Tennessee Football’s 10 Most Heartbreaking Losses, 1989-2007 (The Hogs made the list twice!!) Part 1

Septermber 2, 1997 - University of tennessee football Coach Phillip Fulmer announced Monday, Nov, 3, 2008, his plans to step down. Here's Fulmer talks with then UT quarterback Peyton Manning on the sidelines.


Septermber 2, 1997 – University of tennessee football Coach Phillip Fulmer announced Monday, Nov, 3, 2008, his plans to step down. Here’s Fulmer talks with then UT quarterback Peyton Manning on the sidelines.

The hogs made the list twice:

Tennessee Football’s 10 Most Heartbreaking Losses, 1989-2007


(Senior Analyst) on August 12, 2008

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Part one of a two-day piece, where tomorrow we’ll look at something more uplifting…but as the 2008 season closes in, here’s one more look at the past.

You can’t fully appreciate the joy without the heartbreak, and so here’s a painful reminder of what might’ve been: the 10 most heartbreaking losses in the modern era of Tennessee football (we use 1989 as a starting point both because I’m only 26 years old, and because the Vols’ 11-1 SEC Championship season that year served as the modern genesis of the success the Vols have enjoyed in the last two decades).

10. 2002: No. 10 Florida 30 – No. 4 Tennessee 13 (Knoxville)

The worst five minutes of my life.  One year after finally beating Florida in The Swamp and sending Steve Spurrier packing, the Vols looked poised to take the SEC mantle from the Gators.  Florida had been beaten badly by Miami the week before.

As a driving rain fell in Knoxville, the teams were scoreless with under five minutes to play in the first half when the Gators scored on 4th-and-goal from the one-yard line.  From there, Casey Clausen put the ball on the ground three times in four minutes, and a defensive standoff turned into Rex Grossman taking advantage of the moment.

A game that was tied at zero with under five minutes to play in the second quarter became a 24-0 Florida lead at halftime.  The Vols never recovered.

9. 2000: No. 6 Florida 27 – No. 11 Tennessee 23 (Knoxville)

With most of the players from the national championship runs now in the NFL, the Vols started A.J. Suggs at quarterback and were given little chance to win.  But behind Travis Henry’s 175 yards and a defense that didn’t allow a first down until late in the second quarter, Tennessee gave themselves every chance to win.

However, those chances kept turning into field goals instead of touchdowns—five of them on the day—and Florida had life.  When the Vols couldn’t get one first down to ice it late, Florida drove the length of the field as time wound down, and Jabar Gaffney caught/didn’t catch a pass in the end zone to give the Gators the win.

8. 1996: Memphis 21 – No. 6 Tennessee 17 (Memphis)

The one and only time in history the Tigers have beaten the Vols.  Peyton Manning threw for 296 yards but had two interceptions.  Memphis had only 153 yards of offense, but (illegally) ran a kickoff back for a touchdown late in the third quarter to tie the game at 14, and then got the yards they had to have on their final drive.

It’s my understanding that this is still the single greatest event in the history of the Memphis Athletic Department.

7. 1995: No. 4 Florida 62 – No. 8 Tennessee 37 (Gainesville)

The one you absolutely can’t blame on Peyton Manning.  The Vols went to Gainesville and jumped all over Florida, scoring in two plays on the opening drive to begin a run that culminated in a Raymond Austin return of a Danny Wuerffel fumble for a score that put the Vols up 30-14 late in the second quarter.

But the Gators scored before the half to pull closer, Tennessee missed a field goal to open the third quarter, it started raining—and everything went wrong.

Consecutive fumbles by Jay Graham started a Gator run that saw them take the lead in the blink of an eye.  Then they simply kept scoring, putting 41 points up in the second half.  Quite possibly the worst half of football in Tennessee history.

6. 1992: Arkansas 25 – No. 4 Tennessee 24 (Knoxville)

Under interim head coach Phillip Fulmer, the Vols had stunned Georgia and Florida to become the lead horse in the first-ever SEC East race.  Johnny Majors had returned to the sideline by October, where Heath Shuler’s Vols were undefeated and staring down the barrel of a showdown with eventual National Champion Alabama.  Only 1-4 SEC newcomer Arkansas stood in the way.

The Vols held a 24-16 lead with under three minutes to play when Orlando Watters returned a punt 71 yards for a score.  But when Todd Kelly absolutely murdered the Arkansas quarterback on the two-point conversion, all seemed well.

Then Arkansas recovered an onside kick, drove inside the 30, and nailed a 41-yard field goal with :02 left to break the hearts of the Vol nation.  This was the beginning of the end for Johnny Majors.

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