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Alabama defensive back Willie Gaston (22) puts a hit on Tennessee receiver Joey Kent in the Oct. 13, 1993, contest in Birmingham. The game ended in a 13-13 tie. This year’s battle in Tuscaloosa is Saturday at 11:30 a.m. on WZDX-54.
Regardless of the teams’ records, Tide, Vols play classic contests
When the NCAA sanctioned Alabama’s football program in 2002, it took away the Tide’s postseason games for two years.
Then-Alabama head coach Dennis Franchione didn’t quite know how to handle the blow, but when he addressed his team, he found a good point to make:
He told his players that even though they won’t make a bowl trip, they still will play in games that people write books about.
Of course, he referred to the great Alabama-Tennessee and Auburn-Alabama matchups.
Alabama and Tennessee play again Saturday in Tuscaloosa, and it’s easy to say that this is a down year for the rivalry.
Both teams have two losses, and neither squad is ranked in the top 10. Nobody has turned in anybody to the NCAA (lately). Neither CBS nor ESPN saw fit to pick up this game for a national broadcast.
Instead, Southeastern viewers will see the game through Lincoln Financial Sports, which is carried locally by WZDX-54.
But it’s not a down year for this game if you cheer for Alabama or Tennessee. It never is.
When trying the last few days to put together a list of the 10 greatest Alabama-Tennessee games, at least 30 deserve some kind of consideration. Through the decades, these two teams have played so many great games, we can see the strong rivalry developed not only because the two states border each other or because both sides usually have good teams.
A list of 10 games follows, but others could pick 10 entirely different games, and they might be right.
For example, we did not include the 1992 game in Knoxville when No. 4 Alabama beat No. 13 Tennessee 17-10. Tide coach Gene Stallings always said that win made him believe he had a national championship contender.
Decatur’s Conley Duncan, a Hartselle graduate and former All-SEC linebacker at Alabama, might pick the 1975 game in which the No. 6 Tide pounded the No. 16 Vols 30-7 and Duncan’s defense sacked the Tennessee quarterback 10 times.
We don’t have the 1973 game in which No. 2 Alabama beat No. 10 Tennessee 42-21. A punt return for a touchdown by Robin Cary in the fourth quarter broke a 21-21 tie and opened the way for a Tide onslaught.
Old-timers might pick the 1932 game in which Tennessee beat Alabama 7-3 in a rainstorm in Birmingham. The Vols’ Beattie Feathers launched 21 punts, while the Tide’s Johnny Cain kicked 19.
And we don’t have the 2002 game, in which Franchione’s Tide beat Tennessee 34-14, breaking a seven-game losing streak in the series.
So here are 10 Alabama-Tennessee games worth remembering. Whether they’re the 10 best, you’ll have to decide:
1934: Alabama 13, Tennessee 6: After the two teams tied 6-6 at halftime, future NFL Hall of Famer Don Huston scored on a 5-yard end-around to lift Alabama, which went unbeaten and won the Rose Bowl. Tennessee (8-2) was one of only two teams to score a touchdown against Alabama that year.
Tide end Paul “Bear” Bryant was ejected for apparently punching Tennessee’s Phil Dickens, although Tide lineman Bill Lee admitted in 1986 to “Third Saturday in October” author Al Browning that it actually was he who bloodied Dickens’ nose.
1935: Alabama 25, Tennessee 0: Bryant made headlines in this one, too. He spent Friday on crutches because of a cracked bone in his leg, but played anyway in a Tide victory.
Years later, Bryant often told a story about assistant coach Hank Crisp telling the team before the game that he was certain No. 34 would play hard that day. At the time, players switched jersey numbers from game to game to help program sales. To Bryant’s surprise, he was No. 34 that day.
1965: Alabama 7, Tennessee 7: Sophomore quarterback Ken Stabler drove the Tide from its own 25 to the Tennessee 18 where the Tide faced third-and-goal in the closing seconds. On the next play, Stabler scrambled for 14 yards to the 4.
The scoreboard said third down. But it was fourth down. Stabler called for the snap and tossed the ball out of bounds to stop the clock. Six seconds remained, and Alabama was out of downs.
1966: Alabama 11, Tennessee 10: Stabler rallied Alabama from a 10-0 deficit with a touchdown, a 2-point conversion and a 17-yard field goal by Bill Davis.
Tennessee had a chance late when Gary Wright lined up for a 20-yard field-goal attempt on a rainy day with a bad angle. The kick drifted wide right.
Wright told Browning for “Third Saturday in October” that his middle initial was W, and later, a Tennessee manager nicknamed him Wide Wright.
1972: Alabama 17, Tennessee 10: With about two minutes left, Alabama’s Wilbur Jackson scored to cut Tennessee’s lead to 10-9.
Bryant was prepared to go for the 2-point conversion, but assistant coach Pat Dye, the future head coach at Auburn, talked Bryant into kicking the extra point. Third-ranked Alabama did, tying No. 10 Tennessee 10-10.
On the Vols’ possession, the Tide’s Mike DuBose tackled Vols quarterback Condredge Holloway, forcing a fumble. John Mitchell recovered for Alabama.
On the next play, Tide quarterback Terry Davis scored on a 21-yard run to clinch the victory.
1982: Tennessee 35, Alabama 28: The Vols broke an 11-game losing streak to Alabama, then ranked No. 2 and playing its last season under Bryant.
The Tide trailed 35-21 before the Tide rallied, scoring a touchdown and driving to the Vols’ 17. Three passes into the end zone failed, and Tennessee clinched a memorable victory over Alabama and Bryant.
1985: Tennessee 16, Alabama 14: The Tide lost to the eventual SEC champs, who won despite losing starting quarterback Tony Robinson to a broken leg. Darryl Dickey came off the bench to lead the victory, and linebacker Dale Jones snuffed a late Tide threat by intercepting a Mike Shula pass.
Afterward, in the press box at Birmingham’s Legion Field, reporters waited on the elevator to take them to the postgame news conference at field level. The doors opened, but the car was packed with Alabama’s assistant coaches, with Ken Donohue sandwiched in the middle.
It was an interesting sight. Donohue, a former Vols player, was in his first year as Johnny Majors’ defensive coordinator at Tennessee and received the game ball.
He had coached at Alabama for the previous 21 years before then-head coach Ray Perkins forced him out and hired Joe Kines to coordinate his defense.
1990: Alabama 9, Tennessee 3: Ranked third in the nation, the Vols tried to break a 6-6 tie with 1:35 to play when Greg Burke lined up for a 50-yard field goal. Alabama’s Stacy Harrison blocked it, and the ball rolled to the UT 27 before a Tennessee player recovered.
On the final play of the game, Alabama’s Philip Doyle kicked a 47-yarder to lift the Tide to its first big victory of Gene Stallings’ first season as the Tide coach.
1993: Alabama 17, Tennessee 17: Ranked No. 2, the Tide drove to its only touchdown in the final two minutes. Trailing 17-9, Alabama went 82 yards on 11 plays before Jay Barker scored on a 1-yard quarterback sneak. David Palmer rushed for the 2-point conversion.
No. 10 Tennessee lost a chance to beat Alabama, but proving a game is never over until the NCAA says so, the Vols regained it two years later when this game was forfeited to them. It broke the Tide’s seven-game unbeaten streak in the series.
1996: Tennessee 20, Alabama 13: Before Peyton Manning won a Super Bowl for the Indianapolis Colts, he quarterbacked the Vols to three victories over Alabama, including this one in Knoxville in his junior season. He completed 12 of 25 passes for only 176 yards but helped lead one of the best comebacks of his career.
The Tide led 13-0 in the third quarter before Tennessee rallied, with the winning points coming on a 79-yard run by Jay Graham with a little more than two minutes to play. Alabama had first down at the UT 11 in the final minute but could not move any closer.