This Week in UT Sports History is a weekly column written by RTI columnist Lexie Little
Questionable calls and no calls, a costly red zone decision, “miscommunication” between coaches, and playing on the road caused the Tennessee Vols to get swept into the current of the Tide as No. 1 Alabama rolled to victory, 35-13, in Tuscaloosa Saturday night. The “Third Saturday in October” remains contentious between Alabamians and Tennesseans after generations of gridiron fights for conference titles and daily spats over the subject of Alabama’s “Dixieland Delight,” which recounts a “Tennessee Saturday night.”
Around this time of year, Vol faithful quickly remind Bama fans “the Bear never beat the General,” referring to historic match-ups between legendary coaches Bear Bryant and Gen. Robert Neyland, five of which Neyland won. (They would tie twice, but Bryant never won a game against a Neyland-coached team). The two men propelled their programs to the national stage, and the “Third Saturday in October” stands as an important Southeastern Conference tradition despite lopsided wins in recent years.
As college football historian Beano Cook put it in 2001, “If you are a fan of Tennessee or Alabama football there are two rules to live by: Don’t get married on the third Saturday in October, and try not to die — because in either case, the preacher might not show.”
Take a look back at some history of the “Third Saturday in October” rivalry, in “This Week in UT Sports History.”
Oct. 21, 1933
While Tennessee alumnus Clarence Brown lit up the silver screen on a hot streak of films, Tennessee Football’s hot streak on home turf came to an end when Alabama came to town Oct. 21, 1933 and gave the Vols a 12-6 loss, adding further misery to Depression. Tennessee had not lost at home on Shields-Watkins Field since 1984 prior to that loss.
Coming into the match-up, both the Vols and the Crimson Tide battled injuries. The Knoxville Journal’s Bob Murphy pegged the match-up as one “hard to figure” from what he heard on his old “Sportrola”:
“It would take a cross between a surgeon, crystal-gazer, wild animal trainer, crooked dice shooter, evangelist and radio crooner to figure the outcome of the Tennessee-Alabama game…The baker should be able to dope this one just as well as the candlestick-maker. And if they don’t watch every step, the butcher or barber may trim ‘em both.”
Though the “dope,” or the inside scoop, pointed to a crapshoot, no one in Knoxville expected Tennessee to lose at home after a decade of dominance ‘neath the Hill. The Pride of the Southland Marching Band commenced its pageantry at 1:40 p.m., and throngs in orange and crimson and white awaited kickoff. Murphy described the pregame “pigskin processions”:
“There was a mighty tugging and tearing at the fence near the athletic offices, and what seemed like a million kids streamed down the hillside. A fat cop was running around in circles making much ado about nothing. He finally caught one little grimy-faced boy.”
Fans cheered, and the teams took the field for a back-and-forth battle. The game stood at six points apiece at the end of the third quarter. With a possession early in the fourth, the Vols failed to live up to the official fight song and drive “Down the Field,” stringing together short gains of only a yard or so at a time.
Then rolled the Tide.
Starting on Tennessee’s 42-yard line, Bama drove on gains of three, four, and six yards at a time. A holding on Tennessee put the ball at the 4-yard line, and an off-tackle run sealed the deal with Alabama’s second touchdown. Tennessee could not capitalize on two more possessions with passes falling incomplete and a final interception to end the home win streak.
To make matters worse on top of ending a 55-win streak dating back nearly a decade: Oct. 21, 1933 marked Tennessee’s homecoming.
Tennessee faces another Alabama team for homecoming this year. The University of Alabama at Birmingham will travel to Knoxville on Nov. 2, 2019.
Oct. 25, 2003
Seventy years after the home streak ended, another back-and-forth game ensued between the Vols and Tide.
Quarterback Casey Clausen dropped back to throw. Consecutive losses to Auburn and Georgia resonated in his psyche as he tried to close out a road game in Alabama with a win. Tennessee started the season 4-0, climbing to No. 7 in the nation before the conference rival losses. The ball left The Iceman’s hand, and he picked up the last of his 283 passing yards with his 23rd completion of the night.
On the receiving end: James Banks, getting his seventh reception of the game. The location: the endzone, for a 2-point conversion. The period: fifth overtime.
Tennessee edged past Alabama with a 51-43 win in five overtimes in Tuscaloosa on Saturday, Oct. 25, 2003 – actually the fourth Saturday in October. Nonetheless, tensions ran high as Phillip Fulmer’s Vols looked to bounce back on the road, and the Crimson Tide wanted to erase the memory of a 43-28 loss to Ole Miss.
Though the Vols likely recited Neyland’s maxims, including, “The team that makes the fewest mistakes will win” before the game, they blundered down the field. In the first quarter alone, Tennessee fumbled three times.
“I don’t know why we wait so long to get it done,” Fulmer said of the slow start after the game. “We didn’t play so well on offense at some points tonight.”
A combination of mistakes, perfect play executions, and trick plays like a wildcat quarterback draw from Banks (originally a quarterback recruit) in the third quarter led to the back-and-forth battle in Bama. Alabama kicker Brian Bostick and Tennessee’s James Wilhoit traded field goals, 3-for-3, on the night. The game could only be won with touchdowns and defense.
Defensive back and Alabama native Jason Allen stepped up for Tennessee to win the game, batting away Brodie Croyle’s pass in the endzone to close out the fifth and final overtime on Alabama’s last possession.
“It feels good to come home to your home state and win a game like this,” Allen said. I had to hear about losing all year. I’m glad this year I don’t have to hear about it.”
Alabama, however, would have to hear about it for years to come, having lost the first overtime game in the series – a long one for the ages.
“It hurts,” Crimson Tide linebacker Derrick Pope said. “It’s a tough loss, and that’s about all I can say.”
The 2019 Tennessee Vols face South Carolina this weekend in Knoxville. Kick-off is set for 4:00 p.m., and the game will be televised on SEC Network.