Gen. Robert R. Neyland said Gene McEver was "the best player I ever coached ... the best I ever saw." That may have locked his place in history, as did an October evening when McEver almost single-handedly propelled Tennessee from a mediocre program to a national tradition.
In his first year on the varsity, McEver made an immediate impact in the 1928 Alabama contest. Known as the "Bristol Blizzard," he returned the opening kickoff straight up the middle 98 yards for a touchdown and later caught a scoring pass from quarterback Bobby Dodd to virtually beat Alabama himself as the Vols went on to upset the heavily-favored Crimson Tide, 15-13. The kickoff return and the game sealed his fate as one of the elite backs in Tennessee football on a squad dubbed the "Flaming Sophomores." The win, long heralded as the greatest in Vols history, propelled UT to national glory.
In 1929, McEver was a scoring machine on offense. In the final game of the regular season, he broke the goal line for five touchdowns and scored three extra points against South Carolina. The outburst helped him lead the nation in scoring with 130 points as the Vols' halfback. It also was in that season when McEver became the first Tennessee football player to reach All-America status, garnering a unanimous decision.
During his UT career, McEver was an All-Southern selection each year and became the first Tennessee player to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. With McEver on the field the Vols never lost a game, going 27-0-3 in his three years of participation with each tie coming to Kentucky.