If you’re of a certain age, you remember where you were on the Friday afternoon of Nov. 22, 1963. It was an afternoon when the world seemed to change.
The University of Tennessee football team had arrived in Lexington, Kentucky, for a walk-through practice at Stoll Field, where they were to play the Kentucky Wildcats the next day.
The season wasn’t going well. The Vols were 3-5 under first-year coach Jim McDonald, underdogs against a Kentucky team that was likewise struggling.
I was a freshman in high school in Frankfort, Kentucky. Band practice came after lunch. We were out in the parking lot practicing for the upcoming Christmas parade. When we trooped back inside the building for the class change, there was a buzz in the halls. Something had happened.
A friend told me President John F. Kennedy had been shot. I misunderstood and laughed a stupid laugh. Then he told me again.
In Earth Science class, the principal made the announcement over the P.A. system. The president had been shot in Dallas, Texas, around 1:30 p.m., Eastern time. Details were sketchy.
My former News Sentinel colleague Sam Venable described a similar scenario at Young High School here in Knoxville.
“The general consensus among the students was that the whole thing was a joke,’’ Sam said. “Kids being kids, some were cracking crude jokes.
“When the next class began, the principal came on the P.A. Everybody was thinking he was going to dispel the rumor. But, of course, it was just the opposite.’’
Our freshman basketball team was scheduled to open our season in Winchester, Kentucky, that night. After the final bell, I was hanging around the gym. My mom, a chemistry teacher, found me and told me the president was dead.
The sports world didn’t know how to react.
In Knoxville, some high school basketball games were canceled, some played. It was the same everywhere.
We got on a bus to Winchester. My high school basketball career launched on that unnerving night. I can’t recall a thing about the game.
Saturday was a big college football day. But there was no consensus. Some games were canceled or postponed, others were played.
A quieter crowd
In Tennessee’s case, the team was already in Lexington. The game was Kentucky’s finale, but the Vols had to play Vanderbilt the next week. Rescheduling Kentucky would be a headache.
The NFL played a full schedule on Sunday. Commissioner Pete Rozelle came to regard the decision to play as the biggest mistake of his career.
Saturday at Stoll Field, a crowd of 35,000 braved a chilly, gray day that matched the nation’s mood.
There were no cheerleaders. At halftime, a minister led a prayer. The UK and UT bands scrapped their scheduled performances and combined to play the national anthem.
The Vols won, 19-0, unleashing a ground game led by Mallon Faircloth and Stan Mitchell. They carried McDonald off the field. The Lexington newspaper noted UT fans were less vocal than usual.
McDonald would beat Vandy in a week but then was let go. On Dec. 2, Doug Dickey was hired with the promise of bringing the T-formation offense to UT, ending the outdated single-wing era.
It wasn’t just Tennessee football changing. Our world was. The Sixties were really beginning.
A month after the JFK assassination, I heard the first song on the radio from a British group called The Beatles. Soon enough came hippies, hair, LSD, Hendrix, Woodstock.
As for the real world: Vietnam. Draft cards burning. Civil rights protests. Riots. Cities on fire. And, alas, more assassinations.
It seemed as if nothing was ever the same after that Friday afternoon in November, 59 years ago this week.
Mike Strange is a former writer for the News Sentinel. He currently writes a weekly sports column for Shopper News.
[Video] Youtube The TENNESSEE FOOTBALL DREAM is NOW DEAD (This Is SAD)
2022 Tennessee was one of the most fun college football teams in recent memory, but after a road beatdown against South Carolina, the playoff dream is over, the season is sorta over and this is sad. Today, i want to talk about the rise of Tennessee, the season, and where they go from here, enjoy!