I am a third generation Tennessee fan and although that may not be uncommon I believe what is uncommon about my experience is the time span in which it falls. For Example the first Tennessee and Alabama game was played in 1901 (Final Score 6-6). My grandfather was born that same year. He was an outdoorsman and a sports fan. He begin going to Tennessee games back when you could walk on the sidelines at the game. He told my dad that he remembered when General Neyland was hired. At that time he wasn’t a General, and he was hired to beat Vanderbilt. He raised my father to love Tennessee athletics and they listened on the radio together to Lindsey Nelson call the Alabama and Tennessee games and they would go to the game when they played in Knoxville.
My grandfather called the Tennessee and Alabama game “The Pride of Dixie”. People who are not from the south do not understand the significance of College Football on the lives of southerners. Today southerners do not carry the burden of defeat they way that folks did during the depression. In those days southerners were the sons and grandsons of the defeated Confederacy following the War Between the States. When my father was growing up southerners had no industry and men would leave their families and go north to work. My Grandfather worked for a $1 a day during the depression on a farm in Indiana while my dad and his family lived in a two room house nestled in Little Sycamore Valley. This type of story reflects many southerners, and schools like Tennessee and Alabama gave common folks a sense of pride when they went and beat other teams especially from the North. When Tennessee and Alabama played then it was to settle who the best in the South was. No wonder Paul “Bear” Bryant played and led Alabama to victory in the 1935 game with a broken leg. It was about pride.
Laying the Foundation for Me
If I had to give you one name that was synonymous with this series then it would be Tony Robinson. Not many people who watched football prior to 1985 know who he was, but I remember him well. He was way before his time. He had a NFL arm and could run out of the pocket and make things happen. The first Tennessee and Alabama game I ever saw in person was in 1984. That day I set with my mom. My dad had two sets of tickets, and he and one of his friends set together in the upper deck while my mom and I were in the end zone in section P. It was late in the fourth quarter and Tennessee was down 27-20 and they got the ball in Alabama Territory then all of a sudden my mom said she couldn’t watch anymore because she was to nervous. So she said we had to leave. I told her I wanted to see the end so she had me stand with an usher while she went into concourse and stood in the tunnel. Tony Robinson led the team down field and we scored a touchdown with very little time in the game and we were down by two. Johnny Majors kept the offense on the field and Tennessee lined up to go for two. Robinson rolled out like he was going to pitch the ball and then darted into the end zone and he landed on his back. He laid there in the end zone holding the ball in the air and the stadium went wild. It was the first time I ever saw goal post torn down.
The following year Tennessee would play at Alabama and this time both teams were ranked and the winner would be in the driver seat to win the SEC. Alabama was ranked 15th and Tennessee was 20th. UT was led by Tony Robinson who had beaten the #1 Auburn Tigers led by Bo Jackson a few weeks prior to this game and made the cover of Sports Illustrated. Robinson was the first UT player in years to be mentioned as a possible Heisman winner. The game was battle from start to finish. Tennessee had the lead late in the game and Tony Robinson got tackled and he did not get up. I remember my dad said “Oh Know it’s his Knee”. On that play Tony Robinson’s career ended. The Tennessee defense was now left in charge of preserving a 16-14 lead. Dale Jones intercepted a pass that he deflected and UT went on to win the SEC and beat Miami in the Sugar Bowl. It was another great Alabama and Tennessee game, and I lived and breathed every minute of it. We had now beaten them four years in a row. I was hooked on the series, but I had no idea the misery of the next several years would be like.
Check back for more of my thought of what this game means to me.