13 interesting facts, crazy moments and unique traditions from Alabama/Tennessee rivalry
Midseason in the crazy SEC world of 2020 brings us to Tennessee and Alabama. Plenty of things are off-kilter in this world, but when these teams get together, it promises to be wild, crazy and maybe even historic. Here are 13 facts — about the rivalry, about the biggest games, about the crazy traditions — to bring on the spirit of Tennessee and Alabama.
1. Attn: SEC Director of Officials
As the legend goes, lest anyone think that shaky SEC officiating (or fan overreaction) is a modern phenomenon, in 1909, a group of Tennessee fans, enraged after the Vols’ 10-0 defeat to Bama, chased official R.T. Elgin onto a streetcar after the game. In the chaos, someone hit Elgin in the head with a rock.
2. A gap in the series
Tennessee and Alabama didn’t play from 1915 to 1928. According to a Facebook post from the Paul W. Bryant Museum, the issues arose following a 1913 game in which Alabama star Bully VandeGraff had part of his ear bit or torn off by a UT player. In case you wondered, VandeGraff stayed in the game, which Alabama won 6-0.
3. “Slightly Broken”
Along the same lines, the hero of Alabama’s 1935 victory over UT was none other than Paul “Bear” Bryant. Long before he was a houndstooth wearing head coach, Bryant was an end … one who apparently played the game against UT with a broken leg. The Bryant Museum indicated that he had a broken fibula bone and a contemporaneous account from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution spoke of a “crack through one of his leg bones.” A 2013 column from The Chattanoogan reported the injury as “a slightly broken leg.” The injury didn’t stop Bryant from hauling in numerous passes in the 25-0 win, playing what is widely considered to be the best game of his career.
4. 8 ties
You know it’s a rivalry when the teams somehow managed to tie 8 times. Those ties ranged from the first meeting of the series, a 6-6 matchup in 1901 that was ended early because of brawling between the teams’ fans to the 1993 17-17 game, which stands as Alabama’s last tie, in which the Vols ended UA’s 28-game winning streak (although the tie was later vacated by the NCAA). Included in the group were 3 0-0 ties, the last of which was played in 1953.
5. Home, away and also home
For most of the history of the rivalry, Alabama played its games at Birmingham’s ancient Legion Field. The game was played in Tuscaloosa in 1913, 1928, and 1930 … and then not again until 1999. For the record, Alabama has the series advantage in Knoxville (26-20-1), in Birmingham (21-14-6), and in Tuscaloosa (10-4).
6. 10 Top-10 battles
On 10 occasions in the series, the Vols and Tide have both been ranked in the top ten of the AP Poll when the two teams matched up. The first such game was No. 5 UT’s 21-0 win over No. 8 Alabama in 1939. The most recent was No. 1 Alabama’s 49-10 win over No. 9 UT in 2016. The two teams have never met with both schools in the top five. Only twice in the past 50 years (1984 and 2000) has the game found neither team ranked in the AP top 25.
7. Streaky series
Of course, Alabama has won the last 13 matchups with Tennessee. But Alabama’s run came on the heels of near-dominance by UT. From 1995 to 2006, the Vols won 10 of the 12 games (and one of Alabama’s two wins was vacated by the NCAA). This isn’t an isolated phenomenon though. In the history of the series, only twice have Tennessee and Alabama alternated victories back and forth in a four year run (1945-48 and 2004-07). By comparison, the less frequently played Iron Bowl has yielded alternating winners over the last four years, and Alabama and Auburn traded wins yearly from 1992 to 1998.
8. The Victory Cigars
In 1961, an Alabama trainer named Jim Goostree, tired of the Tide losing every year to the Vols (Tennessee had won 5 of the last 6 games in the series, with the other being a tie) told the Alabama team that if they beat UT, he’d dance naked in the locker room. Apparently, Goostree lived up to his word after Alabama’s 34-3 win, and completed his naked dancing with a cigar in his mouth. All in all, perhaps we’re lucky that it’s the cigars and not the naked dancing that have survived as a victory tradition for both schools.
9. Manning leading the band
Another famous or infamous victory celebration came in 1997, when Peyton Manning, completing his 3rd consecutive win over Alabama, followed UT’s 38-21 win by climbing the band director’s podium and “leading” UT’s Pride of the Southland marching band in “Rocky Top.” Two years before, Manning had helped end a 9-year streak without a win for the Vols when he hit Joey Kent on an 80-yard touchdown strike on UT’s first offensive play. It’s still tied for the school record for longest pass in a UT/Bama game.
10. Sticky-handed color commentator
UT radio analyst Tim Priest still holds his own piece of UT/Bama lore. In the Vols’ 1970 win over the Tide, Priest picked off 3 passes, tying UT’s high mark for the series. He had plenty of company, as Bama QBs Scott Hunter and Neb Hayden combined for 8 interceptions. The 24-0 loss was Alabama’s first shutout loss since 1959. Tennessee athletic director Phil Fulmer was a junior on that 1970 team.
11. Big-time blocks
A couple of historic games in the series centered around blocked field goals. In 1990, a 2-3 Alabama squad upset No. 3 Tennessee when a long Vol field goal try late in a 6-6 game was blocked and ricocheted so far that Alabama made a 48-yard field goal soon thereafter for a 9-6 win. In 2009, Lane Kiffin’s Vol team nearly pulled off an upset, but Terrence Cody’s last-second field goal block preserved a 12-10 win. Cody clearly took off his helmet while the play was still ongoing after his block — which should have been a 15-yard penalty.
12. Bad math
A legendary moment in the series came in 1965, when Alabama QB Ken Stabler, trying to lead a game-winning drive over UT, lost track of the number of downs. Trying to kill the clock at the Vol 6-yard line in the final seconds, Stabler inadvertently threw a 4th down pass out of bounds to try to stop the clock. The failed scoring opportunity instead left the game a 7-7 tie.
13. The total score?
How much does this rivalry matter? Enough that Alabama’s media relations department doesn’t just recount the series in its game notes. It provides an accurate count of the running score. For the all-time series, it’s Alabama 1,941 to Tennessee 1,381. That 560-point deficit will take a few big passing days to work out.