February 28, 2024

Top 10 players in Tennessee football history – No. 4

Adam Milliken’s countdown of the Top 10 football players in Tennessee history continues this week with his No. 4 selection.

Photo by Ben Ozburn

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

Doug Atkins

Defensive end, 1950-1953

Hailing from the small town of Humboldt, Tennessee, Doug Atkins was anything but small. Standing at 6-foot-8 and weighing approximately 260 pounds, Atkins was not only physically big, but a giant of the game – a legend that is remembered to this day.

An interesting fact to note about the beginning of his athletic career was that Atkins was not a football player coming out of high school. He was instead a basketball player. Atkins was good enough to earn a basketball scholarship to the University of Tennessee and enrolled with the intent of playing for the team. However, when legendary head coach Robert Neyland saw Atkins’ raw athletic ability, he started to recruit and convert him to football. Luckily, Atkins was eventually persuaded to make the switch.

From the onset, Atkins was a dominating presence on the defensive side of the ball. He was a key component of both the 1950 and 1951 Tennessee teams that were able to capture the national championship. An All-SEC player over his final two seasons, Atkins was also an All-American in 1952. His impact on those Tennessee teams cannot be understated, and thanks in large part to Atkins greatness, the Vols went 29-3-1 during his time on Rocky Top.

After having an undeniably great collegiate career, Atkins then went on to become an NFL great as well.

The Cleveland Browns selected Atkins with the No. 11 overall pick in the 1953 NFL Draft. From the start, Atkins was an imposing force for the Browns and one of the leaders of the 1954 NFL championship-winning team.

Atkins was later traded to the Chicago Bears in 1956, where he would spend the majority of his career and continue to grow his legend.

During his time with Chicago, Atkins established himself as one of the greatest defensive ends of all time. He was a regular Pro Bowl and All-Pro selection and was a crucial part of the Bear’s 1963 championship season.

After briefly retiring, Atkins returned to the game in 1967 and was traded to the New Orleans Saints before retiring after the 1969 season. His career accomplishments include eight pro bowl selections (including being the MVP of the 1958 Pro Bowl), two NCAA championships, two NFL championships and four first-team All-Pro selections.

In 2005, Tennessee further cemented his legacy when the school retired his No. 91 jersey. Although his time in New Orleans was brief, his No. 81 was also retired by the Saints. Atkins is also one of two players in the history of Vols’ football to be a member of both the NFL Hall of Fame and the College Football Hall of Fame, being elected in 1982 and 1985, respectively.

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.