Flashback Friday: A look back at the Alabama-Tennessee rivalry

Usually I feature one game during my “Flashback Friday” column, but this week I thought it would be interesting to take a video look back at a famous rivalry that has lost a bit of luster.

If you just became a fan of college football, you might not be familiar with the “Third Saturday in October.” The Alabama Crimson Tide and Tennessee Volunteers first met in 1901 and came away with a tie. Since then the series has had 95 meetings with the Tide winning 50, the Vols taking 38. Seven games ended with both teams kissing their sisters.

As of late, this series has been defined by streaks. The Tide currently have a seven-game winning streak. Before that, from 1993 to 2006, the Vols won 11 of 14. From 1986 to 1992, the Tide won seven straight. The four years before that, the Vols took four straight but only after the Tide ripped off 11 straight.

While this series has simmered down a bit, it was once called “the South’s most intense football rivalry.” Let’s take a look back at just a few of these rivalry games:


1996: Tennessee 20, Alabama 13

Both teams came into this game ranked in the top ten. With the score tied at 13 late in the game it was Jay Graham that was able to break a long 79-yard touchdown run for the Vols. Alabama drove back down the field, but Leonard Little caused a fumble and the Vols recovered the ball and survived.

2003: Tennessee 51, Alabama 43 (5 overtimes)

Neither team was highly touted coming into this one as Tennessee was the higher ranked team (No. 22) at 5-2. In the second overtime, the Vols were down seven and faced a critical 4th and 19. Here’s what happened:

The Vols would eventually go on to win this game on a quarterback sneak by Casey Clausen.


2007: Alabama 41, Tennessee 17

This was the first Bama-Vols game of the Nick Saban era. Alabama came in unranked and the Vols came in ranked No. 20 in the country. After leading by seven at halftime, the Tide turned it up in the second half by outscoring the Vols 16-0. John Parker Wilson finished the game 32 of 46 passing for 363 yards and 3 touchdowns. Terry Grant rushed for over 100 yards, and D.J. Hall hauled in 13 receptions for the Tide. This game started the Tide on the current streak of seven straight wins in this rivalry. Oh, and can you believe Saban started this game with an onside kick?


2009: Alabama 12 Tennessee 10

Remember this one? Alabama came into the game 8-0 and Tennessee hobbled in at 3-4. Alabama kicked four field goals throughout the day to take a 12-3 lead deep into the fourth quarter. After a Mark Ingram fumble, Tennessee drove down the field and Jonathan Crompton hit Gerald Jones for a touchdown to pull the Vols within two points. Tennessee then injected a plot twist — the Vols went for and recovered an onside kick! With four seconds left, the Vols had the ball on Alabama’s 28-yard line and the game came down to one play:

While they barely held on to beat rival Tennessee, this Alabama team would go on to stay undefeated and then beat Florida in the SEC Championship Game and Texas in the 2010 BCS National Championship Game.

Some argue against the SEC’s divisional matchups, claiming that they cause an imbalance in the league and college football. Personally, I’m a fan of the history of the game and of rivalries. I would hate to see the Alabama-Tennessee rivalry go the way of Nebraska-Oklahoma and other great storied rivalries that have become just a memory. The rich tradition of the SEC (and of college football) should be celebrated, not deconstructed, as we move forward into the College Football Playoff era.

About Kevin Causey

Dry humorist, craft beer enthusiast, occasionally unbiased SEC fan, UGA alumni, contributor for The Comeback.