Summertime at RTT means countdowns and brackets. The last three years we've brought you The 50 Best Games of the Fulmer Era, The 20 Most Heartbreaking Losses, and The Greatest Vol Villains. So now it's time to return to the positive: over the next four weeks, we'll unveil our sixteen nominees for the best plays of the last twenty years, and let you vote in our bracket to select the winner.
A couple of words on nominees: first, no plays from eventual losses were chosen. This is with great apologies to Mose Phillips at South Carolina in 1993, Robert Meachem against LSU in 2006, and Travis Stephens just before the Hobnailed Boot. Right or wrong, the outcome changes the value of the play.
Also, while many of these plays came in very big games and that certainly doesn't hurt their chances, the quality of the play is, obviously, very important. So, for instance, you won't find Collins Cooper's missed field goal on this list - that's a great moment, but not a great play. And you won't find Casey Clausen's hail mary to James Banks on the list - that's a lucky play more than a great play.
We certainly could've gone back and included great plays by Tony Robinson, Reggie Cobb, or most of the Sugar Bowl against Miami or the second half at Notre Dame, but chose the last twenty years both because some of our readers probably have no idea who Tony Robinson is, and because the last twenty years also encompasses the entire existence of the 12 team SEC.
Round One begins today with a play everyone knows and one of the more forgotten spectacular runs in UT history...breakdown and links to video after the jump:
Peerless Price 98 FSU
Is there a better big plays in big games wide receiver in school history than Peerless Price? The eventual Fiesta Bowl MVP caught just four passes in Tempe against the nation's best statistical defense, but they were good for 199 yards. He caught one bomb from Tee Martin to set up the Vols' first score of the day early in the second quarter. But with the game locked at 14-9 Vols since halftime, Tennessee found itself battling for field position and just trying to hang on as the clock ticked under ten minutes to play in the fourth quarter. On 3rd and 9 at the UT 21 yard line, the offensive line gave Martin enough time to step back, step up, and fire down the right sideline for the streaking Price. #37 got separation, made the grab, then stayed on his feet and turned on the jets, outrunning the Seminoles to the end zone. The score gave Tennessee a 20-9 lead, which would be enough to win the National Championship just nine minutes later. Because who doesn't want to win it all on the most exciting play in football?
James Stewart 94 UGA
Before Travis Henry broke it in 2000, James "Little Man" Stewart set the record for career rushing yards at Tennessee with a sensational four year career from 1991-94. Stewart, like Henry, shared time with other great Tennessee backs throughout his career, meaning he would've had even more yardage had the stable not been so full. But Tennessee never needed him more than on this night: week two of the 1994 season, seven days removed from Jerry Colquitt's knee injury that forced a baseball player and two true freshmen to assume command at quarterback. Down in Athens Stewart ran for 211 yards and four touchdowns, tying a UT single game record for RBs that still stands today. None were bigger than the 71 yards he ripped off here, with the Vols leading 27-15 and trying to put the game away. It is a sensational tackle-breaking effort, paving the way to a 41-23 win that kept hope alive in Phillip Fulmer's second season.