Relevant football hasn’t been played in Neyland Stadium in over a decade. The Vols have been trying to live up to their past reputation as a national powerhouse since the departure of Phillip Fulmer and look to do so in the foreseeable future.
Still, fossils of a bygone era show themselves every once in a while. Just a few weeks ago, Tennessee became the 10th program to reach 850 wins all-time. It will take several years before the bulk of Division I football reaches that milestone.
Let’s take a break from the present and look back at some of Tennessee’s most notable games of the past 40 years.
1998 Fiesta Bowl — Tennessee 23, Florida State 16
This one is a no-brainer for the Volunteer faithful. The inaugural run of the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) saw the National Champions clad in Big Orange.
That 1998 run still stands as the greatest season in Tennessee football history. There were plenty of games from that year that could have made their way onto this list, but the finale is always the one that sticks in the memory of Vols fans.
Florida State was stout that season, but stumbled its way into a matchup against undefeated Tennessee. Star quarterback Chris Weinke — a future quarterbacks coach on Rocky Top — was injured heading into the matchup that required a Kansas State and UCLA loss to pair the Vols with the No. 2 Seminoles.
The connection between Tee Martin and Peerless Price was too much for an unmatched Florida State squad, and the rest is history.
1998 Stoerner Stumble — Tennessee 28, Arkansas 24
College football is the most unforgiving sport in America. Winning a championship, in most sports, is usually reserved for those with the most skill. In college football, the most skilled team always needs a little luck as well.
Tennessee was the most talented team in 1998. The Vols had beaten Syracuse and Florida to start the year, two teams well within the top 25. Another big win against No. 7 Georgia put the Vols at No. 1 with a date against No. 10 Arkansas in Neyland Stadium.
Tennessee’s No. 1 status was in jeopardy late in the fourth quarter. With the score at 24-22, Arkansas only needed one more first down to run out the clock and spoil the Vols undefeated season.
That game, and likely the National Championship itself, wouldn’t have been a Tennessee victory without what happened next. Starting quarterback Clint Stoerner, attempting to run clock, stumbled after the direct snap and fumbled, giving Tennessee the ball with under two minutes remaining and an excellent field position.
Tennessee was in the end zone with a 9-0 record six plays later.
2001 — Tennessee 34, Florida 32
Tennessee’s fourth top 5 matchup with Florida in ten years was another special one for the Vols. Steve Spurrier and the Gators had gotten the better of the Vols the two previous matchups, and Fulmer and the Vols were more than happy to send the “Head Ball Coach” out of Florida with one final parting gift.
The Vols, sitting at No. 5 in the national poll, out dueled the Gators in Gainesville, effectively keeping the red-hot Gators out of the National Championship game later that season.
More than anything, it was a statement win for the Vols. Tennessee went on to beat Michigan in the Citrus Bowl later that season after dropping a heart-breaker to LSU in the SEC Championship.
Other notable games:
1991 Miracle at South Bend: Tennessee 35, Notre Dame 34
1992 — Tennessee 31, Florida 14
1982 — Tennessee 35, (2) Alabama 28
1986 Sugar Bowl: Tennessee 35, Miami (FL) 7
2016 — Tennessee 34, Georgia 31