Sitting next to me in the press box, high atop Shields-Watkins Field, is Robert Reese Neyland Jr., D.S.M., Legion of Merit (with Oak Leaf Cluster), Order of the British Empire, Chinese Order of Cloud and Banner, and Brigadier General USA (Ret.). But we are watching the Tennessee-Alabama game and his thoughts are far away from the Burma Road, where he commanded Advanced Section No. 1, SOS, in the CBI theater in 1944. For a quarter of a century (the war years excepted), the surge of 'Bama's Crimson Tide was a major problem to this officer of the Corps of Engineers. Even now that he has retired to the relatively placid post of athletic director his mind remains fixed on the field of play.
Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, Andrew Jackson and Sam Houston were among the first to tread these wilderness trails of the South; but Dan McGugin of Vanderbilt; Wallace Wade of Alabama and Duke; Frank Thomas of Alabama; and Bob Neyland, Texas born, West Point graduated and a Tennessean by adoption were the pioneers of southern football.
Naturally, I am prejudiced, because I played for him, but I believe that of these, Neyland was the greatest. If you doubt me, read his record: 171 wins, 27 losses and 12 ties for a 25-year record, with time out for war and military service. He placed the Volunteers in seven Bowl games, made the Neyland system of play the most respected in football and founded a dynasty of college football coaches unparalleled in modern gridiron history.
CALLING THE ROLL
To name a few of those who are—and in some cases this is a pointed understatement—active today: there's Bobby Dodd, dean of coaches in the Southeastern Conference, now in his 23rd year at Georgia Tech, the last nine as head coach. There's Bowden Wyatt, head coach at Arkansas, selected only last week as the Coach of the Week, who works under another Neyland product, John Barnhill, now the athletic director. There's Murray War-math at Minnesota, who is in his first year of what will be a memorable coaching career for the Golden Gophers. There's DeWitt Weaver out at Texas Tech, whose team last year was the highest-scoring in college football and is well on the way to that distinction again. There's Bob Woodruff at Florida, who stunned Georgia Tech, 13-12. There's Phil Dickens, a pride of the Skyline Conference, at Wyoming. There's Billy Meek, who is doing such a fine job at Kansas State; and of course, Harvey Robinson at Tennessee, who has the unenviable task of filling the General's shoes.
TAKE 'EM AWAY
Assistant coaches are legion—for instance, Red Sanders out at U.C.L.A. has three Neyland products on his fine coaching staff: "Deke" Brackett, Jim Meyers and Bill Barnes. The General has always said that the only trouble is that they all become college coaches instead of high school mentors and are usually attempting to take the best high school prospects rather than send them to Tennessee.
This is the first time that I have had a chance to come to Shields-Watkins Field since I played my last game here in 1931 (some 70 pounds ago), because I have always had my own coaching problems on fall Saturday afternoons. The dim haze of my beloved Great Smokies rears above the clouds in the distance. The native has returned to his kinfolks and the years have dropped away....
The lost games are the best remembered, and the only losing game that I ever played, in four years of college football, was against Wallace Wade's last Alabama team in 1930. This was the team that defeated Washington State 24-0 in the Rose Bowl. Those Red Elephants, as we called them, were awesome. "Flash" Suther, Ebert, Sington, Clemens and Campbell were an all-star cast. Tennessee was in bad shape for the game. Out, because of injuries, were Gene McEver, the greatest back in Tennessee history; two all-Southern ends, Paul Hug and Fritz Brandt; Quinn Decker, a fine fullback. I was playing left tackle, and this is how I became a guard.
The off-tackle power play of Alabama was devastating. My instructions were: get one-and-a-half yards across the line of scrimmage and start a pile-up. That's all, nothing else. Well, the wingback and the right end would wrap me up, and the blocking back and the fullback coming out shoulder to shoulder obliterated Red Clemmer, our neophyte left end, and it seemed to me that at least four men were leading the ball carrier. I never did get to see what happened to Red, because I was too busy trying to live. Come to think of it, I don't ever remember seeing him again.
After the game, which, incidentally, we lost 6-18, we were gathered around the little railroad station at Tuscaloosa waiting for that long ride back to Knoxville. Believe it or not, most of us were crying, because this was the first loss in three years and it hurt (other things, too, were hurting me). Major (then) Neyland walked over to where I was standing on the edge of the wake, trying to make myself as inconspicuous as possible, put his arm around my shoulders and asked: "What happened today, Herman?"
"Major," I replied, "you told me to get a yard and a half across the line of scrimmage and start a pile-up, and that's what I did."
Shaking his head dolefully, he said, "Yes, son, but I didn't tell you to be under all of them." From that day on I was a guard.
But enough of reveries. The hated Crimson Tide have come out on the field. LET'S GO, TENNESSEE !!
Postscript: This was another mighty memorable afternoon. Final score: Tennessee 0, Alabama 27.