6 things you didn't know or might have forgotten about UT vs. UK
Tennessee and Kentucky have one of the longest-running rivalries in the SEC. Of course, it’s been pretty one sided lately, with Kentucky logging one win in the past 31 games. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some awesome stories in the rivalry. Here are six you probably didn’t know — or might have forgotten about.
1) Bear Bryant’s rivalry with UT started when he couldn’t beat the Vols while he was at UK: You talk about The Bear and The Vols and you’re thinking Third Saturday in October, and houndstooth hats and ‘Bama. But their rivalry started when Bryant took the head coaching job at Kentucky in 1946. General Robert Neyland was the head man in Knoxville, and Bryant never beat him while he was at Kentucky.
The year after Neyland left, Bryant finally beat the Vols 27-21. It was his last game as Kentucky head coach, and his rivalry with UT would have to wait a few years until he moved on to Alabama.
2) Bryant’s successor at UK, Blanton Collier, pretty much owned Tennessee: The last Kentucky coach to post a career winning record, Blanton Collier was solid, but never took the Wildcats to a bowl in his eight seasons in Lexington. But one thing he did do was beat Tennessee. Collier was 5-2-1 against UT. Even when UK was bad under Collier, like 1957 when it finished 3-7, they held their own against Tennessee, winning that year’s matchup 20-6.
Tennessee sports betting officially launched on November 1, 2020. Tennessee was the first SEC state to legalize sports betting.
3) How big is the rivalry? Bigger than snow …: In 1952, UK and UT faced an unusual mutual foe — Mother Nature. According to a column remembering that game, a record 18.2 inches of snow fell over 25 hours leading up to the game in Knoxville, according to one reporter’s account of the arctic matchup. Fans brought snow shovels to the game at Knoxville’s Shields-Watkins Field to help dig out their seats … and were promptly treated to a 14-14 tie.
4) The Disappearing Trophy: The annual matchup of Cats and Vols used to be played for a giant orange, white, and blue beer keg, earning the rivalry game the nickname of Battle for the Beer Barrel. Sadly, in 1998, in the week leading up to the game, UK starting center Jason Watts was involved in a drunk-driving accident, in which two of his passengers, including a fellow Wildcat football player, were killed. Kentucky athletic director C.M. Newton asked that the beer barrel not be a part of that season’s game, given the circumstances. The trophy has never resurfaced since.
While the situation was understandable, the trophy had a great history, which is now sadly forgotten. One year during the 1950s, UT stole the trophy from UK despite losing the game. UK students retaliated by stealing Smokey the Dog from Tennessee. Apparently, Vanderbilt also took the trophy from Kentucky at one point.
5) Despite UT winning 15 in a row in Knoxville, UK has fared reasonably well lately: When it is noted that Kentucky hasn’t won in Knoxville since 1984, the mind conjures up Tennessee dominance in the series — and there has been some of that: a 52-0 game in 1994, a 56-10 rout in 1996, and a 50-16 thumping two years ago. But in several of the past handful of games in Knoxville, UK almost pulled the upset. Specifically, in 2004, Kentucky jumped to a big lead, but fell late 37-31 to UT. Two years later, Kentucky lost 17-12 after failing to convert a 1st-and-goal into a score in the closing minutes of the game.
6) UK and UT have met before with title implications on the line: The last time the UK-UT game had real meaning in the SEC title hunt was 2007, when Tennessee won a triple-overtime 52-50 slugfest to punch its last ticket to an SEC championship game.
But there are many title-related games on both sides of the rivalry. UK’s last SEC championship, a shared 1976 title, was sealed by beating UT 7-0 in Knoxville.
Furthermore, the 1950 game, the granddaddy of all such matchups, probably handed UT a national title and stole one from UK, after the Vols (with one early loss) dealt the Wildcats (who were undefeated) their only loss, 7-0.
UK still won the SEC, but Tennessee can claim at least a split national title from the victory.