Georgia-Tennessee, one of nation’s most even, hotly-contested college football rivalries renews this Saturday
When it comes to a college football rivalry, it doesn’t get much closer than Georgia versus Tennessee.
Since their first meeting on Nov. 11, 1899, a 5-0 Tennessee win in Knoxville, the two have played 47 times, and going into Saturday’s marquee Southeastern Conference matchup, Tennessee leads the series 23-22-2.
While chances are good the Bulldogs will even up that mark this week, anything can happen in this one, and when it does, it’s often memorable.
Flash back nearly 40 years, to Sept. 6, 1980, the season opener in Neyland Stadium and the unveiling of Herschel Walker. A true freshman who came into the game as the third-string tailback, Walker had been so unimpressive in the preseason that Georgia coach Vince Dooley quietly told confidants he might be nothing more than a fullback.
But in pads under the lights on the banks of the Tennessee River, Walker emerged from the phone booth a changed man. Unlike Superman though, he didn’t leap tall buildings—or defenders—in a single bound. He just plowed over them, as Vols safety Bill Bates can probably still painfully attest after all these years.
Tennessee jumped out 15-0 early, and was up 15-2 late in the third quarter when the legend of Herschel was truly born. Walker took a handoff from quarterback Buck Belue at the UT 16, sprinted through a huge hole to his left and found the 6-foot-1, 213-pound Bates, his future teammate with the Dallas Cowboys, waiting for him in good tackling position at the 9-yard-line. After that, Bates probably didn’t know what hit him as Walker barrel-rolled him all the way into the end zone, evading two other would-be Vol tacklers in the process, to cut the lead to 15-9.
Five minutes later, Walker scored the game winner from 9 yards out, and Georgia had taken a 16-15 win and the first step in a national championship journey.
“Once we put on pads, he was a different player,” Belue said. “When he got in the game in Tennessee in the opener in 1980, we saw a guy we didn’t see in the preseason. He was running over people. We knew we had a competitor. In that Tennessee game, we knew it was going to be a big year for us.”
A few other notable memories from this series include:
The Vols winning all nine games in the 1990s. After they didn’t play in 1990 and 1991, the two teams began playing annually in 1992, and Tennessee won all eight meetings that decade. Coupled with a 1989 victory, that gave the Vols a nine-game winning streak, longest in series history. The Bulldogs’ longest winning streak is five, which they’ve reached twice. They have currently won six of the last eight meetings.
Hobnail Boot Game When Georgia finally broke the nine-game streak with a 26-24 win in Athens in 2001, it prompted one of legendary Bulldog radio announcer Larry Munson’s greatest calls. A 62-yard TD pass with 44 seconds left looked like it sealed the win for Georgia coach Mark Richt in his first meeting with UT, but David Greene brought the Bulldogs back and threw the game winner to Verron Haynes with 6 seconds left. Afterwards, a delirious Munson yelled, “We stepped on their face with a hobnail boot and broke their nose! We just crushed their face!”
Hail Mary Tennessee’s own radio legend, John Ward, had a historic call when Vols QB Joshua Dobbs heaved a 43-yard Hail Mary pass to receiver Jauan Jennings to give the then-undefeated Volunteers a 34–31 win in 2016. After Jennings’ catch, Ward simply but eloquently said, “He grabbed it! Where did he grab it? In the end zone! Pandemonium…reigns!”
Derek The closeness even reached the coaching ranks when Derek Dooley, son of Vince, was named Tennessee head coach in 2010. Unfortunately his time there wasn’t memorable for him or Volunteer fans as he went 15-21 overall, recorded three consecutive losing seasons and amassed the worst record of head coaches with more than two seasons in Tennessee history and the worst record of all Tennessee coaches in SEC play before being fired in 2012.
Amazingly the two teams only played 21 times from 1899 to 1989, but they have certainly made up for lost time since then. H&A
Kickoff time for Tennessee – Georgia is 2:30 pm. CST on CBS
All photos courtesy University of Georgia Athletics
Follow Hall & Arena on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @hallandarena