Georgia and Tennessee meet in Knoxville Saturday in a huge SEC East matchup. Since the SEC split into divisions in 1992, the two have played every year. Even though the two are two of the closest together in terms of geography, they were part of each other's 'rotating conference schedule' from 1972 to 1991. The two did play home and home in 1968 and 1969 with the '68 meeting being the first between the two since 1937.
Even though Knoxville and Athens are connected by US 441, the 1968 was the first game between the two since 1937
The 1968 game had a little bit of everything.The reigning SEC champion vs the eventual SEC champion, National Television, two of the brightest and best head coaches, and an artificial surface, the first in the SEC and one that almost derailed the much anticipated season opener between these two for the first time in the "modern era."
Tennessee AD Bob Woodruff had become frustrated at how badly the playing surface at Neyland Stadium (Shields-Watkins Field) would be in November of each year.Having installed a 'Tartan' basketball court at Stokely Athletics Center and their outdoor track from 3M.A football surface was the next course of action.Tennessee paid a $1,000 in 1965 for a 'test strip' and conducted "exhaustive tests." And, in early June of 1968 the process began in ripping up the natural grass and installing Tartan Turf for the season opener vs Georgia and a nationally televised audience.(The joke around Knoxville was UT was changing its colors from orange and white to plaid.)
3M's competitor Monsanto, featured its 'Astro Turf' as a wave of the future in football stadiums.Several SEC teams would use Astroturf in time for years. Only in-state rival Vanderbilt actually used 'Tartan Turf' which was put down in 1970
The only problem was Woodruff nor anyone else from Tennessee let Georgia AD Joel Eaves know of UT's intentions at the SEC's Spring Meetings in May. In fact the Vols notified Georgia and Eaves of their intentions via telegram on June 17th. (Oddly enough, future UT coach Derek Dooley and Georgia head coach Vince's son was born the prior week.)
Having played Houston in the Astrodome the prior year and being an Auburn grad, Eaves was none to happy and hinted at a cancellation."This Tartan Turf may or may not be a grand product,"said Eaves."I just don't like the idea of our players being used as guinea pigs in such an important game.Tennessee has a good football team and it doesn't need any extra advantages."
Tennessee and Georgia both had good football teams. The Vols had won the SEC 1967 finishing 2nd in both polls while the Bulldogs had shared the SEC title with Alabama in 1966. Georgia had finished the 1967 season 7-3 with a Liberty Bowl loss to NC State, 14-7 who was led by future Georgia head coach Jim Donnan.
Georgia ended the 1967 with a loss to NC State and Jim Donnan in the Liberty Bowl in Memphis.
As for the Tartan surface itself,it was a rather quick process. The cost was $200,000 and required about two months to install. There were several steps involved.The first was to dig up everything and lay a foot of compacted soil.On top of that, six inches of gravel or four inches of crushed rock were added. Then 1-1/2" of asphaltic concrete binder were added as well as another inch of fine-texture asphalt. Finally, the inch thick Tartan was installed with the bottom half inch being rubber and plastic and the top half grasslike nylon fibers.
Georgia continued its protest and consideration of cancelling the game for a month but then relented.A statement signed by both Eaves and Vince Dooley said,"from a strictly legal standpoint, we know there are serious questions as to the validity of the contract. However we do not desire a legal controversy between the two institutions and have decided not to pursue the matter further."
Georgia played on actual 'Astro-Turf' the prior year in the Astrodome losing to Houston and Paul Gipson (46), the SEC's original "Sam Cunningham", 15-14.
So the game was on as scheduled. And that game was scheduled to 'kickoff' ABC's college football season.The game was to played on September 14th, a week before most college games as well as all other SEC games.(This caused a mini-ripple effect in the SEC with the Tennessee-Auburn game normally played in September moved to November and Auburn and Mississippi State playing in September instead of November.The Tigers didn't want to play a Vol team with a big game under its belt . Mississippi State,who had gone 1-9 and scoring 49 points all of 1967, said "we get it.")
The game would feature two of the game's brightest stars. Both Doug Dickey and Vince Dooley were hired at their respective schools in 1964 and had been stars at their SEC alma maters, Dickey at Florida and Dooley at Auburn in the early 1950's.
Dickey's start at UT was a little rocky and tragic. In 1964, Dickey junked the Vols' famed "Single Wing" which had become outdated and had cost Tennessee a key instate recruit, noneother than Steve Spurrier.After a 4-5-1 season which ended with a loss to Vanderbilt,the Vols got in high gear in 1965 with a top ten finish which included a 7-7 tie in Birmingham vs Alabama and a late season win over Pacific 8 champion and eventual Rose Bowl winner,UCLA. Sadly though, days after returning to Knoxville after the emotional Alabama game, three Tennessee assistant coaches were killed in a wreck at a train crossing on the way to work one morning.
Days after a thrilling 7-7 tie vs Alabama in Birmingham, three UT assistant coaches were killed in a wreck at a train crossing.One of the coaches was Bill Majors, one of Johnny's brothers of Tennessee's famed Majors family
1966 saw a consecutive bowl win and top ten finish. The Vols finished 8-3 with the three losses by 3 to top ten Georgia Tech, an 11-10 loss to unbeaten Alabama and a close loss to top 20 Ole Miss.The 1967 Vols finished 9-2 losing their season opener in Los Angeles to UCLA and eventual Heisman winner Gary Beban, 20-16 and to Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, 26-24. Along the way Tennessee won its first SEC title since 1956 and finished #2 in both polls.
Dooley's start was just as rocky losing his first game in 1964 soundly to Alabama, 31-3.After starting 2-2-1, Georgia went on to upset #9 Florida and Georgia Tech losing only to Dooley's old coach Shug Jordan and Auburn,14-7. The strong finish was enough to get the Bulldogs an invitation to the Sun Bowl.While one of the older bowls,the Sun was making a move to invite bigger schools to getting "Georgia" was a plum. Georgia downed Texas Tech and future Green Bay Packer bonus baby, Donny Anderson (the 'old yeller' to Paul Hornung's 'Golden Boy') 7-0. Interestingly as for the 1964 season and Green Bay Packers, in the '64 preseason Dooley had Georgia's block "G" on their helmets changed to the 'forward looking' "G" that the team still has as its logo. With its similar design to the Packers' "G", AD Eaves received permission and the rest is history.
Sporting the new "G" , Georgia won the 1964 Sun Bowl, 7-0 over Texas Tech and Donny Anderson (44) in Dooley's first year
The 1965 Georgia squad roared out to a 4-0 mark and #4 ranking with a controversial win over Alabama and a win in Ann Arbor vs defending Rose Bowl champion Michigan, 15-7. But Georgia lost its next two games to top 10 Florida State and Kentucky and finished 6-4 with a win in Atlanta vs Georgia Tech.
In 1966, Georgia put it all together going 9-1 with the lone loss a 7-6 loss to Miami (Fla) in a Friday night game in the Orange Bowl. In addition to sharing the SEC title with Alabama, the Bulldogs defeated the two participants that played in the Orange Bowl game, Florida and Georgia Tech-- both ranked in the top 10 win the Bulldogs downed them.Georgia then thumped SWC champion SMU, 24-9 in the Cotton Bowl on New Year's Eve. As part of the 'Big Four' at the time, the Sugar,Cotton,Orange and Rose Bowls all played on New Year's Day --except win New Year's fell on Sunday as it did in 1967.Normally the bowl(s) would move to Monday.However in this case, not only was the Cotton Bowl the home of the SMU Mustangs,it was the home of the Dallas Cowboys who would host the Green Bay Packers the following day (New Year's) for the 1966 NFL Championship.
The Cotton Bowl with Georgia vs SMU was played on New Year's Eve giving way to the 1966 NFL Championship on the same field the following day. Green Bay downed Dallas, 34-27 for what would be the second of three consectutive NFL titles.
The 1967 Georgia edition was again rugged going 7-3. They rose to #3 in the polls before losing in Jackson to Ole Miss, 29-20.Two back to back one point losses, 15-14 at Houston and 17-16 in Jacksonville vs Florida knocked the Bulldogs out of the polls. But satisfying wins vs Auburn and Georgia Tech propelled Georgia to Memphis to face NC State. NC State had been one of 1967's big surprises rising as high as #3 in the nation before late losses brought them back to Earth.The Pack and future Georgia coach Jim Donnan won, 14-7.
The 1968 SEC season started with Florida as a slight favorite to win the SEC Title with Tennessee,Georgia,Alabama and LSU also receiving consideration. Tennessee started the season ranked #9 with Georgia in the "others receiving votes."Both the Vols and Bulldogs were led by strong defenses with All-SEC and All-Americans featured by both teams. For this Georgia-Tennessee matchup the Vols seemed to have a slight advantage at quarterback.Bubba Wyche, a senior from Atlanta, had started two games in 1967 when Dewey Warren was injured leading the Vols to wins over Alabama and Georgia Tech.Dooley waited until the week of the game to choose Donnie Hampton over Mike Cavan.
Atlanta native Bubba Wyche (Sam of Bengals fame's little brother) would direct the 1968 Tennessee Volunteers
After arriving in Knoxville the day before the game, as promised, the Bulldogs tried on the specially designed shoes for the new playing surface that Tennessee had provided for them free of charge.During a brief practice on the field that Friday, Dooley even joked "where are the ashtrays?" in reference to the 'carpet.' Actually,that was a valid question. On gameday Tennessee officials placed sandboxes along the field for anyone who smoked to extinguish their cigarettes and not cause burn marks on the playing surface.
Not only would the game have numerous All-Star players, the program featured Tennessee cheerleader Jeannie Gilbert,the 1968 "Miss Cheerleader"
Whether is was nerves, a record crowd of the new playing surface, the first half was anything but a classic. Tennessee recovered seven fumbles in the first half, four of Georgia's and three of their own. Team captain Dick Williams recovered a bad handoff exchange deep in Georgia territory in the second quarter. Five plays later Tennessee tailback Mike Jones dove over a pyramid of players and the Vols took a 7-0 lead into halftime.(Jones was playing offense for the first time after having played in the secondary his sophomore year.Richard Pickens,who had over 600 yards rushing in '67, was in Mexico City for the 1968 Olympics and would join the squad later in the season.)
Georgia's Ronnie Huggins (43) and one of the more colorful names in SEC history, Happy Dicks (57) bring down Wyche during the classic 1968 Georgia-Tennessee game on Tartan Turf
While many dignitaries including Tennessee governor Buford Ellington, Tennessee senator Albert Gore Sr, various congressmen and even Goodyear chairman Russ De Young (the Goodyear blimp was at the game) were at the game as well as the 6,000 more from 1967 in the new East upper deck, ABC's television audience increased dramatically at halftime. NBC's 'Game of the Week ' concluded with Detroit's Denny McClain winning his remarkable 30th win of the season over Oakland moving Detroit closer to winning the American League pennant (1968 would be the last year without divisional play within each league.). McClain became the first MLB pitcher since Dizzy Dean to win 30 games in a season.Dean, who was on hand, last accomplished the feat in 1934.
The TV audience for the Georgia-Tennessee game increased after the conclusion of NBC's Oakland-Detroit game which saw Denny McClain win his 30th game. McClain would go 31-6 winning the AL Cy Young and MVP award
The game plodded along until middle of the third quarter .Then it got good until the end -- and then some.Georgia's Jim McCullough put Georgia on the board with a 40 yard field goal. After Tennessee's next possession Herman Weaver boomed a punt 57 yards through the air into the arms of Georgia safety Jake Scott. Scott ran around a little letting his blockers take out some potential tacklers and he was gone. 90 yards down the sidelines later Scott was in the endzone.After Scott caught his breath and held for McCullough's conversion,Georgia was ahead 10-7.
Jake Scott ,who would win two Super Bowls with Miami, flies 90 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter to put Georgia ahead
Tennessee's offense went cold and midway in the fourth, Weaver boomed another punt this time downed inside the 5. Having moved Georgia back to the one, Tennessee's Steve Kiner broke through and sacked Hampton attempting to pass in the end zone for a safety.Now Georgia led 10-9. After being unable to move the ball again against a tough Georgia defense led by Bill Stanfill, also a future Super Bowl Dolphin and Billy Payne, who spearheaded Atlanta's 1996 Olympic bid and now chairman of Augusta National, the Vols punted (13 times for the game as Weaver averaged 45 yards per punt) again giving Georgia a first down on their own 20.On first down Hampton handed off to Bruce Kemp on a basic off-tackle play. Kemp broke a tackle just past the line of scrimmage and was off to the races. Kemp's 80 yard run and McCullough's extra point gave Georgia a 17-9 lead with time winding down.
Tennessee had 2:41 left to march 80 yards and hopefully tie the game at 17. Wyche was only 9 of 26 passing at that point but he showed resilience. But after a short run and two short completions, Tennessee faced fourth and three at the 27. With under 2:00 left UT had to go for it. Wyche found Lester McClain, a sophomore from Nashville, open for a huge 14 yard gain and first down.McClain wasn't the typical "sophomore from Nashville" playing for the big state university. McClain was Tennessee's first black football player (and first black athlete). As a sign of the times, his performance in the game in newspapers and Sports Illustrated referenced him being Tennessee's first 'Negro' athlete.However, when McClain secured the pass and was knocked out of bounds at the 41 with a first down Neyland exploded in excitement.At that time McClain was orange and that was all that mattered.
Lester McClain, Tennessee's first black athlete, made a huge fourth down catch on the Vols' tying drive vs Georgia
Now Wyche seemed to be in rhythm. He quickly completed three more passes and Tennessee was down to the Georgia four yard line. But then Georgia, behind Stanfill and Payne,rose up and in two plays had knocked Wyche and the Vols back to the 21. Only :04 was left in the game.Wyche called for a post-pattern pass for Split End Gary Kreis. While breaking the huddle, Wyche turned to Kreis and said,"Do or die.You better get it,Gary."
Augusta National Chairman Billy Payne was in on two sacks near the end of the game before Wyche found his own "Amen Corner."
Kreis, called "HighPockets" by his teammates,had dropped three passes earlier in the game.As he crossed over from the right side to left Wyche threw to the goal line. Kreis grabbed it at the one, was hit, bobbled it, fell backwards, landed in the end zone, bobbled and caught it once again. Touchdown, Tennessee. Georgia still led 17-15 with :00 on the clock.
Gary "High Pockets" Kreis caught the TD after time had expired to enable Tennessee to tie Georgia after the two point conversion
Again, Wyche went with a pass for the two. This time Ken DeLong caught a pass on the one,turned and fell into the end zone for the score as fans soon covered the field as if Tennessee had won. It was indeed a tie, 17-17.(After the game, replays the following day indicated that perhaps Kreis had indeed dropped the ball which should have nullified the touchdown and ended the game in a Georgia win.Still, there was nothing conclusive and replay was 37 years away.)
Georgia would go on to win the 1968 SEC title which included a 51-0 win over pre-season choice Florida in the rain.The Bulldogs' only other blemish was a 10-10 tie vs Houston in Athens.This time it was Georgia scoring at the end with McCullough kicking a 38 yard field goal with :12 left. (The same Cougars defeated Tulsa, 100-6 three weeks later.Larry Gatlin, better known as a country singer with his brothers, scored on a touchdown pass against coach's orders to go up 93-6.) While the Tennessee tie felt like a loss,this one felt like a win. The 8-0-2 Bulldogs lost to Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl.
Tennessee finished 2nd in the SEC losing only to Auburn in Birmingham, 28-14 in a day night double header following the LSU-Alabama game.The night game vs Auburn was UT's second in 1968 after a 52-0 win vs Rice in Houston. Night games were rare for the Vols having only played 6 in their history and four having come in the 1967 and 1968 seasons. Neyland Stadium wouldn't install lights until the 1972 season. Tennessee took an 8-1-1 record to Dallas where they lost to Texas in the Cotton Bowl, 36-13.
But the season opener was a classic that is still recalled to this day.