The 1965 Tennessee Football Team, Part 3: An Inspiring Effort For The Ages
Monday, December 14, 2015 - by John Shearer
Some members of the 1965 Tennessee team on Shields-Watkins Field before the Tennessee-Arkansas game in early October.
- photo by Dennis Norwood
Some members of the 1965 Tennessee team on Shields-Watkins Field before the Tennessee-Arkansas game in early October.
- photo by Dennis Norwood
Harry Stancell of Tennessee (No. 43) waits to tackle future Heisman Trophy winner Gary Beban of UCLA in memorable 1965 game
On the morning of Oct. 18, 1965, University of Tennessee defensive back Bob Petrella was awakened by some pounding on his Gibbs Hall dormitory room door.
The source of the loud noise was teammate Jimmy Glover.
“He was so horribly excited that he couldn’t get it out for a half hour,” Mr. Petrella recalled recently over the telephone.
Finally, however, he told Mr. Petrella why he was so upset. Assistant coaches Bob Jones and Bill Majors had been killed in a horrific train-car collision earlier that morning and fellow assistant Charlie Rash had been taken to the hospital with serious injuries.
He would die four days later.
“It was just horrible,” Mr. Petrella recalled of hearing the news. “The whole week was horrible.”
That tragic event of exactly 50 years ago would forever scar the 1965 football team and head coach Doug Dickey. But despite that, or maybe because of it, the numbed team would continue to fight on the field and would eventually give UT fans a season to remember.
With an 8-1-2 finish, it was the best Vols team in nine seasons, since the 1956 SEC championship year. However, because of what all the team overcame, it may have been the most inspiring team since even farther back in time.
“We decided to dedicate the rest of the year to the coaches,” recalled Dewey Warren, a redshirt sophomore quarterback that year and one of the stars of the team. “We saw a lot of players grow up because right in front of you, you lose three coaches. We decided you’ve got to go on. That’s what they would have wanted you to do.”
The first two articles of this series written earlier this fall looked at the 1965 season in large part through the memories of the widows of the assistant coaches who died. This story will look at the season through the team members’ memories, primarily those of Mr. Petrella and Mr. Warren.
Although these two players helped contribute in similarly positive ways to the success of the Big Orange, they actually came from quite different backgrounds. Mr. Petrella was raised in South Philadelphia, while Mr. Warren in South Georgia.
Mr. Petrella ended up at Tennessee because fullback Chuck Bailey, a teammate at his South Philadelphia High School, was being recruited by Tennessee assistant coach Ralph Chancey. Coach Chancey saw Mr. Petrella play, too, as a tailback and defensive back, and Tennessee offered both of them scholarships.
Mr. Petrella played tailback some that first year of 1962 as a freshmen team member in the single wing under coach Bowden Wyatt. He then switched to wingback his second year under one-year head coach Jim McDonald, but became a safety after coach Doug Dickey arrived before the 1964 season.
He remembered that some changes came along after coach Dickey’s arrival, including the beginning of off-season workouts.
Some changes also came in terms of mental outlook. Mr. Petrella recalled that senior Whit Canale called a team meeting in 1964 and announced that the practice of hazing would be eliminated.
“My class, nobody hazed anybody and that pulled it together,” he said.
Mr. Warren recalled that coach Dickey’s attitude of being all business also helped the team.
“He was like a Marine sergeant,” Mr. Warren said, adding that coach Dickey worked with the quarterbacks. “He focused on blocking and tackling and discipline – being on time, not jumping off sides, the little things.
“When he stood up in front of the team, he said this is the rules and this is the way it will be,” he continued. “If you don’t abide by the rules, you won’t be here. Dickey was tough, but as you get older you understand him better.”
Mr. Warren would also grow to appreciate the coach’s handling of the team during the tragic week of the crash.
From Jenkins High School in Savannah, Ga., where he played in front of large crowds, Mr. Warren ended up at Tennessee and not a school like Georgia primarily because his high school coach, Lamar Leachman, had played at Tennessee in the 1950s.
More of a passer, Mr. Warren knew Tennessee did not throw a lot but figured they might one day. And that proved to be true when Coach Dickey arrived and the Vols switched to the T formation. Wanting to get on the field, he also played a little linebacker during his first year or so on the freshmen team.
As the 1965 season approached after Tennessee finished 4-5-1 in 1964, Mr. Warren was pretty much a backup to Charlie Fulton, who was more of a running quarterback. But Mr. Warren would later get his chance and make the most of the opportunity.
Mr. Warren wore No. 16 – yes, the same No. 16 that Peyton Manning later wore before it was retired due to Mr. Manning’s good play. Mr. Petrella, meanwhile, wore No. 21.
Among the other standout players and their jersey numbers and hometowns that 1965 season were quarterback Fulton, No. 12, from Memphis; offensive end Austin Denney, No. 84, Nashville; offensive end, Johnny Mills, No. 85, Elizabethton; tailback Walter Chadwick, No. 20, Decatur, Ga.; wingback Hal Wantland, No. 19, Columbia; fullback Stan Mitchell, No. 31, Sparta; defensive end Paul Naumoff, No. 81, Columbus, Ohio; and linebacker Frank Emanuel, No. 50, Newport News, Va.
The 1965 season – which was like a roller coaster on and off the field -- began with a 21-0 win over Army in what was the first time that the Tennessee players ran through the T formed by the band before the game. However, they ran out of a locker room near the 50-yard line on the east side of the stadium, not from out of the north end zone as is done today.
That victory was followed by a 13-13 tie with Auburn and a 24-3 win over South Carolina. On Oct. 16, the Vols made their first road trip when they traveled to Birmingham’s Legion Field to face traditional SEC powerhouse and rival Alabama under coach Paul “Bear” Bryant.
Due to some poor game mismanagement late by Tide quarterback Ken Stabler – who thought it was third down instead of fourth – Tennessee escaped with a 7-7 tie. With Tennessee’s struggles of recent years and Alabama’s success, this tie felt very much like a victory for Tennessee.
Unfortunately, the euphoria of the season would be short lived, as the accident that eventually claimed the lives of the three coaches occurred two days later. They were crossing a railroad track by Cessna Road in West Knoxville in Coach Rash’s Volkswagen Beetle when they were struck by an east-traveling Southern Railway train.
After such a tragedy, the rest of the season remained kind of a big question mark. Finally, however, the team decided to carry on and even play the following Saturday against the University of Houston at home.
Although coach Dickey was still at the hospital before coach Rash died and was also attending the burials of coaches Majors and Jones in Middle Tennessee and Texas, respectively, the team was able to practice. Some coaches and administrators were given new or additional duties.
“It was kind of a strange week,” Mr. Warren remembered. “We practiced on our own some.”
And when the Houston game came that Saturday, a quiet eeriness filled Neyland Stadium. Somehow, though, Tennessee had enough resilience and physical ability amid the shock to win, 17-8. If the tragedy had not occurred the week before, the game against Houston might have also been remembered more as apparently the first game in which Tennessee played against a black player – Cougar running back Warren McVea.
Beginning with the Houston game and continuing through the rest of the year, the Tennessee team wore black crosses crudely painted on its helmets over part of the T. Mr. Warren said he is not sure who came up with the idea for the crosses or did the artwork.
The team would also wear pride for the rest of the year.
After the Houston game came a 21-7 victory over Georgia Tech and coach Bobby Dodd at home.
The next week, on Nov. 13, the Vols traveled to Memphis to play Ole Miss in the new Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. Mr. Warren came in to play an admirable game after Mr. Fulton was injured, but the Vols lost 14-13. Had the Vols won, the season would have been even more memorable.
Tennessee then had a 19-3 win over Kentucky at the Wildcats’ old Stoll Field across the street from Memorial Coliseum in Lexington, and then closed out the season with a 21-3 win over Vanderbilt at home.
In 1965, the Vols also had an early December regular season game against UCLA, again at Memphis’ Liberty Bowl field. As memorable as the season had already been due to all the highs and lows, it was about to get even more unforgettable.
UCLA had defeated rival USC and would later upset top-ranked Michigan State in the Rose Bowl. The Bruins were coached by Tommy Prothro, whose father, major league baseball player and manager “Doc” Prothro, had been discovered as a player by Joe Engel, later the head of the Chattanooga Lookouts.
UCLA had some great players like running back Mel Farr and quarterback Gary Beban, who would win the Heisman Trophy in 1967. Earning a victory would definitely be a formidable challenge for the Volunteers.
Since Tennessee was headed to the Bluebonnet Bowl, this game was nicknamed the Rosebonnet Bowl.
The score was tied 7-7 at the end of the first quarter, but then Tennessee began to dominate and comfortably went up 20-7 at the half.
But in this game that would feature a crazy second half, UCLA came roaring back to score 21 straight points to take a 28-20 lead at the end of the third quarter.
However, Tennessee was not about to quit. It had come too far this season.
In front of 44,595 fans in a game that was not on television, the Vols began a rally for the ages. Throwing some pass to Mr. Mills – who was a star of the game but ended up suffering a broken arm at the end making a block – Tennessee was able to cut the score to 28-26, but missed the two-point try. A key play in the drive was a Mills-to-Chadwick flea flicker play similar to what Georgia had done in an upset victory over Alabama earlier that year.
Tennessee then received the ball back and David Leake kicked a 20-yard field goal with 6:02 remaining in the game to put the Vols up, 29-28.
But the fourth quarter would have 23 points of scoring, so the game was by no means over.
UCLA then drove the ball down and scored to go up 34-29 with 3:32 left.
However, Tennessee had been through so much adversity during the season that this seemed like a minor obstacle to overcome. It was.
With the inspiring field general Mr. Warren under the controls and having the best game of his young career, Tennessee drove the ball down the field. Less than a minute remained when the Vols were faced with fourth down at the UCLA 1-yard line.
What would happen? Would the Vols’ memorable season come up short?
Not hardly. Despite some pulled muscles and lacking superior speed, Mr. Warren relied simply on heart as he rolled to the left and somehow found the end zone. It was touchdown Tennessee.
Films of the play that survive make it hard to judge convincingly whether he scored. If instant replay was being used in officiating today, this play would have definitely been “under further review.” But Mr. Warren strongly believes he scored.
“I broke the plane,” he said. “I know good and well in my heart I got in.”
With a pass to Mr. Denney for the two-point play, Tennessee was up 37-34.
However, UCLA had four chances to throw some passes and maybe score a freak touchdown or get close enough for a tying field goal. But on the fourth pass, Mr. Petrella intercepted the ball near the Tennessee goal and began racing down the UCLA sideline.
The Tennessee fans could start celebrating, as the 37-34 victory was assured. Unfortunately, getting out of the game safely was not. As the play ended, Mr. Petrella was hit with a forearm by UCLA player Paul Horgan.
“I wore only one bar” (on the helmet),” said Mr. Petrella. “It was split right on the hairline where the blood came from. I had 12 stitches.”
Mr. Petrella recalled that he had raccoon eyes for a few weeks afterward, including for teammate Harry Stancell’s wedding, and does not recall a whole lot about the game due to the injury.
But Tennessee fans would never forget this memorable contest, which was also remembered for UCLA coach Tommy Prothro’s criticism of the officiating. It may not have been the most important Vols’ victory in history, but with what the team had overcome off the field that season and on the field since a year or two earlier, it could be considered one of the most inspirational.
This was made evident by the fact that some 3,000-4,000 delirious Vol fans welcomed them back at the Knoxville airport that night, with some waiting two hours or so in the cold. So many people enthusiastically swarmed around the plane on the tarmac in those days before tough security rules that the local police and Tennessee state troopers had to clear a path for the players to walk after exiting.
The team went on to finish the season on another positive note, with a 27-6 win over Tulsa and future NFL great Howard Twilley in the Bluebonnet Bowl in Houston on Dec. 18.
And through all the victories, the players did not let the three coaches and their memories be forgotten.
“We dedicated the rest of the year to the coaches,” said Mr. Warren.
After the last game, the months and years soon passed. Mr. Petrella went on to play for the Miami Dolphins for several years before getting cut as the team began its perfect season of 1972. However, he had played on the Super Bowl team the year before. He would go on to work in the hospitality industry with restaurants and liquor stores and now lives in Wildwood, N.J., south of Atlantic City.
Mr. Warren went on to coach some at places such as Brigham Young University and Sewanee and even at the high school level. Possessing a natural, pep-talking-style of voice, he went on to do some radio show hosting and sales work and lives in Knoxville.
Unfortunately, the tragedies that beset the 1965 team would not end. Promising linebacker Tom Fisher and defensive tackled John Crumbacher would die in a car accident in March 1966, while standout running back Walter Chadwick suffered permanently disabling injuries in a car wreck in the Atlanta area in 1971. Like the three coaches, he was also driving in a small Volkswagen Beetle.
Mr. Chadwick’s story since 1971 has been one of inspiration as he has continued to fight on with the help of certain friends, according to some articles found online.
A number of former 1965 teammates, such as Mr. Denney, Mr. Mitchell, Mr. Wantland, and defensive end Bobby Frazier, are also now deceased.
But those still living and able to travel had the opportunity to relive the highs and lows of that memorable 1965 season with a 50-year reunion on the weekend of the Tennessee-Arkansas game in early October.
“I got to see some guys I have not seen in 25-30 years,” said Mr. Warren. “It was great.”
Mr. Petrella also recalled it as a memorable time. “There were too many guys missing, but we had a nice nucleus of guys.”
Also still there were warm memories of that unique season, when hearts were broken off the field, but the players tried to mend them as best they could on it.
“We had a bunch of guys who wanted to win,” said Mr. Warren. “It was all team oriented.”
(To see the first two stories of this series on the 1965 Tennessee football team, read here:
(To see a YouTube video highlight of the 1965 Tennessee season, click here