Majors Almost Didn't Get Star QB Tony Robinso

Johnny Majors almost blew the recruitment of Tony Robinson. He almost messed up a chance to coach the most athletic quarterback he's ever had.

Tennessee had commitments from seven quarterbacks in the 1982 recruiting class. Some projected to play other positions in college, but there were seven nonetheless.

``I wanted Tony Robinson in the worst way,'' Majors said. ``He was the most talented quarterback I believe I'd ever seen on film.''

Robinson said he wouldn't make a decision until national signing day. But Majors had two concerns. One, he wanted a couple of defensive linemen and was running out of scholarships. Two, Majors already had seven quarterbacks in the fold.

Majors couldn't wait. Two days before signing day, Majors called Robinson's coach at Leon High School in Tallahassee, Fla.

``I said, `Coach, unless Tony can commit today, we're not going to be able to take him,''' Majors said. ``He said, `Coach, do you know what you're saying?' I said, `Yes, I do and it really hurts badly to say it because I want that young man as much as any quarterback I've ever seen.'''

Majors decided to think about it one more day. He had a speaking engagement that night in Nashville and visited with his brother Joe, a former quarterback at Florida State. Joe was aware Johnny's 1976 national championship team at Pitt had lost its top two quarterbacks and started a walk-on against Miami.

Also, Majors lost Alan Cockrell during the 1981 season to a knee injury and two other quarterbacks had transferred, leaving the Vols short-handed.

``Joe asked me one question,'' Majors said. ``He said, `John, tell me this: How many times have you ever had too many quarterbacks?'''

John Majors got on the phone to the Leon coach and said: ``We're going to take Tony Robinson. We're going to hold a scholarship for him.''

It was one of Major's smartest moves.

Robinson was clearly a better quarterback than the other seven who signed: Chris White, Charles Davis, Terry Brown, Tommy Sims, Andre Creamer, Tyrone Robinson and Joey Clinkscales. But it is worth noting that during that magical 1985 season, four started in the secondary: White, Davis, Brown and Sims.

While Majors coached some great teams, none was more special than the 1985 edition. It overcame the loss of its starting quarterback (Robinson). It had so many injuries at tailback, a walk-on (Jeff Powell) led the team in rushing in the Sugar Bowl. Both starting corners missed the Sugar Bowl because of injuries.

But it didn't matter. This was destiny's team, Tennessee's Cinderella team.

It didn't win 10 games. It didn't have the best record in the SEC (it tied with Florida at 5-1 and lost to the Gators). It tied two games.

But it brought home Tennessee's first SEC Championship since 1969 and, against all odds, routed the heavily favored, trash talking Hurricanes in the most spectacular bowl scene in UT history.

At least 55,000 Big Orange fans crammed into the 72,000-seat Louisiana Superdome. It wasn't just a bowl game. It was, as the Voice of the Vols John Ward put it, an experience.

Nobody gave Tennessee a chance against mighty Miami, an 8.5-point favorite. Nobody except, it seemed, Bill Anderson, a former Vol and the radio color analyst.

A Miami blowout could help the second-ranked Hurricanes win the national title.

ABC, which carried the Sugar Bowl, was concerned that the Orange Bowl matchup of Penn State and Oklahoma would win the ratings game.

Frank Broyles, then ABC's color analyst, said, ``Well, at least we'll see if Tennessee can keep it close.''

Anderson wasn't amused: ``Close? Tennessee is going to win this game.''

After UT's 35-7 victory, Anderson ran into Broyles and apologized: ``Coach, I'm sorry Tennessee couldn't keep it close.''

Ward said the orange that decorated the Superdome that night was ``overwhelming.'' Ward arrived for the 8 p.m. game at about 1 p.m. He said UT fans were already milling around the Superdome. As each hour passed, more and more UT fans poured into the dome. And they were ready to party.

``At home, Tennessee fans sit next to people with whom they've sat for 10, 20 years,'' Ward said. ``They have to maintain some level of decorum. They can't go nuts. They don't want to act goofy in front of their friends. At the Superdome, you didn't sit next to friends. You sat next to somebody you'd never seen before, nor would you ever again. So, let's be crazy.''

And they were. They were crazy that night, and crazy about a team that captured their imagination.

Davis said the seeds for 1985 were planted after the Vols blew a 21-point lead to Maryland in the Sun Bowl. Majors thanked the seniors, then told the returners to brace for spring practice because it would be a ``blood bath. … Everyone says we're not tough. We're going to be tough.''

In the season opener, UT blew a 16-point lead to UCLA in the final five minutes for a 26-26 tie. Davis said UT knew then it was pretty good. Then came the upset win over top-ranked Auburn and eventual Heisman Trophy winner Bo Jackson.

UT suffered its only loss at Florida. It beat Alabama for a fourth straight time, but lost Robinson to a season-ending knee injury. Sixth-year senior Daryl Dickey took over as the Vols held on for a two-point win, then tied Georgia Tech 6-6 the next week on a 51-yard Carlos Reveiz field goal in the final seconds.

Dickey engineered the field-goal drive, which, according to Majors, boosted the confidence of the son of UT's relatively new athletic director, Doug Dickey.

What if UT had lost to Georgia Tech? What if Reveiz had missed the field goal? Could that have changed the course of the season?

``You never know about fate,'' Majors said. ``It may very well have turned out differently, but knowing what that team was made of … maybe we would have won the rest of them as it was.''

Several 1985 Vols said they ``knew'' they would beat Miami on Jan. 1, 1986.

``They knew more than I did,'' Majors said. ```I was very confident we'd play well, but I certainly wasn't supremely confident we'd win the game because I thought Miami was an outstanding team and, quite likely, the most talented team in country.''

But the nation's most talented team didn't win the 1986 Sugar Bowl.

The team of destiny – and determination – did.

NOTE: Majors held the UT record for completion percentage in a season (minimum 50 passes) at 61 percent. It was broken by Tony Robinson in 1984 at 61.1 percent. Dickey then broke the mark in 1985, hitting 64.9 percent.


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