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This Week in UT Sports History – Dec. 16th-22nd

Photo credit: Anne Newman/RTI

This Week in UT Sports History is a weekly column written by RTI columnist Lexie Little

A tale of two lackluster offenses led to a Tennessee loss to in-state rival Memphis during the weekend in sold out Thompson-Boling Arena. Tennessee (7-2) fell to the Tigers (9-1), 51-47, in a close match-up. The Vols only shot 25% from the field, and Memphis proved slightly better with 33.9% shooting.

However, one bright moment for the Vols came when the University of Tennessee welcomed the 1979 SEC Tournament Championship team back to Rocky Top. The 1978-79 Vols finished second in the Southeastern Conference but took the tournament title during their 21-12 campaign.

Take a look back at the early 1978-79 basketball season and more in “This Week in UT Sports History.”

Dec. 20, 1978

While the holiday season allowed students to take a break, the University of Tennessee basketball team remained hard at work preparing for tournaments. The team embarked on one of the longest and most expensive trips to that point in Tennessee Basketball history on Wednesday, Dec. 20, 1978. However, the travel destinations softened the blow to the student athletes’ winter break schedule: Santa Clara, California and Honolulu, Hawaii.

With radio announcer John Ward and assistant athletic director Gus Manning in tow, 13 players and four coaches, including head coach Don DeVoe, set out for California and the Cable Car Classic before Christmas. The trip to Hawaii followed on Dec. 27. Upon the trip’s conclusion, the Vols’ travels would span 13 days and 10,000 miles according to the preview report from The Tennessean.

Terry Glenn was one of the 13 players listed as traveling for the Vols, certainly glad for a Hawaiian vacation. His 5-15 year sentence for simple robbery had been commuted by Gov. Ray Blanton on Dec. 1, allowing him to travel to play Louisville shortly after and continue to travel with the team. Glenn, a walk-on, had served 21 months to that point according to The Tennessean. (Side note: Blanton graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1951—as they say on campus, Vols help Vols).

The Vols earned a victory against San Jose State by a score of 73-68 on Dec. 22, 1978, propelled by clutch free throws from Johnny Darden. With 17 seconds remaining, Darden came off the bench for four free throws to seal the win. Forward Reggie Johnson led the team with 24 points, 13 of which came in the second half. Both Tennessee and San Jose shot 50% from the field, both making 29 of 58 shots.

Johnson, a Georgia native, played four seasons in the NBA following his time in orange and white. The San Antonio Spurs drafted him in the first round of the 1980 NBA Draft as the No. 15 overall pick. The University of Tennessee named him to its All-Century team in 2009.

The 2019 Tennessee Vols travel to a less tropical destination this week. The team looks to bounce back against Cincinnati in Ohio on Wednesday. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. on ESPN2.

Dec. 17, 1983

With the Citrus Bowl on the line, the Tennessee Vols football team scored two fourth quarter touchdowns to beat Maryland 30-23 on Dec. 17, 1983, in Orlando after a primetime kickoff. The Vols had started the season 1-2 (like the 2019 team), but earned five consecutive wins, including a win against No. 11 Alabama in Birmingham to advance their position.

Maryland entered the game as Atlantic Coast Conference Champions and left the field with an 8-4 record. Johnny Majors’ Vols finished 9-3 on the season with the bowl win. Tennessee’s third loss had come against Ole Miss on Homecoming Saturday, 13-10, but a Citrus Bowl victory redeemed the disappointment.

Running back Johnnie Jones earned the Most Valuable Player honors gaining 154 yards on 29 carries in the first game played as the Florida Citrus Bowl. The previous 37 years, the game bore the Tangerine moniker. Jones scored twice early in the fourth to clinch the victory.

On defense, the eventual “Minister of Defense” Reggie White sacked Maryland quarterback Boomer Esaison, taking the future NFL star turned analyst out of the game in the second quarter after only six passes. White racked up 15 sacks during the 1983 season, still a school record. (However, Derek Barnett broke White’s record for career sacks, 32, in 2016).

White later contributed to Esaison’s career when he suggested the New York Jets should sign the quarterback, who had been benched by the Cincinnati Bengals the year prior.

“You look at the Jets’ situation, and they have great defensive players, and they have a young player in Browning Nagle, who I think will be a [good] quarterback, but you look at his situation and see he may need some leadership,” White told Vito Stellino of The Baltimore Sun. “That’s why you think in the back of your mind, it would be more attractive if Boomer Esiason was here. People can say what they want about Boomer, but I still think Boomer can play.”

Reggie White went on to play for the Philadelphia Eagles following the 1983 season (and later the Green Bay Packers), making his way into the history books as one of the best defensive players in the National Football League. This year, the NFL Network recognized White as a member of the NFL 100 All-Time Team, honoring his career as a defensive end. When he retired, he held the record for career sacks with 198. White, who died in 2004, now ranks second only to Bruce Smith (200 sacks).

The Jets took White’s advice, trading for Esiason, who thanked White by saying he would send him flowers if he could track him down.

This week also marks what would have been White’s 58th birthday. He was born Dec. 19, 1961, in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Next week marks the anniversary of his death on Dec. 26, 2004.

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