Tennessee has played in some exciting, instant-classic football games in their history. Last season alone brought some unforgettable moments for Vol fans, and fans around the nation saw the miraculous Hail Mary victory Tennessee pulled off against Georgia.
But those games, while exciting and certainly important at the time, aren’t even close to the best games the Vols have ever played in the program’s history.
Matt Brown, a national college football writer and editor for Sports On Earth, recently ranked the top 100 best football games of all-time, and two games featuring Tennessee made the list. And they’re both games that Vol fans remember fondly.
At No. 78 on the list, Tennessee’s thrilling 34-32 victory over Florida in 2001 checks in. That year’s game was played in December because of the catastrophic events of 9/11 earlier that year. And because the game was played later, the stakes were even higher for the annual rivalry.
Both teams were 9-1 and ranked inside the top 10 of the BCS standings. Florida was No. 2 in the country, and the SEC East title was on the line.
The Vols jumped out to a 14-0 lead but saw that lead disappear by halftime when they trailed 20-14 to the Gators. Tennessee would take the lead back in the second half, however. And that was due in large part to Travis Stephens’ 226 rushing yards. The Vols would go up by eight, 34-26, after a touchdown in the fourth quarter. But with 1:10 left in the game, Florida struck back and needed a two-point conversion to tie it up.
But Tennessee’s defense stood strong, and the Vols would thwart the comeback and emerged victorious with the SEC East title.
The second Tennessee game on the list comes in at No. 62, and it’s a game that helped spur the Vols on to a national championship. Tennessee’s 1998 victory over Arkansas is their second game in the top 100, and it’s one Vol fans will never forget.
Tennessee was charging ahead full steam at this point in the season, undefeated and vying for a BCS National Championship Game berth. But the Razorbacks had Neyland Stadium quiet for the first half of the game as they jumped out to a 21-3 lead. The Vols’ offense would break out of their funk eventually, storming back to cut the lead to 24-20 in the fourth quarter.
After the Vols turned the ball over on downs near midfield, almost all hope seemed lost. Then, inexplicably, Arkansas quarterback Clint Stoerner tripped over his own lineman’s foot, and he fumbled the football. Tennessee recovered the dropped football, and the rest was history.
The Vols gave Arkansas a heavy dose of Travis Henry, and he punched his way in for the game-winning touchdown with 28 seconds left on the clock.
Tennessee has played in some thrilling and important games in the past. And this past season showed that the Vols are finally back to playing in meaningful games again like they did once before.