This Week in UT Sports History is a weekly column written by RTI columnist Lexie Little
Vol fans have a lot to be thankful for. The 2019 Tennessee Volunteers football team (6-5, 4-3 SEC) picked up its sixth win of the season against Missouri (5-6, 2-5 SEC) on Saturday in Columbia, making the Vols bowl eligible for the first time since 2016. The win clinched the No. 3 spot in the SEC East for Tennessee as well.
On the basketball courts, the Vols and Lady Vols remain undefeated at 4-0 and 5-0, respectively. In the pools, the No. 2 Lady Vols and No. 8 men’s swimming & diving team finished in first place and third place at the Tennessee Invitational last week.
Most Tennessee fans agree they remain grateful for a history of winning. Take a look back at moments in the narrative in “This Week in UT Sports History.”
Nov. 30, 1940
“Football fevers soared in Nashville last night, and rabid fans from the Vanderbilt campus to crowded uptown hotels waxed hot on predictions for the mid-state’s ‘game of the year’—Tennessee versus Vanderbilt this afternoon.”
The Tennessean led the story with the headline “Football Fever Grips Nashville; Vol Eleven Burned in Effigy” after Vanderbilt’s student body chanted a funeral dirge as the mass marched toward a pep rally to burn a representation of their arch nemeses in a bonfire.
“U.T. alumni and Vandy stalwarts” faced off in the streets and at the Andrew Jackson Hotel where many University of Tennessee alumni and Vanderbilt students bantered about the in-state rivalry initiated in 1892.
“Bets were made hither and thither, some cautiously in low business-line tones, others with abandon in voices loud and loyal,” The Tennessean reported. “Odds were always for Tennessee, given sometimes freely, sometimes reluctantly.”
Anyone who bet on the Volunteers made the right call.
Tennessee trounced the Commodores, 20-0, to complete the Vols’ third undefeated season and clinch the SEC title. The Vols had earned a perfect record a season prior in 1939 and shut out every opponent until the Rose Bowl, which UT lost, 14-0, to the University of Southern California.
“The Orange machine rolled up 263 yards to 98 for the Commodores, and they made seven first downs to two for Vandy, penalty first downs excluded,” The Knoxville News-Sentinel reported. “That should give one a pretty fair idea of the game.”
The 2019 Volunteers close out their season against Vanderbilt this Saturday in Knoxville. The teams kick off at 4 p.m., and the game will be televised on SEC Network. The game marks Senior Day for fan favorites Jauan Jennings, Marquez Callaway, Darrell Taylor, Nigel Warrior, and Daniel Bituli, among others.
Nov. 29, 1986
When the 1986-87 women’s basketball season began in late November, the Lady Vols picked up a 16-point win against Providence, 86-70, in the Amana-Hawkeye Classic in Iowa City. By season’s end, they hoisted their first national championship trophy.
Head coach Pat Summitt viewed the match-up with reigning Big East winner Providence as a measuring stick for her team that was hoping to make a run for the Final Four after narrowly missing a national title the season prior. Kelly Carter of the Iowa City Press-Citizen took note in her coverage.
“They play up-tempo and they like to push the ball,” Summitt said in interviews ahead of the game. “Defensively, I will expect us to see different looks.”
The SEC powerhouse needed to adjust to a faster Midwestern pace and dispel first-game jitters. Tennessee held Providence to 42.6% shooting from the field, but Summitt remained disappointed in the team’s offensive play. The Lady Vols only made 56% of their shots from the free throw line and 53% from the field.
The Lady Vols only led by five points at the half, 37-32. But they found a way to pull ahead, as they would for most of the 1986-87 season.
Tennessee finally took home the national title against Louisiana Tech, 67-44, at the end of the season. They had lost to the Lady Techsters in the 1986 championship. On the way, Summitt won her 300th game in an 87-66 game against North Carolina on January 4, 1987 and earned an overall record of 28-6 that season. Future Lady Vols head coach Holly Warlick and current Georgia Tech Chief of Staff Mickie DeMoss served as assistant coaches.
Nov. 26, 2010
When the final buzzer sounded in the 2010 NIT Season Tip-Off championship game, the victors had outscored the losers by 10 points. The Villanova Wildcats, then ranked No. 7 in the nation, left the court stunned by the No. 24 Tennessee Vols who won 78-68 for their fifth victory of the season.
Scotty Hopson, Cameron Tatum, Brian Williams, and Tobias Harris each totaled double-digit point totals in the win. Harris led the team in rebounds with nine while Hopson led the team in total points, scoring 18 in the match-up.
The narrative detailed an underdog team poised to make a run. Well, it should have, anyway.
Instead, much attention went to the Vols’ head coach Bruce Pearl. Pearl faced an eight-game suspension for Tennessee’s first half of their Southeastern Conference schedule because of NCAA rules violations and misleading investigators.
“I have a lot of respect for him. I know he’s a good guy. I do know it,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said of Pearl post-game. “I know he has integrity. This business is tough. It can get to you.”
Tennessee prohibited Pearl from off-campus recruiting after he admitted to misleading NCAA investigators about photos with a recruit taken in 2008 and exceeding the number of allotted phone calls to recruits. The SEC slapped Pearl with the suspensions a week prior to the match-up with Villanova.
“I’m in favor of this type of thing,” Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton told The New York Times. “I think it’s necessary if we’re going to take back control of things in college athletics.”
The Vols did not let the decision deter them from picking up a big win in Madison Square Garden in front of 7,228 basketball fans. Tobias Harris picked up All-Tournament Team honors while Scotty Hopson earned recognition as the Most Outstanding Player.
“We worked all year to get to this point,” Hopson said. “We’re still learning. Still battling. Still just want to win championships, come out and compete every day. It’s a whole process to get to where we want to be. I think this team can still get better. It’s a long way to go.”
A long way to go, indeed.
Tennessee finished the season 19-15 overall and 8-8 in-conference, failing to capitalize on the Villanova win momentum down the stretch. Pearl would not return to Tennessee following the season. Now at Auburn, Pearl took the Tigers to the Final Four for the first time in program history last year. He has so far evaded possible new allegations from the NCAA following the sentencing of former assistant coach Chuck Person for his role in a bribery case involving encouragement of players to meet with a financial adviser.