Vols, Hogs Share Long History, Deep Hostility

Separated by the Mississippi River and a rotating SEC schedule, Tennessee and Arkansas share a unique college football history and have become frequent competitors for future stars.

Arkansas athletic director Frank Broyles learned the game at Georgia Tech from former Tennessee great and Kingsport native Bobby Dodd, who in turn was taught by General Robert R. Neyland as a single wing quarterback from 1928 to 1931. Former Vol head coach Johnny Majors was on Broyles' staff at UA as was former Tennessee head coach and athletic director Doug Dickey who left Arkansas in 1965 to become UT's head coach.

Likewise former Vol player, assistant coach, head coach and athletic director John Barnhill went on to establish a tradition of athletic excellence at Arkansas that endures to this day. Tennessee all-American Bowden Wyatt was head coach at Arkansas when the Vols hired him to replace Harvey Robinson in 1955. Former Arkansas player and head coach Ken Hatfield was an assistant at Tennessee under Dickey and Bill Battle. Former Vol linebacker coach Dick Bumpas played his college football at Arkansas. Kacy Rodgers, of Humboldt, played at Tennessee from 1988 to 1991 and served as line coach at Arkansas in 2002 before being hired by the Dallas Cowboys, who are owned by former Razorback guard Jerry Jones.

Before Phillip Fulmer was hired as head coach at Tennessee in 1992, he was approached by the Razorbacks who were prepared to offer him their head coaching position.

These venerable gridiron programs have exchanged coaching talent over the years because they share a fundamental belief in hard-nosed defense, a solid running game and outstanding special teams as espoused and established by Neyland in a distinguished career at UT. Additionally, they still share some of the same nomenclature that the General originated, including a version of his famed maxims.

Despite their proximity and philosophical connections, Tennessee and Arkansas didn't begin to play regularly against each other until 1992 when the Razorbacks inflicted a 25-24 defeat on the No. 4 Vols, beginning a three-game slide that helped pave the way for Majors' departure. Similarly, the Vols scored a come-from-behind 14-13 victory over the Hogs in the 1971 Liberty Bowl and held off a Razorback rally to win the 1990 Cotton Bowl 31-27. Each of those post season victories enabled the Vols to finish in the top 10 nationally. The Liberty Bowl win was the last game of Fulmer's college career. The Cotton Bowl turned out to be the last game Hatfield would coach at Arkansas.

Interestingly, before that controversial contest Tennessee had only played Arkansas once, beating the Razorbacks 14-2 in 1907 at Little Rock. The Vols enjoy a 12-2 lead in the series which has featured several memorable and monumental battles. For instance: Tennessee needed a miracle turnover in the last two minutes of play to rally to a 28-24 win in 1998. It turned out to be the Vols closest call in an undefeated national championship season. The teams met the next year in Fayetteville with UT poised to return to a national championship game but the Hogs pulled a shocking upset by the identical 28-24 score.

Fans won't soon forget the last time these teams squared off, as the Vols had to go six overtimes to pull out a 41-38 win over Arkansas in 2002. They aren't scheduled to meet again until the 2006 season.

While the schedule makers have put a halt to on-the-field hostilities between these proud programs, there is plenty of competition taking place in the recruiting arena. Tennessee assistant Steve Caldwell, who was once an assistant at Arkansas State, has made inroads into the state while Arkansas continues to recruit the Memphis area heavily. The first letterman Tennessee signed from Arkansas was offensive tackle Leslie Ratliffe in 1992. Ratliffe became a two-year starter and four-year letterman for some of the Vols most powerful offenses in school history. Since 2000 UT has added such Arkansas prospects as Cedric Houston, Greg Jones, Roshaun Fellows and Bret Smith. All four of these players are expected to either start or earn significant playing time in 2004. The Vols added linebacker James Turner from the Natural State in the Class of 2004 although he wasn't offered by the Razorbacks.

Caldwell's success hasn't come easily. The battle for Houston, Smith and Jones nearly required each to be moved into a prospect protection progrram before they signed with Tennessee.

Arkansas made a run at Ellix Wilson of Memphis Melrose before settling for his teammate. Tennessee pushed hard for Conway, Ark., fullback Peyton Hillis who eventually signed with Hogs. The biggest struggle was for Little Rock Central High School defensive tackle Fred Bledsoe who was projected to fall to UT before an eleventh hour change of heart.

"Tennessee's coaches made me smile and they had great facilities," Bledsoe said in a recent edition of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. "I really bonded with Coach Fulmer and Coach Caldwell. It just came down to God told me I needed to stay home and play in front of my home fans."

In one of the most colorful conversions of any recruiting campaign, Bledsoe reported awaking on national signing day to see the shadow of a hog on his bedroom wall. He took the manifestation of light to be a divine sign and signed with Arkansas.

"My mind was all Tennessee," Bledsoe said. "I told everybody Tennessee this and Tennessee that. I really couldn't help it, but I loved Coach Fulmer. I knew that was a national championship-bound team that I could be on and get my name seen by the NFL scouts and agents.

"But I just had fun on my visit to Arkansas. They showed me a good time. The coaches treated you with great respect and when you look in the coaches' eyes you see a glare and sign that says ‘you're going to be someone one day, and all you need do is come be a part of this family. That is what I did."

The reason for providing this background is because the future is froth with major battles in the Bluff City as Memphis has the best crop of football prospects in the last 15 years and Arkansas' is just across the river.

The Razorbacks have made a favorable early impression on Memphis East offensive lineman Malcolm Rawls, 6-41/2, 305, who is regarded as one of Tennessee's top five prospects this season. Rawls was recently quoted as saying he planned to camp at Arkansas and was "very interested" in the Razorbacks and hoped he would might develop into a Shawn Andrews-type force at offensive tackle.

Another west Tennessee lineman, Paul Edwards, 6-6, 300, from McKenzie High School, lists Arkansas as his early favorite saying: "I'm not really considering Tennessee much right now. They weren't really showing much interest early, but now they are trying to get into the mix. Coach (Mike) Markuson and Coach (Houston) Nutt know I'm very interested in Arkansas."

The Vols plan to not only defend their home turf this season but to continue making excursions into Arkansas. One player they are known to be interested in is Little Rock Mills safety Elston Forte, 6-1, 190, 4.4. The speedster and scholar is currently considering Auburn, Tennessee, Ole Miss, Memphis, Nebraska, Penn State, Notre Dame, Vanderbilt, Duke, Colorado and Michigan."

"I kind of want to get out of Arkansas to go to college," he said. "If I went to Arkansas, though, it would be close to home for my family. I feel Arkansas is recruiting others harder than me."

Perhaps, the Razorbacks' preoccupation with west Tennessee will leave them vulnerable at home. For sure, the heated competition between these gridiron giants will continue even if they don't meet on the football field.

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