Aug. 23, 2001
The year was 1951. Bob Neyland's Tennessee football team was ranked No. 1 going into the season and never looked back as they rolled to a 10-0 record and the consensus national championship.
|General Robert R. Neyland led the Vols to the 1951 National Championship.|
Consensus National Champions
10-1 (SEC Champions)
|WASHINGTON & LEE||60||14|
Dr. C. E. Brehm was president of the University. WROL radio (620 on your AM dial) advertised Groucho Marx, Gordon MacRae (where was Sheila?), Fibber McGhee and Molly and other staples of 1950s radio. You could find "Hold That Line" on WROL after every game with former Vol Bud Hubbell at the helm.
Edna Callaway was Business Manager of Athletics, Gus Manning was Director of Sports Publicity and Nathan W. Dougherty was Chairman of the Athletics Board.
Neyland's staff that season included Harvey Robinson (two years away from succeeding Neyland as head coach), Chan Caldwell, Ralph Chancey, Al Hust, Emmett Lowery, trainer Mickey O'Brien, head freshman coach Ike Peel, Hodges "Burr" West and L. B. "Farmer" Johnson.
Then there were the players, the names that have become a part of Vol lore, names that call back the memories of a great tradition that is still building.
Return with us now, back 50 years, to the players who made it possible:
Ralph Adams, Bill Addonizio, Frank Alexander, Doug Atkins, Bill "Moose"
Barbish, Dan Butler, Billy "Bye-Bye" Blackstock, Don Bordinger, Frank
"Boomer" Boring, Bobby Brengle, Ray Byrd, Earl Campbell, Ed Chelski, Bob
Cloninger, Lawrence Crowson, Billy Jack Cunningham, Ted Daffer, Bob Davis,
John "Tex" Davis, Dick Ernsberger, Bob Fisher, Mack Franklin, Bill Fulton,
Hugh Garner, Jimmy Hahn, Jim Haslam, Gary Hermann, Francis Holohan, Jerry
Hyde, Harold Hubbard, Bill Jasper, Tommy Jumper, Vince Kaseta, Ollie Keller,
Joel Kinley, Vic Kolenik, Andy Kozar, Dan Laughlin, Hank Lauricella, Lamar
Leachman, Stan Lis, Vernon Lyons, Joe Maiure, Ray Martin, Charles Meyer,
John Michels, Gene Moeller, Ed Morgan, Jerry Morris, Colin Munro, Andy
Myers, Bob Neyland, Jr., Ed Nickla, Bob Patterson, Martin Ray Paris, Harold
"Herky" Payne, Bill Pearman, Gordon Polofsky, John Powell, Bert Rechichar,
Roger Rotroff, Dan Sekanovich, Jay Sentell, Pat Shires, Charlie Stokes,
Francis Trubits, Roger Vest, Jimmy Wade, Paul Walker, Wayne Watson, and
Oaka Williams. These are the names that have been etched into Vol tradition,
the young men, who, like so many others, who achieved great things in
Orange and White.
The Vols had been 11-1 the preceding season with a Cotton Bowl win over Texas to cap the season. Hopes were high in Knoxville that 1951 was THE year.
It was. Led by future Hall of Famers Lauricella, Atkins, Michels and Gen. Neyland, who was inducted as a coach in 1956, the Vols disposed of Mississippi State, Duke, Chattanooga, Alabama, Tennessee Tech, North Carolina, Washington & Lee, Mississippi, Kentucky and Vanderbilt, putting 386 points on the boards to 166 for the opposition. The team played on 10 consecutive Saturdays starting Sept. 29. That was in the days before the barrage of open dates. The Oct. 19 game again was the first televised game in the SEC.
"The common thread that runs through the 1951 team is the love and respect -- combined with a healthy dose of fear -- the players express toward Gen. Neyland," Haywood Harris said.
A quick look at the record book shows the influence of this team on Tennessee history.
Running Gen. Neyland's single-wing offense to near-perfection, the team still holds single-game records for the most net yards rushing (513 versus Washington & Lee), highest rushing average per play (10.7 against Washington & Lee), and most touchdowns rushing (6 versus Washington & Lee) as well as single game punt return yardage (192 against Chattanooga).
Lauricella was an All-America tailback and runner-up in the Heisman Trophy race, with guard Ted Daffer and tackle Bill Pearman also being named All-Americas.
Michels and Atkins would earn All-America honors a year later. Atkins, safety Bert Rechichar, Daffer, Pearman, Michels and Lauricella were All-SEC selections. Rechichar was team captain.
Atkins and Rechichar went on to distinguished pro careers. Atkins is also in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, while Rechichar held the NFL record for the longest field goal (53 yards) before Tom Dempsey broke it in 1970.
Fast forward 50 years and the national championship team will be back in town for the Syracuse game Sept. 1 for their Golden Anniversary reunion.
Put together by team members Pat Shires and Gordon Polofsky, the players will be honored at a Friday night dinner with SEC Commissioner Roy Kramer as keynote speaker, a Saturday brunch on campus and at halftime of the Tennessee-Syracuse game.
Even with the passage of time, 53 team members, two coaches (Harold Johnson and Ike Peel) and manager Arthur Marks will attend. According to Shires, 10 team members out of more than 70 total are deceased.
"I think the 1951 team underscores the unique role a head coach plays in laying the foundation for the discipline required a of a great football team," Harris concluded. "As other national or SEC championship teams return to campus, I think we will find the same mystical bond between the players and their coaches -- Bowden Wyatt, Doug Dickey, Johnny Majors and Phillip Fulmer."
Most Vol fans were not even born when these guys did their thing on gridirons
across the south, but their place in Vol history is secure. Such is the
challenge and opportunity of tradition. Welcome back home, right where
you belong, to the members of the 1951 team.