At Haslam Field on Friday, Butch Jones was laying another brick on the foundation to rebuild Tennessee football.
Downtown at the Tennessee Theatre, however, no rebuilding was required. It was 1998 again.
“It gives me chills and goose bumps all over my body,’’ ’98 cornerback Dwayne Goodrich told a crowd of several hundred as highlights of UT’s national championship season blazed across a screen.
Goodrich wasn’t the only one.
The official beneficiary of the fundraising event “An Evening for Champions” was St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. The evening was also a temporary salve for a fan base fallen on hard times.
The current mission is trying to
avoid a fourth consecutive losing season. Thus, observing the 15th anniversary of Tennessee’s national title — and most recent SEC championship — brought back a flood of heartening images.
The Vols capped a 13-0 season with a 23-16 win over Florida State in the Fiesta Bowl. The Sears Trophy and crystal football gleamed prominently from the stage.
The two head coaches from that game swapped anecdotes. Phillip Fulmer, 62, and Florida State’s Bobby Bowden, 83, are both Saturday spectators these days.
“Tennessee had a great football team,’’ said Bowden, who won titles in 1993 and 1999. “They played good enough to win and they did.’’
“That team,’’ said Fulmer, “was unselfish, took to coaching and it was one of the hardest working teams I had my entire time at Tennessee.’’
About a dozen members of the ’98 team shared memories of the magical season and the cathartic ending in Arizona.
“It was a great night,’’ All-America linebacker Al Wilson said. “Tennessee fans traveled well.
“Going undefeated in the SEC is a tough thing to do, so our confidence was very high.’’
The highlight clips served to not only remind the fans how confident — and talented — a program Tennessee had in ’98, but also offered a chance to razz some of the Vols’ contemporary nemeses.
A pained Steve Spurrier on the sideline in UT’s 20-17 win over Florida in September got a cheer. So did a solemn Florida State offensive coordinator Mark Richt in the Fiesta Bowl press box booth after Goodrich took an interception 54 yards for a touchdown.
By the time they got to Arizona, the Vols had been steeled by a series of close calls in the regular season.
“It was all business,’’ said Kevin Gregory, who snapped for kicker Jeff Hall. “It was all about doing your job and everything else will take care of itself.’’
Will Overstreet, then a freshman defensive end, said the real pressure was winning the SEC championship game against Mississippi State.
“A lot of the stress had come off us (for the Fiesta Bowl),’’ he said. “We didn’t have to worry about computers (for the BCS rankings). We didn’t have to worry about anything.
“We just have to be good this night, better than those guys.’’
The Vols never trailed. Tee Martin hooked up with Peerless Price on two long passes. UT’s stout defense contained a Seminole offense playing with backup quarterback Marcus Outzen.
But the game’s best tackle came from punter David Leaverton, who bowed up and prevented FSU All-American Peter Warrick from scoring on a punt return.
“David paid for his scholarship for four years with that tackle,’’ said Fulmer.
“If Warrick breaks left, he’s gonna score,” said Bowden. “He broke right.’’
The Vols got their share of breaks in 1998. But they were both resilient and talented enough to take full advantage of them.