In the immediate aftermath of a game like yesterday's, we're quick to try to place it among recent and historical greats. To me it immediately stands as the biggest win since at least Lane Kiffin's Vols trounced Georgia in 2009. And because of the Kiffin factor, that game just doesn't stand the test of time. So unless Team 119 just goes in the toilet and this season ends up being one to forget, I think we can say what happened yesterday was Tennessee's biggest win since your choice of 2007's four overtime win at Kentucky to win the East or another Georgia special in a 35-14 win over the eventual #2 Dawgs that same year.
But this one will also find its way to the all-time comeback list; the 2015 Vols have now given up the largest lead in Neyland Stadium history and fought their way back to win from the second-largest deficit in Neyland Stadium history. Where does yesterday rank on the comeback list?
In the summer of 2011 we ranked Tennessee's greatest comebacks since 1990. The undisputed champion is The Miracle at South Bend, when the Vols were down 31-7 in the final seconds of the second quarter with Notre Dame lined up to make it 34-7 before the Vols blocked the kick and ran it back for six ("Floyd Miley can fly!") en route to a 35-34 win.
The current number two, in our minds, is The Rally at Death Valley from 2005. It never ranks as high on the all-time win list - I would consider what happened yesterday a bigger win than that one at the moment because the '05 Vols ultimately couldn't make anything of it - but in degree of difficulty it will always be at or near the top of the list. The Ballad of Rick Clausen led the Vols from down 21-0 midway through the third quarter to a 30-27 overtime win. Because the game was on the road, the lead was held longer, and the quarterback change, I think this game is safely above yesterday's win on the comeback list.
On our list four years ago we next ranked the game some don't even remember was a comeback: what ended with Clint Stoerner's stumble and fumble in 1998 started with a 21-3 Arkansas lead late in the second quarter. The lead was a little smaller, but the moment so much bigger I would still consider that game above yesterday on the list.
But from there, I think you can make a case that both yesterday's win and last year's furious finish at South Carolina go next on the list.
They are two completely different games; Tennessee was down 14 points with less than five minutes to play in Columbia, while the Vols cut Georgia's lead from 21 to 7 in 37 seconds before halftime. Still, yesterday's game felt more like a comeback mostly because of the overall narrative of the season to that point. The narrative in Columbia before, during, and after the Vols came back was all about Josh Dobbs. Yesterday felt more like rising from the ashes.
So, one man's opinion would go like this:
- 1991 Tennessee 35 Notre Dame 34 (down 24 2Q)
- 2005 Tennessee 30 LSU 27 (OT) (down 21 3Q)
- 1998 Tennessee 28 Arkansas 24 (down 18 2Q)
- 2015 Tennessee 38 Georgia 31 (down 21 2Q)
- 2014 Tennessee 45 South Carolina 42 (OT) (down 14 4Q)
- 2001 Tennessee 38 Kentucky 35 (down 21 2Q)
- 1990 Tennessee 23 Virginia 22 (Sugar Bowl) (down 16 3Q)
- 2007 Tennessee 25 Vanderbilt 24 (down 15 4Q)
- 2006 Tennessee 51 Georgia 33 (down 17 2Q)
- 1995 Tennessee 34 Kentucky 31 (down 15 3Q)