A recent chattanoogan.com story about the 1950 and 1952 Kentucky-Tennessee football games in Knoxville being played in snowy conditions brought back memories for Chattanoogan Joe Elkins Sr. of an even earlier winter-affected game.
Mr. Elkins remembered going to one Kentucky-Tennessee game about 1930, when he said conditions were also quite wintry and he had to clear snow off his seat.
He was actually only about four years old at the time, he said, but has not forgotten going to the game in a new 1930 Chevrolet his father, W.C. “Squibb” Elkins, had purchased. He vividly remembered that heat was not a feature of that new car, and the trip from Chattanooga was not overly comfortable, even though his mother had given him some warm bricks.
“We stayed warm for about 30 minutes,” he recalled with a laugh.
Mr. Elkins, who later worked for the Tennessee Valley Authority, is not sure if the game he remembers took place in 1930 or slightly later, but a look at a Knoxville newspaper from 1930 on microfilm reveals that must have been when it was, although the situation was evidently not quite as bad as in the 1950 and 1952 games.
On the morning before the 1930 Kentucky-Tennessee game, which was still being played on Thanksgiving Day, not a Saturday, some snow fell. It was not really bad in Knoxville, but some other areas of East Tennessee were hit worse.
The early Thanksgiving morning low the next day was 21, but was expected to warm up to 40 by game time with clear skies.
Those may have seemed like pretty bad conditions for a Tennessee regular season game, but it was evidently quite better than the 1929 Kentucky-Tennessee game in Lexington, which was played in bitterly cold temperatures and during a blinding snowstorm.
Mr. Elkins has not forgotten the cold of the 1930 game, as he remembers purchasing some hot tamales that were being sold out of a pot of boiling water at a concession stand.
“When I ate it, I could feel heat going all the way down through my stomach,” he said.
One reason the family had bothered to travel through the cold conditions to the game was that Mr. Elkins’ father was a good friend of Tennessee coach Robert Neyland.
They had met when coach Neyland was assigned with the Army Corps of Engineers in Chattanooga from 1930-33 and used an office in the Volunteer Building when he wasn’t coaching football. Mr. Elkins’ father, who had also played baseball at UT, ran a restaurant and drug store in the building.
The elder Elkins would visit with the coach during that time, and he told his son that about all coach Neyland had to do while at his Chattanooga office was draw football plays.
Because of the friendship, Squibb Elkins would often hang out on the bench during the Tennessee football games, his son remembers.
A look at the 1930 game shows that Tennessee won, 8-0, over the Harry Gamage-coached Kentucky team in front of 23,000 shivering fans. But it was not a typical victory. Knoxville native Charlie Kohlhase kicked two field goals via the antiquated dropkick from both the 15- and 22-yard lines.
The Vols’ other two points came when they were awarded a safety in the third quarter after a high snap by a substitute Kentucky center deep in Wildcat territory sailed out of the end zone.
The Vol defense was able to slow down famed Kentucky star halfback John “Shipwreck” Kelly during the game, but he still won praise. As Knoxville News Sentinel sports writer Bob Wilson wrote, “He was all they said he would be and more – and had he been given better blocking, I shiver to think what might have happened.”
Tennessee had a few pretty good players in that game as well, including future Georgia Tech coach Bobby Dodd, Gene Hackman, Baylor School graduate Herman Hickman and Shack Allen.
After the game, Tennessee coaches Neyland and Bill Britton headed up to Chicago’s Soldier Field to watch their alma mater, Army, play Notre Dame on Saturday.
The Vols were off for a few days, and then they were to get ready for a game against Florida in Jacksonville the next Saturday.
As a result, the coaches would be heading in yet another direction.
But the team seemed headed one way under coach Neyland – toward the top.