Oct. 20, 2012
By Brian Rice
Prior to Saturday's game against Alabama, Tennessee welcomed home a group of legends and their leader for a pregame ceremony on Shields-Watkins Field. The 1997 SEC Championship team and head coach Phillip Fulmer were honored in celebration of the 15th anniversary of the title as well as Fulmer's coming induction into the College Football Hall of Fame.
"Today was really, really special to share on the field with my family and my extended family, with the football team and especially with that particular class, that '97 class," Fulmer said of the day and the honor.
"That was kind of the foundation of what we accomplished here. I think they were the No. 1 recruiting class in the country '94 and it turned out we won an SEC Championship with them and a lot of those guys were part of the '98 national championship team."
The ceremony capped a weekend of celebration for the team, a weekend that also featured a reunion for Fulmer and the '97 Vols Friday night in the club level at Neyland Stadium.
"I laughed so hard last night my side hurt," Fulmer said of the event, emceed by Terry Fair, a senior defensive back on the '97 team, first round NFL draft pick and current Knoxville radio personality. "It was a blast. I heard some things I probably didn't want to know about. It was fun. It was fun to share with the Tennessee people."
Among the players assembled was 1997 captain Peyton Manning, who spent the Denver Broncos' bye week in Knoxville for the reunion. Manning also spoke at the re-dedication of Peyton Manning Pass, upgraded over the summer with a checkerboard pattern to mimic the field at Neyland Stadium.
"I appreciate Peyton coming back," Fulmer said. "I appreciate all the guys coming back, but it was particularly hard for him because he is still playing. I know he wouldn't have missed that '97 group's (reunion) anyway. It was good that he was here because he was an awful big part of all that."
Fulmer will be formally inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame during ceremonies on Dec. 4 in New York City. Fulmer said there were so many people responsible for his accomplishments, he was glad to get an opportunity to thank them ahead of the ceremony.
"With something like this, you'd have to have 10,000 tickets to take to New York to thank everybody that had a part in it," Fulmer said. "Starting with my family, my wife being so supportive. Obviously a lot of great coaches who were loyal to Tennessee for a long time. A few great sportswriters and a bunch of great players. It was fun. It's been a fun day. It's been a day I've looked forward to and I certainly look forward to going to New York."