Even though the Tennessee game is known as “The Third Saturday in October,” the game has often been played a different weekend due to scheduling fluctuations, but the rivalry continues to be as fierce as ever.
The first meeting dates all the way back to 1901, and when the game was called due to darkness with the score tied 6-6, spectators rushed the Birmingham field in protest. If anything, it certainly set the tone.
Another notable early game occurred in 1913, which again ran into the problem of darkness, but instead resulted in Alabama’s first night game – sort of. Due to a number of injuries, play lasted past sunset and spectators with automobiles were asked to encircle the Tuscaloosa field and turn on their headlights so it could continue. Alabama held on for a 6-0 victory, marking the seventh straight shutout against the Volunteers.
The rivalry really began to take off in 1928, when Alabama and coach Wallace Wade hosted Tennessee in Tuscaloosa, and was considered a sizable favorite. However, before kickoff, Volunteers coach Robert Neyland introduced himself to Wade, whom he had never met, and supposedly asked that the game be shortened if it got out of hand. Wade was taken aback, but agreed. To give you an idea of what these men were like, Wade had been a cavalry captain in World War I, and Neyland left Tennessee twice, and returned, to serve in the military and eventually retired at the rank of brigadier general.
Tennessee’s Gene McEver returned the opening kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown and the Volunteers managed to pull off the 15-13 upset.
Neyland also may have paid the Crimson Tide its greatest compliment after the 1934 game, which was the only close contest, 13-6, Alabama had en route to a 10-0 record and the national championship.
“You never know what a football player is made of until he plays against Alabama.”
Paul W. “Bear” Bryant had a knack for winning big games as a player and a coach, except when he was an assistant coach for Frank Thomas in 1936, when Alabama had first down at the Tennessee 1 as time ran out of the first half. The scoreless tie cost the Crimson Tide both the Southeastern Conference championship and a bowl appearance.
One of the more memorable games for Bryant as a head coach against Tennessee was in 1966, when the Crimson Tide hoped to win its third straight national championship, but found itself down 10-0 at halftime in Knoxville. Instead of lashing out at his players, Bryant calmly walked around the locker room and patted them on their backs. Although initially confused, it was just what they needed, and Alabama responded by scoring 11 points in the second half to take the lead. Tennessee, in turn, missed a game-winning field goal.
“If he’d kicked it straight, we would have blocked it,” Bryant said.
The 1971 meeting saw one of the greatest comebacks in team history. Down 10-3 with a little more than two minutes remaining, quarterback Terry Davis led a rally with Wilbur Jackson punching in a 2-yard touchdown. On the subsequent possession, defensive end Mike DuBose swatted the ball away from quarterback Condredge Holloway, with defensive end John Mitchell recovering.
A 22-yard run by Davis secured Alabama’s 17-10 victory, and while UT fans left Neyland Stadium in disbelief, the Crimson Tide locker room was full of cigar smoke — a tradition that started Jim Goostree handed out cigars following the Alabama win in 1961.
Nowadays, both teams celebrate wins against the other by enjoying stogies (even though it’s technically an National Collegiate Athletic Association violation), as the game remains an important benchmark for each and every season despite Alabama having won every matchup during the Nick Saban era that began in 2007.