Other than anything that happened in 1998, the finest moment of Phillip Fulmer's career came on October 14, 1995. Two decades later, that night in Birmingham still shines brightly for all who witnessed it.
For Fulmer, it represented a new beginning. Johnny Majors, who did so much good for this university and had his own streak-busting moment in 1982 en route to a streak-building run through 1985, ended his career losing his final seven tries against the Tide. The last few were especially painful: the lone blemish in the Vols' 11-1 campaign in 1989, a 9-6 nightmare in 1990, and a near miss against the eventual national champions in 1992. Fulmer took over, immediately tied the Tide, lost 17-13 with a freshman playing quarterback the following year, and then was the architect of a 41-14 beat down in 1995.
That freshman quarterback was a sophomore on this night. If we're watching the end of Peyton Manning's nationally televised football career right now, this night was in so many ways its beginning. It wasn't just the numbers (20 of 29 for 301 yards), it was the moments. Twenty years later, John Ward's voice still rings in our ears, from play number one to nobody even knowing who had the ball. (Seriously, you take whatever free time you can spare today and click that link. Nothing better.) This was the night, for the football world at large, Peyton Manning took the first step in becoming Peyton Manning.
For Alabama, this game was a sign of what was to come. The Tide, champions in 1992 and winners of 12 games in 1994, were on their last legs as a nationally elite team, and on this night the Vols took them out from underneath them. Tennessee would beat another Top 15 Alabama team the following year in Knoxville, and when Gene Stallings left at the end of the season the Tide would spend most of the next decade wandering in the wilderness, something Vol fans know full well.
I was a freshman in high school. The last time Tennessee had beaten Alabama I was four years old, my only memories of it what my Dad would show me for years to come on the Vol Network's "The Sweet Taste of Sugar" VHS tape. For me, this was the first time I saw it for myself. And it remains, for me and so many of us, the best night in the history of this rivalry and one of the best for all of Tennessee Football.
20 years later, here's hoping for another night like this.