February 28, 2024

Opinion: Tennessee football moments that broke our hearts

Valentine’s Day might be known as the day of love, but that does not mean it is devoid of aching hearts. Just ask Tennessee football fans.

[title_box title=”Tennessee football moments that broke our hearts”]

Valentine’s Day might be known as the day of love, but that does not mean it is devoid of aching hearts.

For Tennessee Volunteers football fans, there is a lot to love. 815 wins. 16 conference titles. Six national championships. A bevy of legendary athletes. An iconic stadium. The eye-grabbing orange and white of the uniforms. A number of classic traditions.

With that being said, Tennessee fans have experienced plenty of heartbreak, especially recently. So here are 10 Tennessee football moments that broke our hearts.

1940 Rose Bowl vs. USC

Led by the legendary Robert Neyland, the 1939 Tennessee Volunteers entered the season as defending national champions. Throughout the regular season, their defense was arguably the most dominant in history, allowing a grand total of zero points. Yes, you read that correctly, the Vols did not give up a single point during the 1939 regular season. However, the Vols defense finally cracked in the 1940 Rose Bowl against the USC Trojans, allowing a pair of touchdowns. Despite the noble defensive effort, Tennessee was unable to produce any offense, as its 23-game winning streak and dreams of winning back-to-back national championships came crashing down in a 14-0 defeat.

1957 Sugar Bowl vs. Baylor

Before the Baylor Bears became known for winning games with their high-scoring spread offense, their biggest win in program history came against the Vols in the 1957 Sugar Bowl. The Vols were undefeated and had one of the best defenses in the country, allowing a mere 88 points in 10 games. Tennessee also entered the game as the No. 2 team in the country. After falling behind 6-0, Vols quarterback Johnny Majors scored on a one-yard touchdown run in the third quarter to give Tennessee the 7-6 advantage. Baylor was able to score once more in the final quarter, and held on for the 13-7 upset.

1990 vs. Alabama

Fast-forward 33 years, and you have the next heartbreaking loss in Tennessee lore. The Vols entered a home contest against a struggling 2-3 Alabama team with an odd 4-0-2 record, good enough to make them the No. 3 ranked team in the country. The game was a defensive struggle, but the Vols had an opportunity to defeat the Crimson Tide late in the contest. With the game tied 6-6, Tennessee kicker Greg Burke’s 50-yard field goal attempt resulted in the worst possible outcome. Instead of simply missing the kick and ending the game in Tennessee’s third tie, the kick was blocked and launched 20 yards toward Alabama’s side of the field, giving the Crimson Tide a chance to kick a field goal of their own. The field goal was promptly successful, and Alabama stunned the Vols 9-6.

1995 at Florida

The Tennessee-Florida rivalry is one of the most intense in college football, but the rivalry really gained juice during the 1990’s when both Florida and Tennessee experienced vast success. Heading into The Swamp early in the 1995 season, the Vols were led by a sophomore quarterback named Peyton Manning. Manning and the Vols seemed to be drowning the Gators early on, building a 30-14 lead in the second quarter. Then, things went rapidly south. Florida scored before the end of the first half, Tennessee missed a field goal to begin the third quarter, rain began to pour, Jay Graham fumbled on consecutive possessions, and suddenly the Vols found themselves in a blowout, eventually losing 62-37.

1996 at Memphis

Losing to Florida is one thing (the Vols did earlier in the 1996 season), but losing to Memphis was something no Tennessee fan could not imagine. The Vols actually outplayed Memphis, holding the Tigers to 153 total yards of offense. However, Memphis was able to stun the Vols 21-17 thanks to two Peyton Manning interceptions and a controversial kickoff-return touchdown.

1999 at Arkansas

There was a lot on the line for the Vols. They entered this contest as the No. 3 ranked team in the country, the No. 2 ranked team according to the BCS, and were on pace to play either Florida or Florida State for the National Championship. Tennessee fans knew this was going to be a tough game, but the team was still able to grab a 24-14 lead in the second half after a Travis Henry touchdown. Arkansas quarterback Clint Stoerner was able to orchestrate two touchdown drives to give Arkansas a 28-24 lead with four minutes remaining. Tennessee quarterback Tee Martin drove the Vols down the field, but threw an incomplete pass in the end zone on a fourth down play, ending Tennessee’s hopes of winning back-to-back national championships.

2001 SEC Championship vs. LSU

The Vols had successfully escaped a heartbreaking loss to Georgia earlier in the season and found themselves one win away from the National Championship game. They faced an LSU team they had already beaten that season. With a 17-7 lead in the second quarter, Tennessee appeared to have control of the game. However, they failed to put LSU away, as the Tigers scored 17 unanswered points to take a 24-17 lead. The Vols drove the LSU four-yard line, but could only convert a field goal. Down 24-20, the Tennessee’s defense was able to stop LSU and give the offense one more chance. They began driving down the field and appeared ready to close the deal. Then, wide receiver Donte Stallworth caught a pass, turned upfield, and was stripped. LSU recovered, scored an insurance touchdown, and the Vols were knocked out of the National Championship race.

2007 SEC Championship vs. LSU

The 2007 college football season was one of the most bizarre ever. No team appeared capable of maintaining their position in the Top 5. Tennessee looked to cause even more chaos with a win over the No. 5 ranked LSU Tigers in the SEC Championship game. For three quarters, Tennessee outplayed LSU, but in the fourth quarter, things fell apart. Up 13-12, quarterback Eric Ainge threw a pick-six, followed by a successful two-point conversion by the Tigers, giving them a 21-14 lead. Ainge drove Tennessee down the field before throwing another back-breaking interception, ending Tennessee’s chance of the upset.

The 2015 Season (vs. Oklahoma, at Florida)

Still fresh in the minds of Tennessee faithful, and while there is hope for the program’s future, there is no denying the utter devastation the 2015 season brought Vol Nation. At home against Oklahoma, the Vols squandered a 17-3 fourth quarter lead, allowing two long touchdown drives, sending the contest into overtime. A Josh Dobbs interception in the second overtime sealed Tennessee’s fait, resulting in a 31-24 loss. Then, there was the Florida game. With five minutes left in the game, Tennessee maintained a 27-14 lead in Gainesville. There was no way they could blow this game. This was the end of “The Streak.” Miraculously, Florida converted all five of its fourth down conversions in the game, including a 63-yard touchdown on a fourth-and-14 to give the Gators the 28-27 lead. Quarterback Joshua Dobbs put Tennessee in field goal range, but the kick barely missed, and the Vols lost their eleventh consecutive game to Florida.

Edited by Cody McClure

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