Dixieland Delight is roaring over the speakers at Neyland Stadium. The goalpost has been taken down by fans and has already been taken out onto the streets of Knoxville. The green grass and iconic checkerboard end zones are still not visible, as they have been overrun by a sea of frenzied fans. It was almost as if a tide of orange had rolled onto the field.
Tennessee entered the day at 5-0, earning them the #6 ranking in the AP Poll. After close calls against Pitt and Florida, Tennessee rolled over LSU in Baton Rouge last week, winning by a convincing 40-13 margin. Tennessee fans were beginning to believe that this Volunteers squad might be for real.
This optimism stretched well outside the limits of Knoxville, as ESPN’s College Gameday announced that they would be headed to Tennessee for its matchup with #3 Alabama, marking the second time this season that the crew would be set up at Tennessee.
Was it really possible for the Vols to knock off Alabama? In Nick Saban’s time coaching at Alabama, there are three certainties: death, taxes, and beating Tennessee. Saban was 15-0 against Tennessee, with only one close call in 2009.
The Crimson Tide were once again undefeated headed into the top 10 clash with the Vols. However, they did not look like the Alabama teams of the past, having battled through multiple close calls against Texas, Arkansas and Texas A&M. An injury to QB Bryce Young’s throwing shoulder had sidelined the Heisman hopeful during the Arkansas game and for the entirety of the Texas A&M game. However, Young would be ready to go against Tennessee. This indicated to many that the Tide would roll in Knoxville yet again.
Tennessee’s Rocky Top chant blared all morning outside of the stadium. Legendary QB Peyton Manning returned for College Gameday, once again directing the band as he had after wins in the late 90s. Panelists Desmond Howard, Pat McAfee, Manning, and Lee Corso all picked the Vols to win the game outright, something that would have been unfathomable to any college football fan prior to this year. Having gone 18-18 over the last three seasons combined, this was new territory for the Tennessee faithful.
The uniqueness of the situation would not end there. Tennessee jumped out to a 21-7 lead with 3:59 remaining in the first quarter. The camera panned to the euphoric faces of shocked fans in the crowd. The announcers remarked that Alabama was completely out of sorts. Saban could be seen screaming at players, coaches, referees or a combination of all three on the sideline. No one seemed to believe that Tennessee was finally proving to be a legitimate threat to Alabama.
In the second half, the Tide surged, taking a 35-34 lead after a dominating 12 play, 75 yard drive. The teams would trade scores, but Alabama returned a fumble for a touchdown with 7:49 left in the game to take a 49-42 lead. This seemed to be the mistake that embodied Tennessee’s struggles of years past, ending their hopes of pulling off a monumental upset. It appeared the Tide would roll yet again.
However, the Vols did not roll over. They answered with a touchdown of their own, tying the game yet again. Alabama moved the ball down the field, but stalled with :15 remaining, settling for a field goal. Kicker Will Reichard missed the kick, leaving the door open for the Volunteers. In three plays, Tennessee moved into field goal range.
The kick was not good looking. It was turning sideways and seemed to float in the air for enough time to see all of Tennessee’s previous failures flash before your eyes. As it sailed through the uprights, fans flooded the field. Players and coaches were lost in a sea of orange. The goalpost was torn down and eventually deposited in the Tennessee River.
While a Tide did not roll, a drought was finally over. Tennessee had taken down the mighty Crimson Tide for the first time in 15 years.