high-tech for the day.
In the fall of 1995, the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees named the fourth floor broadcast area of the Neyland Stadium Tom Elam Press Box the "John Ward Broadcast Center," honoring his years of broadcast service. Ward made football and basketball play-by-play, especially basketball, into an art from.
There was a wonderful John Ward story from an unlikely setting.
John and his wife, Barbara, once took a trip on the Orient Express. Just before the train left the station, John and Barbara were in their seats when another man and his wife got on the train. The man walked past the Wards, looked in John's general direction, and said, "Bottom!"
That's the way things appeared 13 years ago, announcing the press conference to "involve Vol broadcaster John Ward."
Tom Mattingly is a freelance contributor. He also blogs at the Vol Historian.