Coach Fulmer receives the ball from the family of Johnny Butler
Feb. 23, 2007
The ties that bind the eras of the Tennessee Vols storied football program were underscored again Friday when head coach Phillip Fulmer accepted a treasured item earmarked for the Doug Dickey Hall of Champions.
A football used in the 1940 Alabama game, a key win in one of Tennessee's six national championship seasons, was handed over to Fulmer, who 58 years later brought another title to UT as coach of the 1998 Vols.
The memento was presented to Fulmer by members of the family of Johnny Butler, single wing tailback on Bob Neyland's undefeated 1940 squad, who was enshrined in the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame in 1997.
"Occasions such as this remind me how deep the tradition of UT football runs," Fulmer commented before the presentation of the ball in the coach's office at Neyland-Thompson Sports Center. "Tennessee fans to this day celebrate the accomplishments of the great Vol teams of the distant past."
He added: "Johnny Butler and his teammates of that golden age have been immortalized for their singular achievements."
The 1940 Vols, who joined the 1938 and 1939 squads in completing the regular season undefeated, were acclaimed national champions by the Dunkel and Williamson systems, recognized as two of the most prestigious rankings services in the pre-World War II era.
The signature victory, against traditional rival Alabama, came Oct. 12 in Birmingham, a 27-12 decision over Hall of Fame coach Frank Thomas' Crimson Tide.
Butler, who in 1939 had authored a 56-yard touchdown run against Alabama that was ranked as the greatest play ever by legendary sports writer Grantland Rice, had another field day against the Tide a year later in a classic confrontation at Legion Field.
Early in the second period, Tennessee trailing by six points, Butler dashed 68 yards around end to the Alabama 11. He then fired a touchdown pass to Al Hust. A few plays later, Butler fielded a punt at the Alabama 49, sprinted down the sideline 20 yards and then veered inside for the remaining distance.
Butler had originally given the football, autographed by many of his teammates, to his sister, Mildred Geneva Butler Henry, who died March 2, 2006.
Family members attending the ceremony were Larry Henry, Judy Henry, Bo Henry and Shirley Henry, all of Blount County, with Knoxville's Mike Henry and former UT President Dr. Joe Johnson also in attendance.
UT athletics director Mike Hamilton was present along with senior associate athletics director John Currie and other members of the department. Hamilton said the football and related memorabilia will be on display with construction of the Hall of Champions in the McKenzie-Lawson Athletics Center.
"The archives of the great UT tradition are served immensely when thoughtful friends such as the Henry family provide items that in a tangible way flesh out our history," Hamilton said.