When, if ever, could the lowly tie game be perceived as a win?
The tie went out of fashion after the 1995 season, with the record of history telling us that there were 53 such incidences across the decades of the Tennessee program. There was even a season (1919), never to be replicated, with a 3-3-3 record.
In 1955, Bowden Wyatt's first season, Tennessee and Georgia Tech fought to a 7-7 deadlock on Shields-Watkins Field. Bowden Wyatt was disappointed ("It was tied when we started. We wanted to win," he said.), but Tennessee partisans saw it as a positive, a building block for what was to come.
There were three ties early in Doug Dickey's Tennessee career that helped indicate that Dickey had the Vols on the right combination of vitamins and minerals. A fourth tie, 17-17 in the 1968 season opener at Georgia, helped save the season.
There was a 3-3 stalemate at LSU in 1964 that came when the Vols were heavy underdogs on Homecoming Day, yet somehow escaped without losing. Steve DeLong led a critical goal-line stand that is revered among Vol historians who remember seeing the game or even those who have only seen pictures.
That game caught the attention of Vol fans who had been expecting the worst.
A year later, the Vols and Auburn tied in Knoxville, 13-13. A missed extra point by both teams and two interceptions by Auburn defensive tackle Jack Thornton helped seal the outcome.
Later that season, perhaps the most famous tie in Tennessee history took place at Legion Field in Birmingham, when the Vols squared off against defending national champion Alabama.
That was the day the Vols and Tide were locked into an intense defensive struggle going into the final seconds with the scoreboard reading 7-7. The Tide was in the shadow of the Vol end zone, with Alabama needing only a field goal to win.
Tennessee captain Hal Wantland, always a competitive sort, said this about the deadlock: "Alabama tied us." That proved to many Vol fans that Tennessee had its "swagger" back.
Sophomore signal-caller Ken "Snake" Stabler, who made a career of leading last-second drives for winning points, lost track of the downs, and tried to kill the clock to set up placekicker David Ray. It was a good premise, but bad execution. It was fourth down, not third, and the ball went over to the Vols.
The 1968 Georgia game was an equally memorable deadlock, with the Vols pulling out the tie by scoring eight points on a touchdown and two-point conversion after time had run out. Bubba Wyche led the way, throwing a TD pass to Gary Kreis as the final horn went off, then hitting Ken DeLong for the tying two-pointer.
"A lot of sophomores grew up out there today," Dickey said afterwards, referencing the contributions Chip Kell, Don Denbo, Tim Priest, Lester McClain, Mike Bevans, Steve Robinson, Ronnie Drummonds, James Woody, and others would be stalwarts from 1968 through 1970.
There were two ties in 1974, one in the season-opener against UCLA, the day Condredge Holloway returned from the hospital to lead the game-tying drive, and in the regular season finale at Vanderbilt, when Holloway found Larry Seivers for the two-point conversion that tied the game.
Tennessee tied the game at LSU in 1982 and nearly had a chance to win. That was the night LSU had vendors selling T-shirts commemorating what would they had hoped would be LSU's 500th victory.
The Vols refused to cooperate, however, and LSU ended the evening at 499.5 victories, a tie being defined statistically as half a win, half a loss. That game led to a huge Vol victory the next week, the famed 35-28 win over Alabama in Bear Bryant's last appearance in Knoxville.
In 1990, Tennessee endured a "good tie" against Colorado in the season-opener, coming from 14 points down to gain the draw. A 26-26 tie, a "bad tie," at Auburn came after the Vols squandered a 26-9 lead going into the fourth quarter.
In 1985, a 26-26 tie in the lidlifter against UCLA had the feeling of a loss, as the Bruins came from 16 points down to tie the game. Later in the season, Tennessee tied Georgia Tech 6-6 on a Carlos Reveiz field goal from 51 yards.
The conventional wisdom, it seems, would say that ties were always exciting, keeping fans breathless until the game ended.
That was not always the case, as witnessed by the 1953 Tennessee and Alabama game. The game, telecast by NBC ended in a 0-0 tie, with network programming executives repeatedly expressing their displeasure over the course of the game to announcers Lindsey Nelson and Mel Allen.
Thus, the tie game is no longer with us, but what a wonderful treasure trove of memories it has left us.
Tom Mattingly is a freelance contributor.