Makes Me Wanna Puke: 1969-1970
Bear Bryant was used to winning. He'd never been beaten by any team three years in a row. Shoot, he'd never lost two weeks in a row. That is until October, 1969, when the Vols beat Alabama 41-14.
This appears to be one of the low points of Bryant's career, as he was "miserable" doing his TV show the next day and "wanted to puke."[i] Bryant's frame of mind and condition of stomach likely weren't much better the next year when the Vols intercepted eight passes and held Alabama scoreless in Knoxville. He nearly abandoned college football for the money league that season, but as fate would have it, Tennessee didn't drive Bryant to the NFL. No, the Vols drove Bryant to the wishbone.[ii]
Let's call that a mistake.
Fear the ‘Bone: 1971-1981
Ah, the seventies. Platform shoes. Plaid pants. The zodiac. If one would have dared to ask Bear Bryant what his "sign" was during this most groovy era, he'd have answered, "Wishbone."
In 1971, Bryant had just declined the Miami Dolphins' head coaching position and instead spent the summer with the Texas coaching staff learning to run the ‘Bone.[iii] That season, he kicked off an 11-game winning streak against my beloved Vols, which was most decidedly not groovy.
Not even halfway through this historic run, Vol fans had become so resigned to Alabama's dominance that they sought the last refuge of a floundering program: They focused not on beating their rivals, but on getting rid of their own coach. In 1974, they sent a moving van to coach Bill Battle's house.[iv] When that didn't work, they refocused their efforts on luring former Vol Johnny Majors, who in 1976 was coaching Pittsburgh to a national championship, back home to Knoxville.[v] Battle did in fact surrender in 1977, and Majors assumed command, but it really didn't matter much for many years. Hmm. Maybe it wasn't Battle after all. Maybe Bryant was just that good.
Even with Majors, Bryant and ‘Bama continued to beat the Vols mercilessly until 1982. Tennessee had a fleeting moment of glory in 1979 when it led 17-0 at one point and 17-7 at the half, but Bryant's half time speech ("Men, we've got Tennessee right where we want them!") hit its mark, and Alabama went on to win not only that game by a score of 27-17, but every game of that season on its way to a second consecutive national championship.[vi]
And just for good measure, Alabama won two more straight against Tennessee.
Okay, now I want to puke. Happy?
Quit Ruining Our Coaches! 1986-1994
In 1982, Tennessee, under Johnny Majors, finally broke ‘Bama's winning streak. Tennessee fans were understandably euphoric, and the Vols went on to win three more games against Alabama in 1983, 1984, and 1985. This streak most certainly had absolutely nothing at all to do with the coincidental fact that Bryant might have possibly retired or something after the 1982 season. Nope.
Then in 1986, y'all kicked off another seven game winning streak against us. What in the world was Alabama's pre-game meal from 1986 to 1989? Those Tide teams stormed out of the gates to insurmountable leads before our guys were even finished lacing their cleats.
Alabama scored 21 points in the first quarter in both 1986 and 1987. The 56 points scored against the Vols in '86 was the highest point total allowed by Tennessee since 1893, so thanks for that. In '87, the Crimson Tide held the Volunteers to 51 yards rushing and prompted Majors to call the first night game of the series "a horror show."[vii]
Like any good villainous monster, the Tide showed not a shred of compassion, not even in 1988 when an 0-5 start to the season had Vol fans wearing sacks over their heads and a radio personalty threatening to stay perched on a billboard platform until the team won a game.[viii]
By the end of this mournful stretch for Vol fans, we'd lost ourselves another coach. Yes, Alabama had antagonized Vol fans into running off Bill Battle for Johnny Majors in 1977, and with its second streak, had provoked fans to replace Majors with Phillip Fulmer.
I hope you enjoyed that because now it's our turn.
[i] Ibid., pp. 224-25.
[ii] Ibid., pp. 224-38.
[iii] Ibid., p. 239.
[iv] Ibid., p. 260.
[v] Ibid., p. 269.
[vi] Ibid., p, 282.
[vii] Ibid., pp. 320-27.
[viii] Ibid., p. 328.
Coming tomorrow: Why don't we try that, yes we know your medicine tastes bad, and a new kind of streak.