Monday, August 3, 2009

SEC has had its share of lively debates for years

Thinking about what Tennessean columnist David Climer wrote recently, controversy amongst league members is nothing new. In fact, it has been a centerpiece of the vibrant history of SEC football since its austere beginnings in 1933.

During that time, there has been a goodly amount of sniping, good-natured and otherwise, among the member schools. It's all part of the ambience of SEC football.

Consider the 1963 Tennessee-Georgia Tech game. Georgia Tech was in its final year of membership in the SEC when it came to Knoxville on Oct. 12. Coached by former Tennessee quarterback Bobby Dodd (1928-30), the Yellow Jackets won easily, 23-6, over Jim McDonald's only Tennessee squad. Tech then left the league in a rules squabble in early 1964.

Late in the first half, Georgia Tech had scored on a "hide out" play, with receiver Ted Davis not returning to the huddle after an incomplete pass, choosing instead to go to a flanked position. Tech quarterback Billy Lothridge found him wide open for a touchdown to the south end, with Vol partisans crying, "Foul!"

When athletic director and former Vol Bob Woodruff complained to the media, Dodd responded by calling Woodruff "the worst public relations athletic director in the United States."

Just before the 1968 season, it was Tennessee and Georgia, mostly Georgia, clashing in the media over the advent of artificial turf.

During the summer of 1968, the verdant Shields-Watkins Field grass, the greensward on which Gene McEver, Bob Suffridge, Johnny Butler, Hank Lauricella, Bob Johnson, John Majors, and many others had created so many memories, was unceremoniously dug up and a green carpet laid down in its place.

Tom Siler reported Georgia was informed about the change by telegram June 17, with no one in the Georgia camp being reported amused.

"It's a radical move that should have been considered by the conference," Georgia AD Joel Eaves said. "Why didn't Tennessee bring this up when all of us met at Biloxi in May? We're thinking about voiding the contract. Maybe Tennessee can just put on an intrasquad game for the TV audience Sept. 14."

In the case of UT fans, Siler wrote that Vol fans "accepted the news stoically."

The game ended 17-17, one of the "classic ties" in Tennessee history.

Then there was the battle of SEC teams going to Auburn, with no one, save Georgia, wanting to make the trip. Alabama fought that battle especially hard. It was 1989 before Alabama made its first trip to Jordan-Hare Stadium, and they've played there every other year since 1991. There were those in the Alabama camp who said "Never," but the Tide came anyway.

After the city of Birmingham put down artificial turf on Legion Field in 1970, Auburn again made overtures to Tennessee about leaving Birmingham, suggesting Tiger "home games" in the series be played at Cliff Hare Stadium. That didn't happen initially until 1974, Auburn 21, Tennessee 0, and happened for good in 1980, Tennessee 42, Auburn 0.

There was serious conflict surrounding the 1972 game. Auburn had apparently scouted the Vols twice that season, a violation of SEC rules, with the Vols responding by wearing orange jerseys against the Tigers, also a violation of conference rules.

When the dust settled, Auburn knocked off heavily favored Tennessee, 10-6, in a major upset that really wasn't. Auburn finished 11-1, despite meager pre-season expectations, Tennessee 10-2.

LSU and Tennessee created some major brinksmanship in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina hit southern Louisiana around the start of the football season. When it came time for the Tennessee-LSU game Sept. 24, with the aftermath of Katrina seen in all locales around Baton Rouge, LSU was insistent on playing that Saturday night.

With forecasts of bad weather and Tennessee officials understandably concerned about the safety of their team flying to Baton Rouge, there were forthright words in the media, both schools seemingly hardening their position. At one critical juncture, there were thoughts the game might not be played at all.

Reason prevailed, eventually, and the game was played Monday night, Sept. 26. The Vols flew to Baton Rouge earlier in the day, played the game, and flew home. There wasn't quite a full house at Tiger Stadium, but the game was a keeper.

LSU fans were eager for football after all the turmoil, and the Tigers on the field created excitement by bolting to a 21-0 halftime lead. Tennessee was down but not out, hanging around long enough to eventually send the game to overtime.

LSU scored first on a field goal, but the Vols won, 30-27, on a short run by Gerald Riggs, concluding a wild week.

With all this in mind, the "C" in "SEC" really stands for "Controversy."

There's certainly been a great deal of it over the past 76 years.

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