Aug. 11, 2004
Take the six University of Tennessee national championship titles won in 1938, 1940, 1950, 1951, 1967 and 1998, add in some vintage pictures, fascinating interviews with many of the principals (some now deceased) and some incisive analysis, and the result is Six Seasons Remembered: The Story of Tennessee Football's National Championships (University of Tennessee Press, August 2004), the newest must-have addition to every Tennessee football fan's library.
The brainchild of long-time Tennessee staffers Haywood Harris and Gus Manning, the book touches on each of the championship seasons in a style that makes the events of yesteryear seem as if they happened almost yesterday.
Manning and Harris take the reader back to some great moments in Tennessee football history with the love and loyalty they've shown the Vols football program over the years, now totaling more than 100 between them. It's as painstakingly crafted as you might expect from the two long-time Vols administrators
Told by those who played the games, from Norb Ackermann, the captain of the 1940 team, to the incomparable Al Wilson, the spiritual leader of the 1998 team, the interviews offer marvelous insights about what it takes to play and succeed at Tennessee.
With Ackermann passing away June 13 this year, the need to document Tennessee tradition becomes more apparent.
By including all six teams, not just the more-famous 1951 and 1998 aggregations, Harris and Manning wrote that, "History has largely overlooked these great teams, mainly because they were not ranked first by the best-known rating systems, which were the Associated Press poll in 1951 and the Bowl Championship series in 1998"
The teams covered are some of the finest in Vols history, beginning with the 11-0 1938 Bowden Wyatt-captained team that ran 10 regular season opponents ragged and took Oklahoma apart in the 1939 Orange Bowl. That team included College Football Hall of Fame members Bob Suffridge, Ed Molinski and George Cafego, along with coach Bob Neyland. It was also the first of three teams that were undefeated in the regular season from 1938-40, 31-2 overall.
The 1940 squad is sometimes forgotten in the comparison to 1938 and 1939 teams but the sophomores of 1938 were now seniors and had done nothing but win. There was a significant little streak involved in these years when the Vols had 71 consecutive shutout quarters from the second quarter of the 1938 LSU game through the second quarter of the 1940 Alabama game.
Opinion is also split whether the 1950 or 1951 squads were better, but they each had a great deal to offer in terms of players and memories. It was the time of John Michels, Hank Lauricella, Doug Atkins, Bob Davis, Andy Kozar and many others, when Neyland cranked up the last of his three great eras at Tennessee.
Taking over in December 1963, Doug Dickey said it would take four years to get the Vols to the top and he did just that, bringing home an SEC and national title in 1967. There were injuries by the bushel, yet someone always stepped up to make a positive impact.
The Vols went to Legion Field in October to play Alabama with a third-string quarterback and lived to tell the tale. Bob Johnson, Steve Kiner and Jack Reynolds led the way, but Dickey always referred to this team as a "T-E-A-M," with the requisite number of stars, but also with a one-for-all, all-for-one attitude.
Phillip Fulmer brought home his Tennessee national crown when no one expected it, on the heels of losing Peyton Manning, Terry Fair, Marcus Nash, et al., but no one will forget a seasons of highs marked by that prosperous win at Tempe Jan. 4, 1999, over Florida State.
The facts of the games gain new perspective when buttressed by the opinions and recollections of the participants.
The passion of those who wore the orange and white comes through in every word, as does the influence of the three legendary coaches who led the Vols to the heights - Neyland, Dickey and Fulmer.
The list of interviewees is an impressive one - men, who in their youth helped build the Vols tradition recalling with clarity the magic moments of a great and still-evolving tradition.
This is one of those books you can open and start reading at nearly any point in the narrative. Whatever your taste in Vols football, you find it here, from the precision of the single-wing, through Dewey Warren "hummin' that tater," to the magic of Tee Martin and Peerless Price.
Tennessee football is the story of great players and coaches who do great things at exactly the right time. For aficionados of Tennessee football, this book has come along at exactly the right time. The book chronicles the Saturdays of our lives (with an occasional Monday thrown in) with all the emotions that make college football and Tennessee football, in particular, so special.
It's a good read, wherever you start and wherever you finish. If you need a reason to know why you're a Tennessee fan or to explain the overriding love and loyalty the Vols engender, this is a good place to start.