KNOXVILLE -- Former University of Tennessee head coach Phillip Fulmer will be honored before Saturday’s Tennessee-Alabama football game at Neyland Stadium for his upcoming induction into the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame, an honor that will formally be presented to him in December.
Additionally, members of the 1997 Tennessee Volunteers Southeastern Conference champion football team will be honored on the field as this week’s Legends of the Game in the same pregame ceremony Saturday evening. More than 40 members of the 1997 team are expected to attend.
Fans are encouraged to enter Neyland Stadium early in order to watch the ceremony, which will begin approximately 22 minutes before the slated kickoff time of 7:05 PM EST, with the game televised by ESPN.
Fulmer was the head coach at Tennessee from 1993-2008 and finished with a 152-52 record (.744) while also leading the Vols to two SEC championships (1997, 1998). Fulmer is the 22nd former UT player or coach to earn enshrinement and the first since offensive guard Chip Kell in 2006. He is the fourth coach from Tennessee to receive the honor, including General Robert R. Neyland, Bowden Wyatt, and Doug Dickey.
Fulmer led the following year’s team, the 1998 Volunteer squad, to the first-ever BCS Championship and the sixth national title in school history.
The 1997 team was ranked in the top 10 the entire season and finished 11-2, winning the school’s 12th SEC title at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta with a 30-29 victory over Auburn. The Vols trailed by 10 points twice in the game but rallied for the victory and reached the 11-win plateau for the sixth time. Tennessee won nine consecutive games that season, culminating with the title win over the Tigers, and won all six of their games at Neyland Stadium. Tennessee lost only twice that year: at Florida and against eventual national champion Nebraska (shared the title with Michigan) in the Orange Bowl.
The 11 wins tied the then-school record for wins, eclipsed by the 13 accomplished by the 1998 team that included many of the same players. The Vols finished the year ranked No. 7 in the final Associated Press poll and won by double-digit margins over Texas Tech, Ole Miss, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, Southern Miss, and Kentucky.
The captains of the 1997 Tennessee squad were a pair of senior All-Americans in quarterback Peyton Manning and defensive lineman Leonard Little. Manning concluded his legendary Volunteer career by earning SEC Player of the Year honors in 1997 and setting 42 NCAA, SEC, and Tennessee records. He also earned the Maxwell, Davey O’Brien National Quarterback, and Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Awards as well as the prestigious Sullivan and Draddy Scholar-Athlete of the Year Awards. Manning completed 287 of 477 passes for 36 touchdowns that season.
The AP Co-Defensive Player of the Year in the SEC, Little earned All-American distinction after leading the Vols with 87 tackles and also recording 8.5 quarterback sacks, 6.5 tackles for loss, and two forced fumbles. Little’s defensive unit also set a school record with 47 sacks.
Joining Manning and Little as Tennessee All-SEC performers in 1997 were defensive end and SEC sacks leader Jonathan Brown, defensive back Terry Fair, kicker Jeff Hall, wide receiver Marcus Nash, offensive lineman Trey Teague, linebacker Al Wilson, and running back Jamal Lewis (second team). Lewis also earned Freshman All-American honors after leading all NCAA freshmen in rushing, gaining 1,364 yards on 232 carries, including seven touchdowns, in his first season in a Tennessee uniform.
(E-mail Stan Crawley at firstname.lastname@example.org)