In Tennessee Football lore, there are two things that make any game more special: 1998, and beating Alabama. Today, we bring you the combination of those two events.
It's the first of seven games from 1998 that will make this list, comprising almost a third of the remaining 22 games in our countdown. And it's the third time we've seen the Crimson Tide on our countdown...and it won't be the last.
There were plenty of factors at play in this game, at the center being Alabama's own Tee Martin, making his first start against the Tide. The '98 Alabama team was young but talented, as would be expressed the following season, when they won the SEC Championship. This time around, Andrew Zow was merely a freshman quarterback, and Shaun Alexander not quite the Heisman candidate he would become.
The Vols were also shorthanded, in this their second game without the services of Jamal Lewis. The previous week, Tennessee got 107 yards from Travis Stephens in a win at #7 Georgia, vaulting the Vols to third in the polls.
But on this day, it would be Travis Henry's turn to introduce himself to the Vol faithful...
22. 1998 - #3 Tennessee 35 - Alabama 18 (Knoxville)
The 5-0 Vols had run the gauntlet already, with three wins coming on the road at Syracuse, Auburn and Georgia, and the fourth their first victory over Florida since 1992. Alabama was rebuilding under Mike DuBose, and the back end of Tennessee's schedule appeared at this point to offer no challenges until Atlanta (though Arkansas stayed undefeated to disprove that point a few weeks later). So there appeared to be no time like the present for a letdown, and no opponent who wanted to ruin Tennessee's season more than the Crimson Tide.
As John Ward's final Third Saturday began, it was evident from the opening drive that the Vols were ready. Tee Martin, the recent beneficiary of expanded play calling options in the passing game after Jamal Lewis went down, fired three completions of 15+ yards on the first drive, hitting Cedrick Wilson at the one yard line and sneaking it in himself. The Vols went 76 yards in 7 plays, and led right away 7-0.
The biggest difference between the Alabama team that won the SEC Championship in 1999 and this group the year before, at least against Tennessee, was offensive line play. The Tide simply could not protect Andrew Zow, who took one of the more memorable beatings that a John Chavis defense ever delivered. Zow was sacked five times on the day and hit much more often than not. Alexander also couldn't get untracked early, as Tennessee held the Tide to a field goal in the first half.
Fulmer would make a gutsy call to go for it on 4th and 1 at the UT 45 in the second quarter, but the Vols converted. The drive ultimately led to another Martin rushing touchdown, putting Tennessee ahead 14-3 at the break.
A defensive standoff continued, as had been the norm for the Vols. After getting ripped by Donovan McNabb and Syracuse in the opener, Tennessee had allowed only 17 points to Florida, 7 to Houston, 9 to Auburn and 3 to Georgia. In fact, the defense went 11 quarters without giving up a touchdown.
But with five minutes remaining in the third, Shaun Alexander ripped off a 44 yard touchdown run - the first rushing TD the Vols had allowed since the Syracuse game - and with the two point conversion, here was Alabama, right in it down only 14-11.
That's when Peerless Price immediately turned the Tide back.
On the ensuing kickoff, Price took the ball from the goaline, found a hole in the wedge along the right side, broke the kicker and tiptoed the sideline, turning on the jets to race all the way back into the end zone. A penalty marker thrown back at the UT 25 appeared that the celebration was all for naught, as is usually the case on kickoff returns...but the call went against Alabama, and Price had "A Big Orange 100 yarder!" (John Ward)
From there, Tennessee stopped Alabama three and out, and the Travis Henry show took over.
Henry started his bowling ball reputation on this drive, bouncing off Bama defenders with his low center of gravity, and an ability to simply keep moving forward. David Cutcliffe called seven straight handoffs, and Henry took them all before diving in himself, putting the Vols ahead 28-18. On the day, Henry finished with 113 yards.
Alabama threatened once in the fourth, but the drive stalled on fourth down. Then Fulmer again went for it on 4th down, this time in Alabama territory, and Martin hit Wilson again to the 10 yard line. Henry's second touchdown of the day from there iced it, and the Vols had a 35-18 win.
The game was not only a sign of the future for Travis Henry, but a seal of approval on the past: the '98 senior class never lost to Alabama, giving the Vols their first four game win streak over the Tide since 1982-85.
(Highlights from Decade of Dominance)