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The Vols Had A Ball
Rick Reilly
October 07, 1985
Tony Robinson's four touchdown passes and Tennessee's tough defense left Bo Jackson and favored Auburn in ruins
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October 07, 1985

The Vols Had A Ball

Tony Robinson's four touchdown passes and Tennessee's tough defense left Bo Jackson and favored Auburn in ruins

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If you lived south of the Mason-Dixon line, it required steel scruples just to keep from dialing up the Downtown Athletic Club and asking the boys to bring the Heisman Trophy on down and give it to His Boliness, Auburn's Bo Jackson, a few teensy-weensy weeks early. After all, Ohio State's Keith Byars was injured, TCU's Kenneth Davis was jumping to the NFL—even if it did mean a pay cut—and BYU's Robbie Bosco hadn't even thrown for a church record yet. So whaddya say? Give the Heisman to Bo now and save the price of the tuxes.

This was the AP and UPI No. 1 team, Auburn, and this was Super Bo—the running back so Bo-dacious that one Atlanta paper dressed him in a Superman outfit and ran the photo full-color, full-page. This was the Bo for whom Auburn had changed its entire offense. Out went the wishbone. In came the I-formation, just so Bo and the ball could get better acquainted, say, 20 or more times a game. After two games in which he averaged 248 yards a game, Jackson was ready to go and everybody was in Knoxville, Tenn. to see him, including 60% of ABC's television audience.

By the way, who was Bo playing?

"Some of the guys got to talking," Tennessee wide receiver Tim McGee had said two days before the game, "and we got to wondering, 'With the TV coming to see Bo and all, do you think they might show us ?' Then we said, 'Nah.' "

Trouble was, somebody had a lousy idea: Play the game. They shouldn't oughta have done that. Yo, Bo: Here's mud in your I.

Tennessee River mud, to be exact, which isn't far from where the Vols danced the Tennessee Waltz on Auburn's nose, scratching the paint on the souped-up, custom-built Bo O and knocking the S off Superman. Here's nobody's No. 1, Tennessee, tweaking the Tigers 38-20 in front of most everybody with a Heisman vote and a television, and leaving Jackson with only 80 yards on 17 carries. Whoaaaa, Bo. You even took yourself out of the game in the third quarter with a bruised knee and spent the rest of the afternoon on the bench. That was strictly Bo-rrrrring.

Definitely not boring was Vol Ball, that high-wire act performed without a net by a quarterback built along the lines of a tent pole and by a collection of receivers who could make a bundle working wallets in Bogotá. Together, they like to change about 65% of the plays called from the booth and throw it long instead, and darned if they don't hit half of them. Then, all of a sudden, you're trying to call plays in the fourth quarter while maniacs with orange faces and blue breath are bringing down the goalposts on your very heels. Ah, what's the use? You weren't using 'em anyway.

"Man, just think about it," said McGee, who got in some serious tube time, catching six passes for 163 yards and a touchdown. "We had nothing to lose. This is Auburn, the No. 1 team with the No. 1 Heisman guy. We could've lost 50 to nothing and everybody would have said, 'Typical Tennessee team.' Now, we've got Tennessee back on the map."

Auburn coach Pat Dye had tried to tell us. Dye had insisted that the Tigers were not No. 1 (they were ranked seventh by SI), but even Dye was in for a letdown. 'T hope we're not as bad as we looked today," he said afterward. He might also hope that Tennessee isn't as good as it looked, for if it is, Tennessee could make off with the Southeastern Conference title. Yes, America, the Vols, who last won the SEC in 1969, who hadn't beaten a No. 1 team since 1959 (LSU), and who almost turned this game into one of the great fiascoes in polling history. Consider that Tennessee was ahead 24-0 at the half despite having botched two drives in Auburn territory, one at the 10.

And...uh-oh, Bo. The Vols' quarterback, senior Tony Robinson, could start splitting up the Heisman voting block in the South. A dazzling talent, Robinson is now an official TV ratings hit, having thrown for 387 yards in an opening 26-26 tie with UCLA on ABC and 259 yards and four touchdowns against Auburn. Dye calls Robinson "a great player, but we knew that coming in." Tennessee coach Johnny Majors says Robinson is "the most dynamic college quarterback in the game since Joe Namath...with the best natural touch on the ball I've ever seen."

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