On Saturday, the 1967 national championship team will be honored at Neyland Stadium. In honor of this event, I wanted to take a look back at one of Tennessee’s six and most intriguing national title teams.
To some Tennessee fans, they might remember former head coach and Athletic Director Doug Dickey as the guy who left Knoxville for his alma mater and conference rival Florida in 1969. But Dickey was more than that. During his tenure he instituted some of Tennessee’s most beloved and famous traditions such as the checkerboard end zones, the power ‘T’ decal on the helmets, and running through the Pride of the Southland Band’s ‘T’ formation before football games. And in 1967, he led the Vols to their fifth national championship.
While the ’67 team may pale in comparison to any of the 3 title teams General Neyland coached, or the ’98 team of destiny that finished 12-0, Dickey’s squad overcame an 0-1 start after a 16-20 loss at 8th ranked UCLA to go undefeated down the stretch in the regular season and winning the program’s 7th SEC championship.
Vols Upset Alabama in Birmingham
Of their 9 wins that season, perhaps none was bigger than a late October match up with Bear Bryant and 6th ranked Alabama at Legion Field. Alabama was riding what was at the time the longest winning streak in college football history. But this autumn day in the Deep South belonged to the Big Orange.
Starting QB Dewy Warren went down with an injury against Georgia Tech the week before, prompting Dickey to give Bubba Wyche the start versus Alabama. Although Wyche was able to lead the Vols to a win over Georgia Tech after Warren’s injury, no one gave him a whole lot of hope versus Alabama’s defense. To add to the pressure of starting on the road against a top 10 team, he would be playing in front of a record crowd of 72,000 which was at the time the most folks to ever watch a Tennessee-Alabama game in person.
If Wyche was bothered about being thrown into the starting role against their biggest rival, he didn’t show it. Behind his arm, the legs of tailback and Alabama native Richmond Flowers, Jr, and a defense that would not relent, Dickey’s Vols marched into Birmingham and did something that not many teams could do back then: beat the mighty Crimson Tide in their own backyard.
So big was the 24-13 win that Sports Illustrated featured Vol defensive back Jim Weatherford breaking up a pass on an Alabama receiver on the cover of their October 30th issue. No doubt the win propelled the Vols as they continued to gain national attention. This would serve them well by season’s end.
1967 National Champions
This team played in a different era of college football than we know today. Tennessee is just one of a few other programs that officially recognize themselves as national champions from that 1967 season. Instead of a single game deciding who would be crowned the kings of college football, it was up to the voters of several media outlets to vote the champion prior to the bowl games. While USC and Oklahoma were voted as the top ranked team in some of the postseason polls, there were voters that took into account Tennessee’s success against a tough schedule. The publication Litkenhous, which specialized in sports rankings named the Vols the national champions of the 1967 season.
The Orange Bowl
Tennessee went through the rest of the 1967 campaign without any close calls, proving they were certainly among the nation’s most dominant teams, especially with a 6-0 mark in SEC play and a conference crown to show for it. This set up a showdown with Oklahoma out of the Big Eight Conference in the Orange Bowl on New Year’s Day.
The Sooners got out of the gates early, scoring three first half touchdowns to lead 2nd ranked Tennessee, 19-0 at halftime. The deficit certainly didn’t discourage the Vols as they stormed back in the second half, scoring 14 unanswered in the 3rd quarter. Jimmy Glover’s pick six cut Oklahoma’s lead, 19-7. Charles Fulton added another touchdown to make it 19-14.
In the fourth quarter, Oklahoma started to pull away again when Tennessee threw a costly interception returned for a touchdown to put the Sooners up 26-14. But these Vols were not going to be put away that easy. Dewey Warren came back and rushed for a touchdown, while Karl Kremser tacked on a 26 yard field goal to put Tennessee within two with only minutes to go.
Oklahoma, nursing a two-point lead with a 1:54 on the clock, faced a 4th down on their own side of the field. Instead of going for the punt and relying on the defense to make a stop the, they decided to ice the game by going for it. Tennessee’s defense stuffed them, giving the Vols the ball and a chance for the win. Kremser would take the field again, this time for a 43 yard attempt to win the game. His kick drifted wide right, giving Oklahoma the 26-24 win in what would become known as one of the greatest Orange Bowl games ever played.
If you were lucky enough to remember seeing this team play in person, you probably remember a team full of grit and tough play makers who navigated a difficult schedule that came just short of being the named the undisputed #1 team in the country that season. If you weren’t around, like many of us, and you happen to find yourself in Neyland Stadium this Saturday I hope you’ll give these guys a well deserved standing ovation for the part they played in this storied and illustrious program.