Third Saturday in October: Alabama-Tennessee Rivalry

 

 

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The Third Saturday in October can only mean one thing: the University of Alabama Crimson Tide (Tide) and the University of Tennessee Volunteers (Vols) are about to strap on the helmets extra tight in anticipation of another physical, blood-letting battle on the football field. One of the fiercest rivalries in the Deep South used to take place on the third Saturday in October but when the Southeastern Conference split the league into two divisions in 1992, the game began to gravitate among dates somewhere between the middle to late October. For decades Alabama and Tennessee fans have had a saying: Don’t get married on the third Saturday in October. Sports journalist Beano Cook added, “Don’t die on the third Saturday in October, since the preacher may not show up.”

Alabama officially leads the series 53-38-7. The National Collegiate Athletic Association NCAA) forced Alabama to forfeit the 1993 game, a 17-17 tie, and vacate the 2005 game, a 6-3 Alabama win, because of rules violations. The series has been marked by winning streaks on both sides, and generally, those were directly correlated to the side that had the College Football Hall of Fame coach at the time.  The first game in 1901 between the two schools ended in a 6-6 tie in Birmingham. From 1903 through 1913, Alabama forged an 8-1 record against Tennessee while holding the Vols scoreless. The series took a hiatus until 1928.

Alabama Hall of Fame coach Wallace Wade led the Tide to three national championships from 1925-1930 while Hall of Fame coach Robert Neyland, known as the General, began his tenure at Tennessee in 1926. The coaches became friends and agreed to re-start the series in 1928, a 15-13 University of Tennessee (UT) win. Neyland’s Vols won a tight 6-0 victory over Wade’s Tide in 1929 but Wade gained a measure of revenge with an 18-6 triumph on the way to the 1930 national championship. Wade left for Duke University after that memorable 1930 season and the series pendulum swung in Neyland’s and Tennessee’s favor. Neyland coached at Tennessee from 1926-1952, with the exceptions of 1935 and 1941-1945. His record against Alabama was 12-5-2.

Alabama won the 1935 game, 25-0. In that game, senior end Paul “Bear” Bryant played the entire contest with a broken leg. After the game, Bryant shrugged it off stating, “It was one little bone.”

Such toughness inspired the University of Kentucky to hire Bryant as its head coach in 1946. Kentucky played Neyland’s Volunteers seven times during Bryant’s period as coach, but the General outflanked the Bear winning five times, with no losses, and two ties. In his book Third Saturday in October, Al Browning stated that those losses to Neyland fueled Bryant’s intense desire to defeat Tennessee while serving as Alabama’s head coach.

Bryant took over the reins at Alabama in 1958 and coached there until his retirement after the 1982 season. The Hall of Fame coach swung the series pendulum back to Alabama. Bryant’s teams struggled against Tennessee from 1958-1960 as the Volunteers tallied a 2-0-1 record against the Bear. However, the Tide broke through in 1961 with a resounding 34-3 victory. After that game, Alabama trainer Jim Goostree, a UT graduate, started a tradition that continues today. Goostree dispensed cigars to the players and coaches to celebrate the victory. After every game since then, the winning team has broken out the cigars. The NCAA considers this practice a violation of its rules, so the winning team immediately reports itself afterwards.

Under Bryant, Alabama dominated the series with 16 wins, seven losses, and two ties and won 11 in a row from 1971 to 1981. The Bear used the games against Tennessee as a barometer for his teams. According to Browning, the Bear once declared, “You found out what kind of person you were when you played against Tennessee.”

From 1983 through 1991, Alabama won six of the nine games. Tennessee coach Johnny Majors beat the Bear in 1982 but proceeded to lose six out of the next eight, which directly led to his termination. The pendulum swung back to Tennessee when Hall of Famer Phillip Fulmer took over as coach in 1992.

Fulmer compiled an 11-5 record against the Tide, including the forfeited 1993 tie and the 2005 vacated Alabama win. During Fulmer’s tenure, the Vols won nine of 10 versus Alabama from 1995-2004. Arguably, his most memorable game facing the Tide came in 2003 when the Vols beat the Tide in five overtimes, 51-43. Fulmer had great respect for the rivalry, “It’s important for our players to realize that the guys on both sides that have worn the orange and white or the crimson and white forever look at this third Saturday of October as being special.”

When future Hall of Fame coach Nick Saban took over at Alabama in 2007, the pendulum swung hard back to the Tide. Saban has led the Tide to ten consecutive victories over the Volunteers by an average score of 35-12.

The games played on or close to the Third Saturday of October have seen Hall of Fame coaches strolling both sidelines, gutty performances on the field, and an intensity only a few rivalries in any sport can claim. This rivalry symbolizes everything that people love about college football. So whether you are a fan of Alabama or Tennessee or some other school, light up a victory cigar to celebrate all those people who have given their all or who will give their all on the Third Saturday of October!

 

 

The Bear

Courtesy of Drakelawfirm1

Courtesy of Drakelawfirm1

Think about the greatest college football coaches of all time. Many names come to mind—Amos Alonzo Stagg, Pop Warner, John Heisman, Fielding Yost, Eddie Robinson, Robert Neyland, Knute Rockne, Wallace Wade, Bud Wilkinson, Tom Osborne, and Bobby Bowden. Arguably, the best of all coached at Maryland, Kentucky, Texas A & M, and Alabama. They called him the Bear and he roamed the sidelines from 1945-1982. Paul W. Bryant compiled a record of 323-85-17, won 14 Southeastern Conference Championships, one Southwest Conference Championship and six national titles.

At the age of 14, Bryant wrestled a muzzled bear at the Fordyce Theater in his hometown of Fordyce, Arkansas. He did so purportedly to impress a girl and to make some money. While he may or may not have impressed the girl or made any money, Bryant received a nickname that stuck with him the rest of his life.

Bryant played football at Alabama from 1932-1935. The 1934 team finished the regular season 10-0, beat Stanford in the Rose Bowl, and was voted national champion by several polls. His coaching career began as an assistant to Alabama coach Frank Thomas from 1936-1939. Before Alabama played California in the 1938 Rose Bowl, Bryant auditioned for some movie moguls in Hollywood. Bryant received a contract offer but turned it down when his wife, Mary Harmon, refused to move to Hollywood. This marked the only time Bryant considered a profession other than football.

Bryant left Tuscaloosa to coach one year under Vanderbilt coach Red Sanders in 1940. Vanderbilt upset Alabama 7-0 that year and Bryant received credit for the victory. Sanders, for reasons unknown, did not renew Bryant’s contract in 1941, but with the help of New York Yankees catcher Bill Dickey, a University of Arkansas athlete, Bryant became a leading candidate for the Arkansas head coaching position. However, after the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, Bryant enlisted in the United States Navy for the duration of World War II. While aboard the troop ship USS Uruguay in 1943, Bryant escaped death when his ship was rammed while sailing to North Africa. Over 200 soldiers and sailors died in the tragic episode.

Bryant had earned the title of Lieutenant Commander by the end of the war in 1945 and accepted the head coaching position at Maryland in the same year. He led the Terrapins to a 6-2-1 record with a team composed mainly from the Navy Pre-Flight group he coached in 1944. After a dispute with Maryland president Curly Byrd over the suspension of a player, Bryant took the helm of the Kentucky program. In the Bear’s first season, the Wildcats went from 2-8 to 7-3. His 1950 team went 11-1 (Tennessee, led by coach Robert Neyland, handed Kentucky its only loss. Bryant never beat Neyland in seven tries.); won the school’s only Southeastern Conference (SEC) championship; and defeated Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl, ending the Sooners’ 31 game winning streak.

Bryant left Kentucky for Texas A & M in 1953 after he asked for a release from his contract following the Kentucky president’s failure to fire or force the retirement of basketball coach Adolph Rupp, whose program became involved in a scandal that jolted Kentucky athletics (The NCAA and SEC suspended the Kentucky basketball program for the 1952-1953 season after evidence surfaced that some alumni had offered monetary inducements to recruits to play for Kentucky). The Kentucky president implemented new rules for the school’s athletic teams, including restricting the football team to five non-Kentucky recruits per year. Bryant knew he could not consistently win under these restrictions because the state produced a limited number of quality football players every year. He blamed Rupp for the president’s actions and moved on to College Station.  The Bear coached the Aggies from 1954 to 1957. His 1956 team compiled a 9-0-1 record, beat arch rival Texas in Austin for the first time ever, and won the Southwest Conference Championship.

However, Bryant left College Station for Tuscaloosa in 1958 with seven years left on his contract. Alabama had won only four games in the previous three years. When asked why he would leave a good situation at A & M for a poor one at Alabama, the Bear responded, “Mama called.” In 25 years as head coach of the Crimson Tide, Alabama won 232 games against only 46 losses, 13 SEC championships, and six national championships.

The Bear’s coaching philosophy was rather simple: one must pay the price to win—whether it was he, the players, the coaches, the managers, or the university presidents. Bryant pushed those around him hard but no harder than he pushed himself. Bryant’s fellow coaches respected his coaching ability. Jake Gaither, head coach at Florida A & M said, “He could take his’n and beat your’n, and take your’n and beat his’n.”

As Bryant approached the end of his coaching career, people frequently asked him when he would retire. The Bear’s usual response was, “Retire? Hell, I’d probably croak in a week!” Bryant coached his last game on December 29, 1982, a 21-15 Liberty Bowl win over Illinois. Forty-two days later, the Bear passed away from a heart attack at the age of 69.

The Bear left his mark on college football by building winners at Maryland, Kentucky, Texas A & M, and Alabama. While many outstanding coaches have graced the sidelines over the years, only one could be called the Bear.

Florida State-Miami Football Rivalry

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One of the greatest football rivalries in the nation takes place every year in Florida.  Both schools carry storied traditions, big-time players and championship coaches.  One school boasts Chief Osceola and Renegade, the war chant, and the proud nickname of the Seminoles.  The other has Ibis, the U, and the nickname Hurricanes.  One school proudly claims consensus All-Americans such as Fred Biletnikoff, Ron Simmons, Deon Sanders, Derrick Brooks, and Charlie Ward.  The other counters with such greats as George Mira, Ted Hendricks, Russell Maryland, Gino Torretta, and Ed Reed.  Coaching icons such as Bobby Bowden, Jimbo Fisher, Howard Schnellenberger, and Mark Richt all have roamed the sidelines during the rivalry.  When the Florida State University Seminoles and the University of Miami Hurricanes get together, you can throw out the records. These two teams do not particularly like one another and have played some of the most intense games in the history of college football. On numerous occasions, the outcome of the game ended the national title hopes of the loser while giving the winner an inside track to the title.  Florida State has won three national championships and 18 conference titles, including 15 Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) crowns. Miami owns five national championships and nine Big East Conference titles.  Both schools currently reside in the ACC.

Miami leads the series 31-30, but Florida State has won the last seven games.  The two schools first met in 1951 (Miami won 35-13), four years after Florida State fielded it first football team.  For years Florida State had an all-female student body and men did not matriculate at FSU until 1946.  Florida State credits the Hurricanes with giving the fledgling Seminole program its first chance to compete against a legitimate, well-established program.  The University of Florida would not play FSU until 1958.  The Seminoles and Hurricanes squared off most years from 1951 through 1969, when the universities agreed to play every year.  FSU and Miami have battled as members of the ACC every year since 2004. Miami has won seven games that were decided by one point while the Seminoles eeked out last year’s game 20-19.  As you might imagine, these teams have had some very memorable affairs.  Let’s take a look at some of them.

  1. 1987 Miami 26-25

Number 4 Florida State led Number 3 Miami 19-3 late in the third quarter when the Hurricanes began their comeback.  Miami quarterback Steve Walsh hit Melvin Bratton for one touchdown and Michael Irvin for two, including a 73-yarder that gave Miami a 26-19 lead with just over two minutes to play.  The Seminoles marched down the field to score a late touchdown but Bobby Bowden’s decision to go for two cost FSU the game.  Bowden’s decision to go for the win instead of a tie was a gutsy call–overtime in college football did not begin until 1996.

 

  1. 1989 Florida State 24-10

College football experts believed the Hurricanes were destined to win the national championship that year.  UM did but not before losing to a two-loss FSU team in Tallahassee for the first time in ten years.  The Gino Torretta-led Miami offense turned the ball over six times and committed 11 penalties.  To this day in the Seminole record book under “Most Penalty First Downs in a Game” Miami’s 13 total penalties leads the category.

  1. 1991 Miami 17-16

In the first of the Wide Right games, FSU led Miami 16-7 in the fourth quarter.  Miami battled back to take a 17-16 lead with 3:01 left in the game behind a Carlos Huerta field goal and a Larry Jones touchdown run.  FSU marched down to the UM 17-yard line and with 29 seconds left Seminole kicker Gerry Thomas came on to attempt the go-ahead 34-yard field goal.  He had already made kicks from 25, 31 and 20 yards.  The kick sailed wide right by the length of a football.  Interestingly, before the 1991 season, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) reduced the distance between the uprights by four feet, 10 inches.

  1. 1992 Miami 19-16

The second installment of Wide Right took place in this game.  FSU entered Number 3 in the nation while Miami stood at Number 2.  Behind future Heisman Trophy winners Charlie Ward of FSU and Torretta, the game stood at 16-10 with nine minutes left.  Torretta then led UM to the go ahead score, 17-16.  The Hurricane defense would add a safety to make the count 19-16.  After the FSU defense held, Ward led the Seminoles down the field in the closing seconds.  Bowden sent Dan Mowery into the game to attempt a final play field goal that would tie the game.  Just like the year before, the FSU kicker missed the field goal, from 39 yards this time, wide right.

  1. 1993 Florida State 28-10

Number 3 Miami entered this contest with a 31-game regular season win streak, and Number 1 FSU would win the national championship this season.  The game was never in doubt.  The Seminoles led 21-7 at the half and put the game away when FSU safety Devin Bush picked off a Frank Costa pass and returned it for a touchdown.

  1. 2000 Miami 27-24

This is the final Wide Right game.  Miami was coming off NCAA probation for rules violations but had its most potent team in years.  FSU owned a five-game winning streak against the Hurricanes but trailed 17-0 at halftime.  However, FSU quarterback Chris Weinke rallied the Seminoles to cut Miami’s lead to 20-17 with 3:15 to go in the game.  After a Miami fumble, Weinke led FSU down the field and hit Atrews Bell with a29-yard strike to give the Seminoles a brief 24-20 lead.  Not to be denied, Miami quarterback Ken Dorsey marched the Hurricanes back the other way and completed a 13-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Shockey with 46 seconds to go for the final margin.  FSU took the ensuing kickoff and Weinke led his team down to the Miami 32-yard line for a field goal that would tie the game and send it to overtime.  FSU kicker Matt Munyon kicked it well but the ball sailed wide right as the final horn sounded.

  1. 2005 Florida State 10-7

Experiencing a small measure of revenge, the Seminoles won this game on a Miami kicking miscue.  The Hurricanes worked their way down the field in the fourth quarter to set up a 28-yard field goal that would tie the game.  With just under three minutes to play the Hurricanes set up for the kick, but holder Brian Monroe mishandled the snap.  The kick was never made and the Seminoles held on for the victory.

 

Florida State and Miami are two of college football’s elite programs.  They own eight national championships and 27 conference titles between them.  When the two meet, fierce battles often ensue that are decided by the slimmest of margins.  Add in the traditions of Osceola, Renegade, the war chant, Ibis and the U, and you have all the ingredients that make this one of college football’s greatest rivalries.