When former Air Force Academy football coach Fisher DeBerry made the ill-fated decision to go for two points late in a memorable game against Tennessee in September 2006, he had patriotism as much as a victory on his mind.
"We felt like we represented the military, and the military's got to have that kind of attitude," said the retired coach, who was in Knoxville on Saturday to receive the Knoxville Quarterback Club's Robert R. Neyland Award for his service to intercollegiate athletics.
In an interview following the presentation at the Foundry by World's Fair Park, DeBerry said that Air Force running back Chad Hall had averaged nearly seven yards a carry on the play that was called. As a result, DeBerry felt comfortable going for two points and the win instead of kicking the extra point and likely going into overtime.
"I felt like the kids had fought so hard and had come back and they deserved a chance to win the game," he said.
Xavier Mitchell made a key stop for Tennessee, and the Vols were able to get away with a victory, even thought Air Force recovered the subsequent onside kick before being called offside.
DeBerry said he still feels like he made the right call in going for two. In fact, he was driving through Knoxville about two years ago, he said, and started thinking about that game and decided to call Hall, who plays for the Philadelphia Eagles.
"I said, 'Chad, I just wanted to let you know I was driving through Knoxville, and, if I had to do the same thing over, I'd call the same play.' He said, 'Coach, that really means a lot to me because it was eating my heart out.' "
That also was the game that Inky Johnson suffered a career-ending injury, and DeBerry remembers that the Air Force team sent him a giant get well card the next week.
DeBerry added that he has read Johnson's book and has recommended him as a motivational speaker.
During the program, DeBerry, praised Vols coach Derek Dooley and said he also admired Neyland, whose older son, Bob Neyland Jr., was on hand to present the award.
"I just wish I could have played for the general," he said.
Longtime sports television broadcaster Bob Neal was presented the Lindsey Nelson Broadcasting Award during the program.
Neal, who was born in Morristown and was the best friend of Maryville coach George Quarters' father, Billy, at White Pine Elementary before moving to Chicago, said he once received an unsolicited letter of support from Nelson, who died in 1995.
Neal said it came after Neal had broadcast his first game for an Atlanta TV station — a preseason Atlanta Falcons' contest against Cleveland at Neyland Stadium in 1973. He said Nelson told him that the game, and not the announcer, should be where the focus is, and that the viewers, and not the announcers, should be the fans.
"I tried to live by that," he said.
A number of other awards were presented by the regional chapter of the National Football Foundation, including the Distinguished American award to former Carson-Newman coach and UT assistant Dal Shealy.
John Shearer is a freelance contributor.