All Ties Are Not Created Equal

In part one of this piece we celebrated the best tie games in Tennessee football history. In part two we prove not all stalemates are created equal with a look at the worst ties in the Vols have ever suffered.

As mentioned in part one, it's been 13 years since Tennessee last experienced a tie game unless you count the 1993 contest in Birmingham vs. Alabama which ended in a 17-17 stalemate only to later be turned into a Crimson Tide forfeit. While that forfeit looks good today the tie was costly to Tennessee at the time as it interrupted what would have been an eight game winning streak and a chance to go 10-1 and possibly get a backdoor shot at the national title. Instead the Vols ended up in the Citrus Bowl, losing big to Penn State in what turned out to be Heath Shuler's final game at Tennessee.

No. 1: Tennessee 17, Alabama 17 in 1993. Those aren't the only reasons this game rates so high as a disappointment. The Vols had a chance to get their first win over Bama since 1985 and that included two SEC title campaigns in 1989 and 1990. Additionally, it was a game in which Tennessee clearly outplayed its arch rival only to see the Tide roll down the field in the final two minutes of play to score a touchdown and two-point conversion to even the count. The Vols also lost a fumble at the Tide's goal line that would have sealed the deal.

By the way, Tennessee and Alabama have a long history of tie games having ended in stalemates seven times, including two scoreless ties and three 7-7 games. But there was one tie that got away which was particularly painful for the Vols. That occurred Oct. 20, 1990, in Knoxville. With the score level at 6-6, Tennessee was working it way into the field goal range for what figured to be the game winner. Even a miss would leave an anemic Alabama offense too far away with too little time to win the contest. Unfortunately, Tennessee's field goal attempt was blocked and Alabama returned the ball deep into Tennessee territory to set up its own game-deciding kick. If the game had ended in a tie, it would have been UT's third that season. Last season, UT and Bama played a five overtime affair in Tuscaloosa that the Vols eventually won.

No. 2: Tennessee 26, Auburn 26 in 1990. This is one of two ties the Vols played to that year. The first was a 31-31 knot fest with Colorado in the Pigskin Classic played in Anaheim, Calif. Colorado eventually went on to win the national title that year with a 10-1-1 record. If not for the ill-fated field goal against Alabama and another against Auburn, the Vols stood an excellent chance to play for the national championship.

In the Auburn game, the Vols drove deep into Tiger territory in the fading minutes of play only to miss a chip shot field goal that would have produced a dramatic victory. In the aftermath of that miss, ESPN cameras followed UT place-kicker Greg Burke to the sidelines in search of that dramatic shot of a devastated player. One of Tennessee's offensive linemen was shown throwing a cup of water in Burke's direction in obvious disgust and the ESPN broadcast crew notified its national audience that the projectile was intended for Burke when, in fact, it was directed at the camera crew in a reaction to its insensitivity. That proved to be the first of a long list of grievances UT has had with ESPN.

No. 3: Tennessee 26, UCLA 26 in 1985. This Cinderella season will long live in the hearts of Big Orange fans as it included a 38-20 upset of No. 1 Auburn, a dramatic 16-14 victory at Alabama and the unforgettable 35-7 rout of No. 2 Miami in the Sugar Bowl. But things didn't get off to a great start as the Vols opened with UCLA on Sept. 14. Behind the passing wizardry of Tony Robinson, Tennessee built a 26-10 lead over the Bruins and appeared to be in total control of the contest. However in the last six minutes of the game, UCLA managed to score two touchdowns and twice converted two-point attempts to steal the win from the Vols. A victory in the opener could have given Tennessee a legitimate chance at the national title coupled with its big win over the Canes, and 325 to 140 scoring advantage over its opponents. Instead Tennessee finished No. 4 in the final polls and won its first SEC title in 16 years.

No. 4: Tennessee 24, Army 24 in 1984. Tennessee came into this game with high hopes after posting its best record (9-3) in 11 years in 1983, including a 30-23 over Maryland in the Citrus Bowl. The Vols won the first two games in 1984 over Washington State and Utah and may have been looking ahead to the three games after Army against Auburn, Florida and Alabama. At any rate, the Cadets played an inspired game and the Vols limped out with tie, going on to lose its games against Auburn and Florida. For a program trying to get over the hump, this tie was typical of erratic progress UT made in those dark days that began in 1973. Two years after that infamous tie, Army came back to Knoxville and handed the Vols a 25-21. That was the centerpiece of a dreadful span in which Tennessee lost five out of six contests and lost all the momentum and much of the good will built in 1985.

No. 5: Tennessee 20, Auburn 20 in 1987. This tie wasn't as damaging in terms of the record, but it was symptomatic of a larger problem that plagued the Vols during this period. Tennessee came from behind and scored a late touchdown on a run by Reggie Cobb that day. However, the Vols elected to play for the tie by not going for the two-point conversion, attempting an onside kick or using timeouts to make use of what remained of the clock. Clearly, Tennessee was happy to come away with a tie at home despite seizing momentum and having an opportunity to win.

The ultra conservative approach reappeared in a 41-22 defeat at Alabama and a 20-18 upset loss to Boston College later that year. Despite a 9-2-1 record, the Vols ended their season in the Peach Bowl with a narrow victory over Indiana. The malaise continued into 1988 when Tennessee dropped its first six decisions by a combined score of 211 to 102. In retrospect, a come-from-behind victory or even a go-for-the-gusto loss would have served better than the tie. The tie turned out better for Auburn which went on to win the SEC title with a 5-0-1 record. In retrospect, a Tennessee victory over Auburn would have given the Vols a share of the conference crown with LSU.

That's it for the best and worst Tennessee ties in the last 50 years. It's a phenomenon that will never come our way again. Overtimes with all their excitement have taken the place of the tie game. Ironically, there is no time in overtimes, only periods.

In effect, a game that is largely decided by time and field position contains neither in overtime. There's no place for a punter and units are required to stay on the field after each change of possession. No doubt, overtime can be entertaining, but it's not exactly football.

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