January 26, 2021

Top 10 Players in Tennessee Football History – No. 6

Lead staff writer Adam Milliken is back with his countdown of the top 10 football players in Tennessee history. This week, he reveals the No. 6 entry on the list.

Photo by Ben Ozburn

The Rifleman carries the Tennessee flag across the endzone after a Tennessee touchdown.

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George Cafego

Running back, 1937-1939

George “Bad News” Cafego came to Knoxville by way of a small town in West Virginia. However, by the time his collegiate career concluded, Cafego had become a legend and one of the most recognizable names in Tennessee football history.

Along with playing his primary position at tailbackCafego also played quarterback, safety, punter, and returned punts and kicks. His versatility stood out in an era where it was normal for players to play on both sides of the ball.

Cafego was the centerpiece for back-to-back undefeated Tennessee teams. In 1938, the Vols won their first-ever National Championship. The following season, Tennessee shut out every opponent, but in the final game of his career, an injury sidelined Cafego. As a result, the Vols lost 14-0 to USC in the Rose Bowl, proving how valuable Cafego was.

An All-SEC player and All-American in both 1938 and 1939, Cafego earned national recognition as a Heisman finalist in both seasons.

The Chicago Cardinals drafted Cafego with the first overall pick in the 1940 NFL Draft. His career was temporarily derailed due to his military service during World War II. Upon his return to the NFL, Cafego clearly wasn’t his former self, and failed to impress. 

After his playing days ended in 1945, Cafego decided to continue his football life by becoming a coach. He was an assistant at Wyoming from 1949-1952 and Arkansas from 1953-1954. He then returned to Rocky Top and remained on the coaching staff until 1984. In addition to coaching football, Cafego served as the baseball team’s head coach from 1958-1962.

Even in the context of the football’s current state, Cafego was an incredible player who brought value to two of Tennessee’s finest teams in its history. Due to his time with the Vols as both a player and a coach, he earned the nickname “The Ultimate Volunteer”.

Featured image by Ben Ozburn

Edited by David Bradford

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Adam is the Assistant Sports Editor for the Tennessee Journalist and a Junior at UT. Most of his free time is spent watching sports, listening to good music, and enjoying life. If you wish to contact him, you can email him at amillike@vols.utk.edu, follow him on Twitter, @AdamMilliken14, or find him at https://www.linkedin.com/pub/adam-milliken/109/a89/a32.