Mike Strange: Vols, Tide have a tendency to streak

Mike Strange
Tennessee football coach Derek Dooley looks towards the field from the coaching booth before their NCAA college football game against Mississippi State in Starkville, Miss., Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012. No. 19 Mississippi State won 41-31. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Photo by Rogelio V. Solis

Tennessee football coach Derek Dooley looks towards the field from the coaching booth before their NCAA college football game against Mississippi State in Starkville, Miss., Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012. No. 19 Mississippi State won 41-31. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Tim Priest strikes a pose for this publicity photo for the 1970 season.

Photo by UNIVERSITY OF TENNESSEE

Tim Priest strikes a pose for this publicity photo for the 1970 season.

Tim Priest has seen a lot of Tennessee football. He can cut back to the day in 1968 he got the message that Alabama was special.

"My sophomore year,'' Priest recalled this week, "Steve Kiner came up to me and said, 'You don't go to class this week. It's Alabama week. Get ready.'

"I did whatever Steve said because he was tough.''

Another Alabama week climaxes Saturday night at Neyland Stadium. The Vols are hoping to break a five-year losing streak to the Crimson Tide.

And that's not an unfamiliar posture in this border war that (usually) is settled on the third Saturday in October.

No matter the decade, it seems either the Vols or the Tide string together a run of victories. Currently, Alabama is on top. Currently, Alabama is on top of everybody.

Entire classes come to UT or 'Bama and never win or never lose to the other side. Priest never lost to Alabama from 1968-70.

"Tennessee had really good teams in the late Sixties and early Seventies,'' Priest said. "That was an era when Coach (Paul) Bryant was having a lull and Coach (Doug) Dickey had his number.''

Alabama swung back to dominate the 1970s and 1980s — except for the Vols' streak from 1982-85.

When Todd Kelly enrolled at UT in 1989, Alabama was still the biggest game on the schedule. It was a terrific era for the Vols, but they couldn't break the Tide's grip.

"We always went into the game feeling we could win,'' Kelly said. "All four of my Alabama games were close.''

Especially the 9-6 loss in 1990 that still has UT fans reaching for a bottle of either Pepto-Bismol or Jack Daniel's.

When the eventual national champions prevailed 17-10 in 1992, Kelly had to face the fact that Alabama would remain a painful omission in an otherwise glorious career that included two SEC titles and three bowl wins.

"Those four Alabama losses,'' said Kelly, "those were the toughest.

"I've got a lot of friends that played at Alabama in that era and I was never able to talk junk to any of 'em.''

Jay Graham, now UT's running backs coach, arrived just as Kelly left. He wrung every possible emotion out of the rivalry.

There was a tie in 1993 that felt like a loss, then a real loss, 17-13, in '94.

"You went home, you didn't go to sleep,'' said Graham. "It just hurt.

"That's the thing about a rivalry. You play so fast, you hit so hard, you want to win and it hurts that much more.''

Graham was there when the Vols broke through in 1995 at Legion Field.

"A weight just lifted off your shoulders,'' he said. "I'll remember it the rest of my life.''

He'll also remember his 79-yard touchdown, the difference in a 20-13 UT win in 1996. Kicker Jeff Hall was a sophomore, halfway through a perfect career (1995-98) against the Tide.

"For us, Alabama was that old-school rivalry,'' Hall said, "but we knew we were gonna wear 'em out. Everybody has their cycles and they were struggling.

"For my generation the rivalry was Florida. That's who you had to beat to get in the SEC Championship game.''

Hall lost only five games in four years. Not to sound arrogant, but ...

"There were quite a few teams we never lost to,'' he said. "But if you go down the list, I'd say Alabama would be at the top.''

Another class of Vols will reach a moment of truth Saturday night. They will either feel a weight lifted off their shoulders, or the hard reality that another streak remains firmly entrenched.

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/strangemike44 and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/strange.

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Comments » 8

atnvol#283282 writes:

Ah yes, reminiscing the glory days....someday the worm will turn and the Vols will be back on top....until then we must endure.

Flyfisherman writes:

Vols, Tide have a tendency to streak ...isn't there a law against streaking?

jone8191#247590 writes:

I was there for the 1993 tie. I still haven't gotten over it.

signalcorps writes:

in response to atnvol#283282:

Ah yes, reminiscing the glory days....someday the worm will turn and the Vols will be back on top....until then we must endure.

yep, soon as hart gets dooley gone ,he can do his thing and put in place his coach I think hart can do it....

illinoisvolfan writes:

in response to Flyfisherman:

Vols, Tide have a tendency to streak ...isn't there a law against streaking?

Depends on how far back in the woods you are.

VOLinATL writes:

The 9-6 game is still the worst Vols loss I have ever witnessed....even worse than the "Hob-Nailed Boot" game.

TrouserCough writes:

Dooley has a great streak going against ranked teams and the rest of the SEC

pms151 writes:

Mike U are on point. But this one is not going to be close.

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