You may not remember it, but there was once a 9-3 Tennessee team that was not ranked by the Associated Press during the entire season. It's all right there in black agate type on page 171 of the "2010 Tennessee Volunteers Football Media Guide."
There were, however, a number of heroes in orange and a great deal of excitement throughout the season.
Coach John Majors said he saw light at the end of the tunnel, even after a 1-2 start.
"For the first time in six years, I see daylight," Majors said. "I know I may sound like a crazy man, but I feel confident we are now building a good program, and I am not going to change my mind one iota."
Reggie White was team captain and dominated the proceedings up front defensively for the Vols, earning All-America honors.
Alan Cockrell was the quarterback, his second year back under center after his freshman year knee surgery. He threw the ball all over the field in a 41-34 win over Alabama at Legion Field in October. His performance included two 80-yard TD passes, one to Lenny Taylor on the Vols' first play from scrimmage after the Tide had taken the game's opening drive in for a score. The other went to Clyde Duncan.
Munford's Johnnie Jones gained 1,161 yards rushing that season, 66 of which came on a memorable run at Legion Field, as dramatic a moment as any Vol fan could imagine. A crowd of 77,237 watched as Jones hit left end, cut back to his right, and etched his way into the series history books. The play, called "49 Option," culminated a 17-point rally from 34-24 down to the eventual 41-34 margin.
Ed Murphey, a Vol fan from Memphis, had told Jones that he would one day score the winning touchdown against Alabama. Jones initially thought that Murphey was just blowing some recruiting smoke, but thought differently after the game.
"After all these years," Jones said, "it looked like he knew what he was talking about. At least that's how it happened that day in Birmingham."
The Vols were coming off a 6-5-1 season that ended on a two-game losing streak, to Vanderbilt (28-21) in the season finale at Nashville and to Iowa (28-22) in the Peach Bowl at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.
It also may have not helped that the Vols got off to a 1-2 start, with losses to Pittsburgh (13-3) and Auburn (37-14), sandwiched around a 31-6 win over New Mexico.
After that, the Vols played some pretty good football, defeating The Citadel (45-6), LSU (20-6), and No. 11 Alabama. There was no hangover after the Alabama game, as the Vols found their way down from the clouds to win decisively against Georgia Tech by a 37-3 score.
After a 7-0 win over Rutgers at the Meadowlands, the Vols inexplicably stubbed their collective toes in a Homecoming night loss to Ole Miss, 13-10.
That loss so infuriated one Vol fan that he threw a portable stadium chair at Cockrell as he left the field at the north end.
The team recovered well enough to knock off Kentucky (10-0) and Vanderbilt (34-24).
The Vols trailed 24-20 in the Vanderbilt game, but rallied behind Jones - who had 248 yards rushing - Cockrell, and Duncan for 14 fourth-quarter points.
The Florida Citrus Bowl victory against No. 16 Maryland (30-23) capped the Vols' finest season since 1972 (10-2) with a 9-3 record.
The Vols trailed 20-16 entering the fourth quarter, but Jones, who gained 154 yards on 29 carries, scored twice to give the Vols a hard-earned victory.
In his final collegiate game before moving on to pro baseball, Cockrell threw a 12-yard TD pass to Taylor, part of his 185 yards passing on the night. Fullback Sam Henderson scored on a 19-yard run, with Fuad Reveiz adding a 25-yard field goal. Linebacker Alvin Toles recovered a fumble and intercepted a pass.
Fans recalled the 1983 season fondly when the news broke that White had died on Sunday, Dec. 26, 2004. Under his leadership and the careful tutelage of defensive coordinator Larry Marmie, the Vols went from worst to first defensively in the SEC.
"Reggie White could turn a football game around like no one else," Majors said. "He could dominate not only the man in front of him, but also the side of the line of scrimmage he was on. People changed their game plan to run to the other side, and he could still make plays. He was a lovable and likable guy with a great sense of humor who was also serious about football and serious about his religious beliefs."
The national media may not have honored the Vols this season, but there were all kinds of memorable moments.
Tom Mattingly is a freelance contributor.