This Week in UT Sports History is a weekly series written by RTI columnist Lexie Little
The Vols allowed the Georgia Bulldogs to strengthen their hold on the rivalry record this weekend. With Tennessee’s 44-21 loss, the Dawgs extended ownership of the all-time series to 25-23-2. The rivalry dates back to November of 1899 when Tennessee won, 5-0, in Knoxville. The Vols and Bulldogs have met every year since 1992 in the quest for the SEC East. Tennessee (2-1) now stands tied with Florida (2-1) for second in the division behind the undefeated Dawgs.
Speaking of Florida, Rocky Top Insider takes a look back at a big win against the Gators and more this week in UT sports history:
Oct. 13, 1990
No. 9 Florida entered an electric Neyland Stadium on homecoming to face No. 5 Tennessee. New head ball coach Steve Spurrier and the undefeated Gators had already made national headlines because of NCAA sanctions that stripped them of eligibility for the SEC championship or a bowl game. In regard to the SEC championship, however, the sanctions wouldn’t have mattered. The Vols routed their rivals from the Swamp, handing them a 45-3 loss before the crowd of 96,874.
Before the half, Tennessee held on to a four-point lead, 7-3. After Dale Carter returned the second half kickoff for a 91-yard touchdown, however, the Vols mounted a 28-point offensive in the third quarter. Florida backup quarterback Brian Fox threw interceptions on three consecutive series as the Big Orange defense swarmed. The Vol defense came up with five interceptions in the game including a 42-yard pick six from Reggie Ingram to make the score 35-3 by the end of the third.
“Dale’s kickoff return really built our confidence,” Tennessee quarterback Andy Kelly said postgame, as reported by the Los Angeles Times. “Fact is, the entire second half was a confidence-builder. Being realistic, we thought the game would be much tougher and certainly closer.”
Tennessee, under head coach Johnny Majors and offensive coordinator Phillip Fulmer, moved up to No. 3 in the national rankings with the win. The Vols would drop the following week after a 9-6 loss to Alabama. However, Tennessee finished the season as SEC champions and earned a spot in the Sugar Bowl. The Vols squeaked out a 23-22 win against Virginia on Jan. 1, 1991 to become Sugar Bowl champions.
Meanwhile, the loss stung for Spurrier and the Gators, adding insult to an already injured season. The Gators finished with a 6-1 record in the SEC.
“We played lousy,” Spurrier said. “We were beaten by a better team. It was fairly close for a half, but things got out of hand fast.”
Majors said he couldn’t remember a second half break open like that in 22 years as a head coach. His team snapped a four-game losing streak against the rivals from Gainesville. However, Florida would exact revenge the next season, 35-18, in the Swamp.
The 2020 Vols face the Gators in Knoxville to close the season on Saturday, Dec. 5.
Oct. 16, 1982
The Bear’s paw extended upward as his defeated cubs made their way to the locker room as a din stirred Neyland Stadium. Johnny Majors took the old ball coach’s hand, teetering as his players carried him off the field. Majors and the unranked Vols achieved the unthinkable after losing to Duke and Vanderbilt earlier in the season. They beat the No. 2 Crimson Tide on the Third Saturday in October.
The goal posts came down as the scoreboard flashed Tennessee 35, Alabama 28. Revered radio announcer John Ward said the crowd went “bee-zerk” as the Tide rolled out of Rocky Top, Bear Bryant’s last matchup with the Vols as the head coach of the University of Alabama.
With the win, Tennessee snapped an 11-game series losing streak dating back to Oct. 16, 1971. Eleven years to the day later, the Vols launched what would be a four-game series streak against the Tide. Each game would be decided by fewer than seven points with a one-point win in 1984 and two-point win for the 1985 Sugar Vols.
The historic Southeastern Conference rivalry has seen its fair share of close wins and near losses for both teams. A 17-point tie on Oct. 16, 1993 ended Alabama’s 28-game winning streak and eventually stood forfeited to Tennessee after NCAA investigations revealed Antonio Langham had signed with an agent in 1992. The Tide currently rides a 13-game win streak over the Vols.
Bear Bryant’s last game in Knoxville would be one of his last ever. The legendary Alabama coach retired at the end of the season. He died less than one month later on Jan. 26, 1983 at the age of 69 after suffering a massive heart attack.
Tennessee faces Alabama on the fourth Saturday in October this year, Oct. 24.
Oct. 17, 1903
The 2020 Vols face Kentucky this Saturday, Oct. 17. Tennessee has not, historically, performed well on this date beginning with a 40-0 shutout loss to Vanderbilt to open the 20th century. The orange and white hold a record of 4-7-3 in program history. Tennessee had a bye week on the last Oct. 17 Saturday in 2015.
Despite a losing record for this particular date, the wins recorded in Tennessee’s history prove significant. Tennessee beat Louisville in a 66-0 routing in 1914. Seventeen years later, the 1931 team beat Alabama 25-0 on the Third Saturday in October. The most recent Oct. 17 win came in 1970 in a 24-0 win against the Crimson Tide. (The most recent loss also came against Alabama, 17-10, in 1992).
Notably, Tennessee earned its 50th program win on Oct. 17, 1908 against Kentucky State, now the University of Kentucky. When the two teams meet again 112 years to the day later, Vol faithful will once again hope for a W on the box score.
The Vols and Wildcats face off at noon in Neyland Stadium. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.