10 Times the Tennessee vs Alabama Game Meant the Most to Both the Vols and the Tide
Tennessee vs Alabama carries a ton of magnitude for this weekend. Here are 10 other games between the Volunteers and Crimson Tide that meant a lot.
The Tennessee vs Alabama rivalry goes all the way back to 1901, and the schools have played each other 98 times.
Unfortunately, after the SEC split into two divisions, the Third Saturday in October lost a bit of this luster. On top of that, the Vols and Tide have been good at different times, so they’ve never really had the chance to face each other since then in a very meaningful match-up.
Heck, they’re the two winningest programs in SEC history, play in opposite divisions, and still have never met each other in the SEC Championship game.
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That’s what makes this weekend’s game so exciting. Both teams are facing each other ranked in the Top 10 for the first time since 1996. And both enter this game in complete control of their own destiny to win the SEC Championship and get to the College Football Playoff.
Sure, Tennessee would like to have been undefeated going into this game, but the Vols are still in great shape to accomplish everything they want to accomplish.
And it will come down to this game at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, as Butch Jones’s Vols have a great chance to knock off the No. 1 team in the country.
Appreciating the fact that the Tennessee vs Alabama series means something once again, let’s go back in time for a minute and take a look at other times the rivalry game was played at a level of this magnitude. Here are the 10 Tennessee vs Alabama games that meant the most to both teams up to this point.
10. 1992: Alabama 17 Tennessee 10
This is obviously an infamous year for Tennessee football history. It’s the year they forced out a Vols legend in Johnny Majors.
And this loss was the first major domino in his fall.
Going into this game, the Tide were undefeated and ranked No. 4 in the country. Tennessee had started the year 5-0 with wins over the Florida Gators and Georgia Bulldogs, but the week before the Tide they had suffered a one-point loss at home to the Arkansas Razorbacks.
That put them in a position going into the game much like the position they’re in now. Sure, they had a loss. But it was to a non-divisional opponent, so they had complete control of their own destiny to do what they wanted to do.
The only problem was that loss to Arkansas was unacceptable given how bad that team was. So they had to make up for it with a win here.
And in a defensive struggle that should have proven Heath Shuler wasn’t cut out for the NFL, Gene Stallings’s Tide shut down the Tennessee football offense. They could not move the ball all day and ended up losing the game 17-10. It was Alabama’s seventh straight win in the Tennessee vs Alabama series at the time.
The loss ruined any national title hopes and put their SEC title hopes in jeopardy.
Those hopes were dashed the next week with a loss to the South Carolina Gamecocks, and that also ended Majors’s career.
9. 1995: Tennessee 41 Alabama 14
This remains one of the greatest wins for Vols fans in Tennessee football history. But we forget about the magnitude going into this game at the time.
Tennessee had only suffered one loss to the Florida Gators and was very much in the national picture. Meanwhile, Alabama had suffered one loss to the Arkansas Razorbacks but fought their way back into the picture as well.
So entering this game, the Vols were on the road and ranked No. 6. The Tide were ranked No. 12. The loser would be knocked out of their divisional race.
Peyton Manning and Joey Kent set the tone early with a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage. They never looked back, jumping out to a 21-0 lead and winning the game 41-14. This game is on here because of its huge magnitude in more ways than one.
Not only did it end the Vols’ non-winning streak in the Tennessee vs Alabama series that existed at the time. It also is the game that set them in motion for the greatest four-year run in school history from 1995 to 1998.
It also put Peyton Manning on the national map. So this game meant a huge deal in terms of program significance on top of the magnitude it had for that year alone.
They may not have won the East or the national title that year, but they did win out and finish 11-1 and ranked No. 3 in the country.
8. 1985: Tennessee 16 Alabama 14
Tennessee and Alabama had both come off a loss the week before, the Vols to the Florida Gators and the Tide to the Penn State Nittany Lions. As a result, neither team was in the Top 10. However, they were both still in the Top 20.
Meanwhile, with the Vols at 2-1-1 playing one of the nation’s most difficult schedules and the Tide at 4-1 while the Gators were on probation, this game would determine who is in the driver’s seat to win the SEC Championship.
If the Vols won, they would be in clear control after having already beaten the Auburn Tigers.
Unfortunately, this looked like it would be a disastrous game for the Vols. Tony Robinson went down with a season-ending injury early in the game, and that would make things a heck of a lot tougher against a defensive juggernaut like Alabama.
However, entering midway through the year as a senior, Darryl Dickey began to make a legendary name for himself. He started by not making many mistakes in this game while allowing the defense to dominate.
Alabama missed a field goal as time expired to win the game, and the Vols were in firm control of the SEC in a season that would signal their return to prominence. It was also their fourth straight win in the Tennessee vs Alabama series at the time.
Of course, they finished off the season 9-1-2 with a Sugar Bowl victory over the Miami Hurricanes in one of the most beloved seasons in school history.
7. 1999: Tennessee 21 Alabama 7
This year, there was a lot of irony in the Tennessee vs Alabama series. The Vols entered this game 4-1 but suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Florida Gators. The Tide, meanwhile, suffered a fluke loss to Louisiana Tech early in the year but rebound by helping the Vols with a huge overtime win over the Gators in The Swamp.
So both teams were in the national championship picture going into this game. And in Shaun Alexander’s senior year, there was reason to believe that Mike DuBose’s Tide would be back to prominence and that the loss to Louisiana Tech was a fluke.
That made this a huge game.
And it became the highlight win of the year for the Vols. Despite the fact that Alabama would go on to win the SEC Championship, Tennessee dominated them in this game from start to finish. It was Tee Martin’s final start against a school from his home state.
And he didn’t let up with two touchdowns despite being hurt. He carried the Vols to a 21-7 victory after falling behind 7-0.
Long-term, this win didn’t mean as much since Tennessee still lost to the Arkansas Razorbacks, but it was a huge win at the time. Given the fact that it was their fifth straight win in the Tennessee vs Alabama series, the win was all the more exciting.
6. 1972: Alabama 17 Tennessee 10
Going into this game, the Vols had only one fluke loss to the Auburn Tigers on the road. However, the week before this game, Auburn had lost to the LSU Tigers, putting the Vols back in the SEC Championship race.
Meanwhile, Bear Bryant’s Alabama Crimson Tide were undefeated and heading into Knoxville. So with Tennessee ranked No. 10 and Alabama ranked No. 3, this would be a huge opportunity for the Vols. The same would hold true for Alabama, who needed this win.
Bryant schemed his defense perfectly for Condredge Holloway and the Vols’ offense, and much like what Gene Stallings would do to Heath Shuler 20 years later, the Vols could not generate any yards.
Still, the Vols had a 10-3 lead with 2:39 left in the game. So it looked like they were going to pull out an epic win.
But Alabama scored to tie it, and on the very next position, Holloway fumbled. That fumble put them on the Tennessee 17-yard line with the game tied at 10. And Terry Davis ran it in to give the Tide a 17-10 victory.
Tennessee would still finish 10-2 and ranked in the Top 10 at the end of the year, but they blew a huge chance to do something more with this game. Little did they know that this would only be the third loss in a 12-game losing streak in the Tennessee vs Alabama series at the time.
5. 1996: Tennessee 20 Alabama 13
Unfortunately, this win did not have much of an impact in the long-term prospect of this season, but it seemed like it would at the time. The Tide entered the game 7-0 under Gene Stallings, while the Vols were 4-1 with a heartbreaking loss to the Florida Gators.
Both teams were ranked in the Top 10 at the time. For Alabama, a win puts them in the national championship picture. For Tennessee, a win keeps them alive in that same picture.
Oh, and the Vols were looking for what would be their second straight win in the Tennessee vs Alabama series at the time.
So Neyland Stadium was rocking.
Alabama jumped out to a 13-0 lead, though, selling out to stop Tennessee from running the football with Jay Graham. That’s when Peyton Manning decided to make them pay.
Late in the game, he hit Joey Kent for a quick touchdown pass to cut the game to 13-6. Then, he later mounted a long drive that ended with a game-tying touchdown.
And with a 13-13 score, the Vols scored on one play the next time they got the ball back: an 80-yard run from Graham to give them a 20-13 lead. After Leonard Little forced a fumble on the next drive, the Vols had a huge win in a Tennessee vs Alabama game that featured two Top 10 teams.
4. 1989: Alabama 47 Tennessee 30
This was one of the rare times in the modern era when both teams entered this game undefeated. They were also both surprising teams to that point.
Alabama had started the year ranked No. 16 under Bill Curry but moved up to No. 10 with a 5-0 start. This would be their first real test. The Vols, meanwhile, began the year unranked after a 5-6 1988 campaign. But a 5-0 start with two quality wins over UCLA and Auburn moved them all the way up to No. 6.
So this was a huge Tennessee vs Alabama game that could determine a national champion and certainly an SEC Champion.
Well, Tennessee was in the midst of a jinxed losing streak to the Tide, and a defense that was dominant all year could not stop the Tide. They gave up 47 points and got dominated all day, losing 47-30 in the process.
Because of the magnitude going in, this game could be No. 1. However, the Vols were saved by an Alabama loss to Auburn late in the year that resulted in a three-way tie for the SEC Championship. And none of the teams won the national title as a result.
So the one thing the loss did was ruin what should have been a national championship season with Tennessee’s talent. But they were fortunate enough for it not to ruin an SEC Championship season.
3. 1930: Alabama 18 Tennessee 6
With a series that dates back to 1901, you’ve got to go back in time to determine the importance of some of these games.
When you talk about a game that did determine a conference and national championship, this is one you point to. We have to go back before the formation of the SEC.
This was the third game in the series after the Tennessee vs Alabama rivalry became an annual event. The Vols had emerged into a dominant program and a Southern Conference Power under Gen. Robert Neyland. But Wallace Wade had done the same at Alabama.
Wade had won three national championships, though, and Neyland was still looking for his first. This year, both teams started the year undefeated. For a point of interest, that was often the case back in these days. So we had to narrow it down to the seasons where the game actually did have a long-term impact.
This was one of those games.
The winner of this game would be the clear winner of the Southern Conference and likely be declared national champions at the end of the year. Alabama got the best of Tennessee with an 18-6 victory. As a result, they finished the year 10-0 and 8-0 in the conference.
Tennessee finished 9-1 and 6-1 in the conference. This sole game made the difference in who won the national championship and Southern Conference championship. That spells a game with huge magnitude.
2. 1967: Tennessee 24 Alabama 13
Doug Dickey had revitalized the Tennessee football program, and going into this year’s version of the Tennessee vs Alabama game, they had lost six straight but were ranked No. 7 in the country. Also, their only loss at the time was a 20-16 heartbreaker on the road to the No. 8 ranked UCLA Bruins.
As a result, Tennessee had nothing to be ashamed of and was in complete control of its SEC Championship goals. Meanwhile, the Tide entered the game 3-0-1. They had a fluke tie with the Florida State Seminoles to open the season, but they seemed to have gotten back on track.
With the SEC suffering through a down year and both Tennessee and Alabama ranked in the Top 10, this game was huge. It would likely determine the SEC Champion, and it would also determine who was eliminated from the national championship picture.
The Vols controlled the game from start to finish, winning 24-13 and ending their losing streak. In the process, behind Dewey Warren, they were the ones who went undefeated in the SEC. This Tennessee vs Alabama game became huge in hindsight as well because it resulted in the Vols being retroactively declared national champions.
That’s why it is No. 2 on this list. It determined a national champion and an SEC Champion. But this final game had the greatest magnitude in the series history.
1. 1945: Alabama 25 Tennessee 7
We move onto another game in the Tennessee vs Alabama series that pretty much determined everything. And with AP rankings now in existence, you could measure the magnitude of this game when it was being played.
Under John Barnhill, filling in for Gen. Robert Neyland, the Vols had proven they could still field a great football program with Top 20 finishes in 1941, 1942, and 1944, while they cancelled the season in 1943 due to World War II.
But this year, the program exploded onto the scene. The week before the Alabama game, they beat No. 18 ranked Chattanooga 30-0. Now, they were traveling to Legion Field to take on a No. 6 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide team in a game that would clearly determine the SEC Champion.
Alabama, unfortunately, dominated Tennessee from start to finish to win the game at home. They would go on to finish the season 10-0 under Frank Thomas and beat the USC Trojans 34-14 in the Rose Bowl.
Although they finished the year ranked No. 2 in the AP, they can call themselves national champions for the year.
Meanwhile, the Vols would finish 8-1 overall and 3-1 in the SEC and would have no leg to stand on in the national championship debate. That made this a huge game and a huge loss in the long run, even if it was a boring game to view.
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