This Week in UT Sports History is a weekly column written by RTI contributor Lexie Little
This Saturday, five words will ring in the ears of those shuffling to the available 102,455 seats in Neyland Stadium: “It’s football time in Tennessee.”
With the 2019 Tennessee Volunteers and a nationally touted coaching staff prepping to run through the T, many fans pause to reflect on moments that influenced the trajectory of football and other Tennessee programs. Tennesseans often embrace a tradition of storytelling, one framed by history. Pick up the narrative in “This Week in UT Sports History.”
Sept. 1, 1984
As Johnny Majors led the Volunteers onto Shields-Watkins field to kick off his eighth season as head coach, 93,727 fans waited in anticipation of the first play against Washington State. They looked out at the interlocking “U” and ‘T’ at the 50-yard-line for the coin toss, and soon enough, the 1984 Vols took the field for the first time.
On the sideline, both offensive coordinator Walt Harris and defensive coordinator Larry Marmie entered their second seasons, and they looked to capitalize on the momentum of a previous 9-3 (4-2 SEC) year. With the new absence of “Minister of Defense” Reggie White at defensive end, Marmie needed his line to continue the success achieved by the All-American who recorded 201 solo tackles and 32 sacks in his career.
As Washington State quarterback Mark Rypien scrambled to find an open receiver, a big No. 51 jumped into his path with arm extended to pressure the play in the first half. Despite an initial WSU lead, linebacker Reggie McKenzie — a senior personnel executive of the Miami Dolphins and father of Khalil McKenzie (Vol 2015-17) — and the Tennessee defense held off the Cougars to win 34-27 on Sept. 1, 1984.
“Rypien…the pitch…Tennessee covers it well…there you see the Volunteers. Well played defensively…”
While the defense stopped drives, the offense charged down the field. Quarterback Tony Robinson from Tallahassee, Florida, made his first start, completing his first pass to Tim McGee for a gain of eight yards. With that pass, the Vols were off and running as noted by the broadcast announcement:
“Robinson. Complete. That’s McGee again…Jones still running, Johnnie Jones, all the way down to the Washington State 34-yard line…Johnnie Jones goes for 23 yards and the first down…”
Photos from The Tennessean capture the moment captain Johnnie Jones escaped the WSU line on his way to record 203 yards on 30 carries. The Seattle Seahawks selected Jones in the fifth round of the subsequent NFL Draft; however, injury led to a waiver only a month later in August 1985.
The Los Angeles Raiders selected Reggie McKenzie in the 10th round. The following round, the Washington Redskins picked McKenzie’s twin brother Raleigh — a center at Tennessee and two-time Super Bowl champion.
Aug. 29, 2003
While Tennessee Football maintains a desire to open the season with a win, Tennessee Volleyball looks to achieve the same level of success. Former head coach Rob Patrick led the Lady Vols to an opening win sixteen years ago this week at the University of Maryland Invitational, defeating the Terrapins in four sets, 3-1 (30-28, 15-30, 30-25, 30-17).
The win raised Patrick’s record in season openers to 5-2 at Tennessee. Patrick coached at UT for 21 years, arriving at Tennessee in 1997. His teams earned nine consecutive winning seasons from 1998-2006, which is the longest streak in program history.
“Maryland is the type of quality opponent that we need to beat in a conference that we have to play well against,” Patrick said in the postgame interview for utsports.com. “The Terrapins controlled the momentum after game two, but we were able to make some adjustments and pick our game up to another level.”
The Lady Vols earned a winning record in that weekend of opening play, beating Maryland and Villanova. They dropped a match to Michigan state in five sets. However, the overall win record surpassed 20 wins on the season. The Lady Vols only lost nine matches with six coming against Southeastern Conference rivals.
Patrick resigned as head coach in December 2017. Head coach Eve Rackham led the Lady Vols to a 26-6 overall record in her first season at the helm last year, only losing one match at home and two conference match-ups in total. Rackham and the Lady Vols commence the regular season against Illinois this Friday at 8 p.m. in Knoxville. The match-up will be televised on SEC Network.
Aug. 26, 2011
While all Tennessee teams strive for success, some initially fall short. The 2011 Lady Vols soccer team dropped its first match-up of the First Tennessee Lady Vol Classic in front of a crowd of 2,046 fans at Regal Soccer Stadium on Aug. 26, 2011. The No. 8 UCLA Bruins defeated Tennessee 2-1 with two late-game goals.
Freshman goalkeeper Julie Eckel saved five potential goals, but two snuck past her at 80:27 and 84:22 to give UCLA the edge to avoid an upset. Missed shots off crossbars and side posts plagued both teams, but Tennessee’s effort came up short against the Bruins. However, former head coach Angela Kelly found a positive: 1,000 students were among the fifth-largest crowd in the stadium’s history at the time.
“I’m trying to smile a little bit more because my buddy Mia Hamm told me I needed to smile,” Kelly said in her postgame interview with Tennessee Athletics. “In the face of adversity, I’m smiling. But, yeah, I mean a thousand students? What more can you ask for?”
Regal Soccer Stadium seats approximately 3,000 fans. The student support continued following the 2011 season, leading to the creation of the “Regal Rowdies” in 2014. The official student section with more than 350 official members has attended every home game since 2014, leading the crowd in cheers with its drum — Big Bertha.
Though fan support has lasted, Kelly’s tenure in Knoxville ended when she traded in her Tennessee orange for the burnt orange of the other UT. She took over at Texas on Dec. 19, 2011, just months after the loss to UCLA. At Tennessee, she led the team to three regular season titles and four SEC Tournament championships between 2000-08.
Current head coach Brian Pensky and his Vols travel to Rutgers this week to continue the 2019 season. The match-up is set for 7:00 p.m. in Piscataway, New Jersey.