Lester Mcclain, I saw him play vs. Ole Miss in 1968 in Jackson, MS

Former player Lester McClain, is honored as the Legend of the Game before the start of the Tennessee Akron game at Neyland Stadium on Saturday. McClain became the first African-American player to wear an orange jersey and first in the SEC to see significant playing time. 

 (AMY SMOTHERMAN BURGESS/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Amy Smotherman Burgess, Knoxville News Sentinel

Former player Lester McClain, is honored as the Legend of the Game before the start of the Tennessee Akron game at Neyland Stadium on Saturday. McClain became the first African-American player to wear an orange jersey and first in the SEC to see significant playing time.

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Vols Highlight Video, assorted time periods

(This video clip above shows Lester Mcclain against Memphis St in 1969.)

Kenny Chesney and former Tennessee Volunteers’ Quarterback Condredge Holloway give you an exclusive look at their new ESPN Documentary – “The Color Orange: The Condredge Holloway Story”.

I got to see Lester Mcclain play in Jackson, MS in 1968 against Ole Miss. I went with my grandfather who was a big Ole Miss fan. My uncle Blythe was there too to see his #3 ranked Vols play.

Lester McClain, who is UT’s first black player (1968) also was a part of it. The quote he gave was very telling and I’ll paraphrase it because I’m not sure of it word for word but: “My daddy was 50 years old when I was born, and his daddy was 50 years old when he was born, my grandfather was born a slave. 50 years isn’t a long time.”

Moving the Chains

Last Word — 08 August 2012
Moving the Chains

By Dan Conaway

Reflections on a game-changing fall day in 1968

Georgia scored again while I was throwing up.

Georgia and I had already done these things several times in the preceding three hours, but like Tennessee, I didn’t think I had anything left to counter this time. Late — very late — in the fourth quarter, our offense had gone ice cold, we were down by 8, and my temperature was red hot, up by 2. The governor, the first Sen. Al Gore, a gaggle of congressmen and even the head tire kicker at Goodyear, whose blimp hovered above, were watching from various swell box seats. Millions were watching on TV, and even ABC’s saccharine Chris Schenkel (this guy makes Jim Nance sound like the grim reaper) thought Uga had this one all wrapped up.

I was watching from the couch in the ATO house tube room, alternating between teeth-rattling chills and wind sprints to the john, all wrapped up in a blanket.

It was the first and only home game I would miss in my four years at the University of Tennessee. It was the first and only home game UT wouldn’t win during those four magic years. It was our first game played on artificial turf, dubbed “Doug’s Rug” for Coach Dickey. It was the very first game and the very first catch for No. 85 in your Tennessee program, a shy sophomore from Nashville named Lester McClain.

It was a remarkable game.

Bubba Wyche (is that a good quarterback name, or what?) was staring at fourth down. Fans poured from Neyland Stadium, resigned to loss, and the clock ran faster than any of our backs had all day. He let the pass go, and Lester McClain pulled it in at the Georgia 48.

Lester McClainFirst and 10, Tennessee. First ever, SEC.

That pass gave us a chance, gave us hope. It changed the game and the way the game is played. Lester McClain is black. Two black players had gone before him at Kentucky, but neither had lettered, since you couldn’t play varsity as a freshman, and their careers were ended by injury and heartbreak. Lester’s roommate his freshman year, also black, didn’t come back his sophomore year. So, with that catch, Lester McClain broke through the varsity football color line in the SEC and moved the chains.

It was an amazing game.

Later in the drive and facing another fourth down, Bubba moved the Vols to the line quickly and fired a touchdown pass to Gary Kreis as the clock rolled up all zeros, and I knocked over a pitcher and fell off the couch. Bubba then hit Ken DeLong for the two-point conversion, and Tennessee tied Georgia as Chris Schenkel and I — and those loyal, hopeful fans still in the stadium — all went insane. I charged to the front porch, blanket flapping and heaves forgotten, and screamed at the throngs headed to their cars, completely unaware of the final result and staring unbelievably at the leaping, ragged frat boy specter before them bearing the improbable news in boxers and blanket.

It was a miraculous game.

From the east upper deck, student seats in my day, the world looks promising. On one side, sheer cliffs rise from a river dotted with boats in a moored parade, and distant blue-green mountains form the backdrop. On the other, the buildings that house the means to be any and everything stand watch over dreams on a hill. Below, a contest unfolds that is no more serious than a game but every bit as serious as things that have gone before and are yet to come.

For more people than any other sport, I think, the beginning of football season is about hope and renewal, a slate wiped clean for whatever’s next, shared in mass mutual anticipation on a huge stage or by just one sick kid on a couch.

1968 was the symbolic year of the tragedy of Martin Luther King in the spring, of Bobby Kennedy in the summer, and of the hope symbolized in one young man catching a ball in the fall.

When Lester McClain caught that fourth-down pass, he wasn’t black or white. He was orange. And he was red, white and blue.

– – –

Dan Conaway graduated from UT Knoxville in 1971 with a B.S. in communications, a major in advertising, a strong like of Smoky Mountain Market cheese dogs and a strong dislike of threedraw plays and a punt. He lives in Memphis and is a communication strategy consultant and freelance writer. Visit him at www.wakesomebodyup.com.

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Archie who

I went to see Tennessee play Ole Miss in Jackson in 1968 and all my Mississippi relatives were coming up to me and saying “Archie Who!!” I didn’t know what they were talking about until the game started. Below is the rest of the story from Sports Illustrated.

November 24, 1969

Answer To A Foolish Question

All week Tennessee fans taunted Ole Miss with cries of ‘Who’s Archie?’ On Saturday Archie Manning showed them

You’d have thought those folks from Tennessee would have known better, being neighbors and all. Shoot, any 10-year-old kid who ever got his button nose past the cover of a history book can tell you it doesn’t take all that much to rile Mississippians. Remember when old Abe got up and started off his inaugural speech by saying cotton underwear itched? Bam: a civil war. And you know how easily upset the traffic cops there get when they see a rich Yankee tourist driving 38 miles an hour in a 45-mile-an-hour speed zone.

So what does Steve Kiner do? Steve Kiner, he’s one of Tennessee‘s All-America linebackers, and one day he’s sitting around jawing with some of the boys about the horses they got playing football at Ole Miss. “Hee-haw,” says Kiner, “them’s not horses, them’s mules.” You can guess how gracefully that was received in Oxford and Biloxi and Vicks-burg, where they hang pictures of Archie Manning, the Ole Miss junior quarterback, on the living room wall, right next to the ones of Robert E. Lee and, lately, of Spiro T. Agnew. “Mules, huh?” was the word. “Well, old Archie will show them who’s mules.” In Tennessee, where everybody was feeling good about being unbeaten in seven games and being ranked No. 3 in the nation, they laughed and started handing out ARCHIE WHO? buttons. And, baby, that really tore it.

All this, of course, was greeted with secret delight by Johnny Vaught, the Ole Miss coach and a man who would welcome a Greek bearing gifts, just as long as they could be used as psychological weapons. And should the gifts be less than needed, Vaught, it is suggested, is not opposed to fattening them a bit. Last Wednesday, three days before he would send his troops out to destroy Tennessee 38-0 at Jackson, Miss., the gnarly old oak of a coach never so much as glanced up as a small plane came roaring over his practice field spewing enemy leaflets. But the pilot turned out to be a strange breed of propagandist. On his third pass—after dropping such pleasantries as “Archie who? Archie Mud” and “Wreck the mules, the Vols are No. 1,” and all supposedly signed either by Kiner or Doug Dickey‘s Vols—the pilot cut his motor and yelled, “Go get them. Rebels! To hell with Tennessee!”

While the fires were raging in Mississippi, Vaught was making certain that no fuel was getting back to Tennessee. He closed off all players, most especially Manning, from interviews. Practices are always closed. Vaught once ran the president of the alumni association off the practice field. Another time, when a small plane circled the field, Vaught suspended the drill, called the FAA and had the plane grounded. When it turned out to be a member of the faculty showing off the campus to friends, Vaught told him to go fly someplace else. He did. “Once, just as a joke. I asked him if I could watch one of his redshirts take a shower,” said a veteran Mississippi reporter. “He figured I must be up to something, glared at me and said no I couldn’t, that the shower room was off limits.”

But then, Vaught has always been a suspicious man. When he arrived in 1947, his first move was to call in the state highway department and have them bulldoze a new practice field—eight feet deep. Deciding then that this wasn’t secluded enough, he called the bulldozers back and had them dig a second field, this one even deeper, and he had it surrounded by thick bushes and burly campus cops armed with walkie-talkies. One player suggested that if Vaught thought God was looking down on a practice, he’d put a roof over the field.

In the midst of all this tight seclusion was Archie Manning, big (6’3″ and 205 pounds) and redheaded and wondering why in hell he isn’t able to grow sideburns like everybody else. “But then,” he says, “I guess it’s because I only shave twice a week, sometimes.” He makes up for his lack of sideburns in other ways. Like throwing passes. In Ole Miss‘ first eight games—before walloping Tennessee—he completed 128 of 222 for 1,394 yards and six touchdowns. And like running: 100 carries for 363 yards and 11 touchdowns. Which makes it hard to understand how Mississippi managed to lose to Kentucky, Alabama and Houston, the first two by one point each. And after that they beat Georgia when the Bulldogs were 3-0 and ranked sixth, and after that they beat LSU when the Tigers were 6-0 and also ranked sixth.

“I guess it’s because all the games we won, we played in Mississippi in the daytime,” said Billy Gates, Ole Miss sports information director. “And the three games we lost were out of the state at night. Do you know of any bowls played in Mississippi in the daytime?” Against Kentucky, Ole Miss was looking to Alabama, which came the next week. Ole Miss‘ game plan was to run, mostly not to show off Manning’s passes to ‘Bama scouts. And so they ran, and Manning passed but 13 times for 84 yards and no touchdowns, and Kentucky won a shocker 10-9. And then against Alabama, Mississippi geared its defenses to stop a running attack—and Alabama came out throwing and won 33-32. “Those we should have won,” admits Vaught, holding up one finger. “Just one point each. But the kids knew we should have won and they didn’t get down. We have a thing here called matter-of-fact pride. We never lose it.”

Whatever it is they have at Ole Miss, they had it all against Tennessee, which came in favored anywhere from 11 to 6� points. Upstairs in the press box, Orange Bowl scouts were smiling and saying all they were afraid of was Tennessee losing in a rout—and you know that can’t happen. And downstairs the Ole Miss players were thinking that if they won, Vaught had given them the night to stay in Jackson—something he had done only once before in his career—and didn’t they already have the $5 traveling money to get back to Oxford the next day? Sure it could happen.

“Boys, what it’s going to take out there today is a great team effort, so let’s go,” said Vaught, knowing the boys were so high he didn’t have to say anything else.

And did it ever happen. After the opening kickoff, Manning took Ole Miss 82 yards in 11 plays, mostly on the running of Randy Reed and Bo Bowen, and then himself three times for the last three yards and the touchdown. Vaught had told him to open with a running game and then, when Tennessee stopped it, to go to the air. Tennessee never was to stop it.

On the second drive, after a short Tennessee punt, Ole Miss went 38 yards in eight plays, with Reed recovering Manning’s fumble in the end zone for the score.

The third drive was 16 yards in five plays after a 49-yard return of a punt by Bob Knight. Manning passed five yards to Riley Myers for that one. It was 21-0, and they were just moving into the second quarter, and Ole Miss players were saying things like “Where’s Kiner?” and “How do you like them mules?” and a few other things.

The rout was on. Upstairs one Orange Bowl scout said something about being sick and left. “They can’t do anything wrong,” another moaned. Just then, Ole Miss‘ Cloyce Hinton kicked a 42-yard field goal to make it 24-0. The kick sailed low, fluttering, swooping and, just as it was about to die, it struck the crossbar and bounced over. “Dang, I never saw such a gosh-awful lousy field goal in my life,” said Heywood Harris, Tennessee sports information director, “but, dang, I guess it counts.”

Early in the third quarter, all hope of a Tennessee recovery died when Reed went a yard for a touchdown, making it, after the kick, 31-0. That’s the same score the Vols beat Ole Miss by last year. No longer was anyone in orange clothing yelling “Archie who?” The last score, a one-yard dive by Bowen in the fourth quarter, just rubbed it in a bit.

When it was over and they added it all up, Manning had completed nine of 18 passes for 159 yards and one touchdown, and had run for another score. He and the rest of the team had earned a night on the town.

_____________________________________

This is part of a series that I call “Famous Arkansans.”

“I will wait for you.” (Song below)

Joe Nichols

Inducted in 2008

(b. 1976) – Rogers native, Joe Nichols, found his love for country music at a young age listening to his family pick on their guitars. He made his debut at age 20 with a self-titled album on the independent Intersound label. His 2002 single “The Impossible” gained him recognition and critical acclaim for his neotraditionalist country style. The single peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart and was followed by his No. 1 single “Brokenheartsville” from his platinum-certified second album, “Man With a Memory.” His albums include “Revelation” (2004), which included the Top 10 hit “If Nobody Believed in You,” “A Traditional Christmas,” “III” (2005) gold-certified that produced his biggest hit to date the No. 1 single “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off,” “Real Things” (2007) which produced the Top 20 hits “Another Side of You” and “It Ain’t No Crime.”

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