For every big win Johnny Majors had at Tennessee, he somehow managed to come up with an inexplicable loss — or, sometimes, a tie that felt like a loss. Like 1989 Auburn. Or 1985 UCLA.
Tennessee’s 6-6 tie against Georgia Tech on Oct. 26, 1985, was not one of those ties. But it was a game the Vols should have won.
That 1985 Tennessee team was sweet as sugar, stunning No. 2 Miami in the Sugar Bowl, 35-7, and finishing the season with a No. 4 national ranking that exceeded all expectations. But on a chilly afternoon before 93,000 fans in Neyland Stadium that October, Tennessee couldn’t do much right — at least on offense.
The Vols had started the season with one of those ties that did indeed feel like a loss, allowing No. 10 UCLA to battle back from a 26-10 deficit in the fourth quarter to force a 26-26 tie. Then they had toppled top-ranked Auburn and eventual Heisman Trophy winner Bo Jackson, and squeaked by Wake Forest, before losing to Florida.
The loss to the Gators would be Tennessee’s only defeat in 1985, and the Vols followed with a thrilling win over Alabama on the Third Saturday of October. But that victory at Legion Field in Birmingham came at a price: quarterback Tony Robinson suffered a season-ending injury, leaving the UT offense in the hands of unheralded quarterback Darryl Dickey, the son of UT’s first-year athletics director, Doug Dickey.
When Georgia Tech visited Knoxville the following weekend, the Rambling Wreck had their own problems. They were without their leading rusher, Jerry Mays. They were also without Cory Collier, their second option at runningback.
Tennessee’s Orange Crush defense was every bit as good as advertised on that crisp autumn afternoon. The Vols defense had given up just five touchdowns through the first five games of the season, and they held Georgia Tech to a single field goal as the fourth quarter began.
But the Vols’ offense was struggling mightily behind Dickey, and Tennessee had nothing to show for its efforts as the final period began, trailing 3-0.
When Georgia Tech added a late field goal to push the lead to 6-0, it appeared as though Tennessee was on its way to a loss.
Then Carlos Reveiz — the younger brother of Fuad Reveiz — came to the rescue.
When Dickey engineered the first of three fourth quarter drives into Georgia Tech territory, Reveiz stepped on to bang home a 55-yard field goal, cutting the deficit to 6-3.
Tennessee had an opportunity to tie the game later, but Reveiz missed a 27-yard field goal attempt that was a relative chip-shot, compared to the long kick he had just made. Later, with the Vols going to work in their two-minute offense as time ticked away, Dickey threw an interception that appeared as though it might be the final nail in the coffin.
But Georgia Tech was unable to convert a first down and run out the clock, and Dickey was good enough when it mattered most. With the clock winding down, Dickey drove the Vols into field goal range, setting Reveiz up for a 51-yard attempt with 14 seconds remaining. It was good, with leg to spare, and Tennessee scored itself a tie that felt more like a win.
The rest, of course, is history. The Vols shut out Rutgers the following week, 40-0, and the UT defense allowed just three touchdowns in the final six games of the season, which included shutout wins of 42-0 over Kentucky and 30-0 over Vanderbilt to wrap up Majors’ first of three SEC championships.
That set the stage for the Sugar Bowl showdown with highly-favored Miami, where ABC’s Keith Jackson famously quipped to Vol Network color commentator Bill Anderson, “I hope Tennessee keeps it close enough that we don’t lose our audience by halftime.”
The game was a blowout, all right. After spotting Miami an early touchdown, the Orange Crush defense made Vinnie Testeverde’s life a living nightmare, and the Vols scored 35 consecutive points to rout the Hurricanes. Dickey was named the Sugar Bowl’s most valuable player, and UT put the wraps on what was — in the words of play-by-play broadcaster John Ward — “a storybook year for the orange and white.”