On a bright October day at Legion Field in 1979, No. 1-ranked Alabama spotted underdog Tennessee 17 first-half points.
Jimmy Streeter, the Tennessee quarterback, was impressive: throwing for one touchdown, running for another, and having a third slip through the fingers of his favorite receiver, Anthony Hancock.
Quarterback Steadman Shealy put Alabama on the scoreboard late in the second quarter, hitting Tim Travis with a 33-yard touchdown to narrow the margin to 17-7. But it easily could have been 24-7 at the half.
“Tennessee just beat the tar out of us that first half,“ recalled Alabama halfback Major Ogilvie.
Alabama fans were understandably stunned, but Paul “Bear“ Bryant was prepared, because this was a movie he had seen before.
Like previous Bama teams confronted with such a situation—particularly the 1960 team, which trailed Georgia Tech 15-0, and the 1966 team, which fell behind Tennessee 10-0—the 1979 bunch retreated to the locker room under a cloud of fear and dread.
Every man on the team understood how badly Bryant wanted to beat Tennessee…how he saw the Third Saturday in October as a yardstick for greatness…how he had once played against the Vols with a broken leg.
Reading skillfully from an old script, Bryant, the master psychologist, told his players, “We’ve got ’em right where we want ’em.“
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