Top MLBs, picks 1-5

Two of the greatest linebackers in University of Tennessee football history were struck down in their prime by fatal auto crashes. One still had a season left in his college career. We may never know how great he might have been but we can fondly remember how great he was.

That said, what follows is my list of the top five Vol middle linebackers for the years 1964-2004:

5. TOM FISHER: A starter in '64 and '65, he was on his way to a brilliant career when a car wreck claimed his life. Fisher was phenomenal in '64, setting a school record for primary stops (118) that stood for 12 years. Against Auburn that fall he registered 21 primary stops and 28 total hits, establishing single-game records that still stand.

4. ANDY SPIVA: A starter on the outside as a sophomore and junior, Spiva manned the middle in '76 and promptly set single-season records for primary tackles (134) and total hits (194) that stand to this day. A two-time All-SEC pick, his 547 career hits is 134 more than anyone else in Vol history. Spiva also caused more fumbles (14) than any player ever to wear orange. He spent two years with the NFL's Atlanta Falcons. Then, like Tom Fisher, he died in a tragic car accident. UT honors his memory each April by giving the Andy Spiva Award to the most improved defensive player of spring practice.

3. KEITH DeLONG: Starting in 1987 and '88, he led the Vols with 125 stops in the former and 159 in the latter. Son of former Vol Steve DeLong, Keith earned All-America honors from The Associated Press, Gannett News Service and The Sporting News as a senior. A first-round NFL Draft pick of the San Francisco 49ers in 1989, he spent five years with the team.

2. FRANK EMANUEL: A two-year starter (1964-65), Emanuel earned consensus All-America honors in 1965. His career totals are unavailable but he was one of the main reasons Tennessee came to be known as "Linebacker U" during the 1960s. His career highlight was a 26-tackle effort against Kentucky in ‘65, when Tennessee allowed just 98 points in 11 games. A third-round pick of the AFL's Miami Dolphins in 1966, he went on to spend five years in the pros. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2004.

1. JACK REYNOLDS: A three-year starter (1967-69), he earned the nickname "Hacksaw" by sawing his car in half following a frustrating loss. No career stats are available but he was impressive enough to be tabbed All-America by Football News as a senior. Selected by Los Angeles in Round 1 of the 1970 NFL Draft, he enjoyed 15 distinguished seasons with the Rams and San Francisco 49ers.

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