By Aaron Tallent
For decades, everyone from Bristol, Tenn., to Pascagoula, Miss., knew the third Saturday in October meant that the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Tennessee Volunteers would meet. Thanks to conference realignment, it can now be the fourth Saturday of October, but the rivalry still means a lot to both fan bases no matter how their team is doing.
Since 1901, Tennessee and Alabama have met 95 times and while the last three games have been a trifecta of Alabama ass-whoopins’, you never know with this rivalry. Saturday could see the Crimson Tide following coach Nick Saban’s “Process” and methodically blowing out the Vols. However, there are countless games in this series that did not go the way anyone thought they would. Here is my top ten (In the interest of full disclosure, I wasn’t alive for all of them and I am writing from the perspective of a Tennessee fan.).
10. October 20, 1990: Alabama 9, Tennessee 6, Knoxville, Tenn.
This is probably the ugliest game on this list. Tennessee had one of its most loaded teams ever, was undefeated and ranked #3. Alabama was 2-3 and still finding its way under first-year head coach Gene Stallings. Nevertheless, the Tide held the Vols’ passing attack to 51 yards on 25 attempts in this war of attrition. Tied 6-6, Tennessee kicker Greg Burke attempted a 50-yard field goal with 1:35 play, but it was blocked. The Tide capitalized and kicked a 48-yarder as time expired.
9. October 25, 2003: Tennessee 51, Alabama 43, Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Alabama was 3-5 and wandering through its dark years but led #22-ranked Tennessee 20-13 in the final seconds of regulation. Vol quarterback Casey Clausen threw a one-yard touchdown pass to Troy Fleming to tie the game as time expired. The overtime lasted five sessions with Tennessee securing a victory by deflecting a fourth-down pass from Brodie Croyle in the end zone.
8. October 16, 1965: Alabama 7, Tennessee 7, Birmingham, Ala.
This game is best remembered for two things. First, Alabama was inside Tennessee’s 10-yard line with 6 seconds left when Ken Stabler threw a pass out of bounds to stop the clock. He did not realize it was fourth down and Alabama’s drive ended. When an angry Bear Bryant found the locker room door at Legion Field locked, he told an Alabama state trooper to “shoot the damn thing open.” The state trooper refused so Bryant knocked the door off its hinges. Sadly, Tennessee fans also remember the game because three assistant coaches were killed in a railroad crossing accident the following week.
7. October 24, 2009: Alabama 12, Tennessee 10, Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Lane Kiffin did have some good ideas in his only year at Tennessee. One of them was to bring back the tradition of both teams wearing their home jerseys. Saban dismissed the idea but received the biggest scare of the Tide’s national championship season. The Vols capitalized on a late Mark Ingram fumble with a touchdown and then recovered an onside kick. Vol kicker Daniel Lincoln attempted a 44-yard attempt, which was blocked by nose guard Terrence Cody, his second of the game. Granted, Lincoln was having hamstring issues and both kicks were line drives, but it has still gone down as one of the most famous plays of the series.
6. October 26, 1996: Tennessee 20, Alabama 13, Knoxville, Tenn.
Alabama was ranked #6 and was leading #7 Tennessee 13-0 in the third quarter when quarterback Peyton Manning started the comeback with a 54-yard touchdown pass to Joey Kent. Vol running back Jay Graham sealed the deal with two fourth quarter touchdowns.
5. October 16, 1993: Alabama 17, Tennessee 17, Birmingham, Ala.
Having lost 7 straight to Alabama, Tennessee held a 17-9 lead with 1:44 left in the game. Alabama quarterback Jay Barker then proceeded to complete pass after pass, causing men all across East Tennessee to scream “[Bleeping] prevent defense!” Barker ran in the end zone on a quarterback sneak with 21 seconds left. Then for the two-point conversion, receiver David Palmer – who caught three straight passes on the final drive – lined up behind center. He took the snap, ran to the right and beat all Vol defenders to the corner. The tie kept Alabama’s unbeaten streak alive at 29 games.
4. October 15, 1966: Alabama 11, Tennessee 10, Knoxville, Tenn.
Alabama faced its toughest test in its quest for a third-straight national title. The Tide overcame a 10-0 deficit to take a 1-point lead with 3:23 left thanks to the redemptive running of Stabler. Tennessee responded with a final drive to the Tide’s three-yard line, but were out of timeouts and unable to move to the center of the field. Kicker Gary Wright missed an angled field goal with 16 seconds left. Ultimately, Alabama finished undefeated but ranked #3 behind Notre Dame and Michigan State, who had tied earlier in the season. Crimson Tide fans are still bitter.
3. October 19, 1985: Tennessee 16, Alabama 14, Birmingham, Ala.
Tennessee has had some outstanding quarterbacks in its history, but none have elicited a sense of wonder quite like Tony Robinson. Sadly, Robinson went down on the first play of the fourth quarter with a knee injury after being tackled by Cornelius Bennett and Wayne Davis. The Vols were leading 16-7, but Alabama responded with a touchdown. The Tide was driving when quarterback Mike Shula dropped back to toss a screen pass. Linebacker Dale Jones approached, but stopped as Shula threw, backed up and made a juggling pick. Alabama missed a 61-yard field goal as time expired. Darryl Dickey replaced Robinson, who would eventually be arrested and kicked off the team for selling drugs, and led the Vols to the SEC title.
2. October 19, 1935: Alabama 25, Tennessee 0, Knoxville, Tenn.
Alabama and Tennessee played closer games in college football’s early days. However, only one involved Bear Bryant playing end with a broken leg. He had cracked his fibula the week before against Mississippi State, but suited up for the Vols. Bryant caught two key passes on the first drive and the Tide had its “Win one for the Gipper” moment against its archrival. Remember, the Iron Bowl did not become an annual event until 1948.
1. October 16, 1982: Tennessee 35, Alabama 28, Knoxville, Tenn.
This is the watershed game of the series. Alabama was 5-0, ranked #2 and had already throttled eventual national champion Penn State 42-21. Tennessee, like most schools in the SEC, had not beaten the Tide since 1970. At halftime, it looked like that would not change, but Tennessee scored with 22 unanswered points to take a 35-21 lead. Alabama cut the lead to a touchdown and was on Tennessee’s 17-yard line with 30 seconds left. However, quarterback Walter Lewis’ pass was deflected into the hands of Tennessee defensive back Mike Terry. Alabama proceeded to lose its final three regular season games and Bryant announced his retirement.
So there you have it: four Alabama victories, four Tennessee wins and two ties. However, this series has had too many games for this to be definitive so let’s hear what you think should’ve made the list.