The Best Plays Bracket returns with the first of our four remaining first round matchups this week. Already advancing to the quarterfinals from last week: the Tee Martin to Peerless Price bomb in the National Championship Game, James Wilhoit's 50 yard field goal to beat Florida in 2004, Travis Stephens busting through Guss Scott in the fourth quarter in Gainesville 2001, and Jay Graham's run to beat Alabama in the final minutes in 1996.
Today's matchup features the top two seeds from the 80 yard sudden euphoria division:
Peyton Manning/Joey Kent Alabama 95
To fully appreciate this play, you probably have to be old enough to have experience the ten years that came before it. Tennessee beat Alabama four years in a row from 1982-1985. After that, it was all Bama for a decade. And the longer it went on, the worse it got. Florida's five straight wins over the Vols from 1993-97 were torture, sure...but more often than not the outcome was never really in doubt in those games. Alabama's streak was twice as long and made so much worse by the ways they just always, somehow, found a way. The Tide were the only team to beat the Vols in 1989. Their 9-6 win in 1990 ranks just below the 2001 SEC Championship Game in terms of most heartbreaking losses in program history. 24-19 in 1991. 17-10 in 1992. A tie that felt like a loss in 1993. And 17-13 in 1994.
So for this to happen on play number one? Watching it live none of us were willing to believe the Vols could slay Alabama until the clock struck zero. But the emphatic nature of this moment made it more than just a warning shot. This was the first act of a seven year celebration, the likes of which have never been seen before and may never be seen again. Anyone who said Peyton Manning never won a big game has no idea what this night and this play meant to us.
Robert Meachem 06 California
Coming off the offseason that is probably most similar to this one, where the head coach simply had to win or face serious consequences, this game offers our most recent taste of what it's like to truly be surprised. It's not the first play of the game, but the second play of the second half. Tennessee led Cal - the team Lee Corso had picked just hours earlier to win the National Championship - 14-0 at the break, but memories of 2005 and Cal's sheer firepower still had us nervous. But all that changed on this play - Neyland Stadium, in this moment, returned to its former glory. Tennessee fans went from fear and frustration to pure celebration; here were the Vols, absolutely destroying a top ten team, just like the good ol' days. Meachem was sensational all day, here again breaking a tackle at the line and then making all the right moves downfield to ensure the score and the victory. NC State isn't as good at this Cal team, but I'd enjoy doing something like this to them no less.