South Carolina’s series with Tennessee has been marked by uncompetitiveness. The Volunteers lead the all-time series by a comfortable 22-6-2 margin. South Carolina won the first meeting between the two schools in 1903–it would not win again until 1992. The teams played each other irregularly before that 1992 game, at which time they began playing annually as SEC East foes. Carolina’s first win in Knoxville didn’t come until 2005. The Gamecocks have now won three of the last four games against Tennessee, signaling a shift in the rivalry’s balance of power. But the most interesting game in the series with Tennessee is by far the 1992 contest.
A Milestone Year
1992 was one of the most significant years in the history of Gamecock football. On the surface, it doesn’t seem all that significant: a 5-6 record, (although starting 0-5 before winning five of the final six games, with the only loss in that stretch coming by five points in Gainesville does add some intrigue), 3-5 in the conference, loss to Clemson, freshman year for Steve Tanneyhill. Big whoop.
But dig a little deeper and you start to find some cool nuggets. It was Carolina’s first year of competition in the SEC, the significance of which was completely unfathomable at the time. It was the 100th anniversary of the first time the university fielded a football team. And it contained an instant classic against Tennessee.
Heart Attacks and Hollywood
#16 Tennessee limped into the Halloween game in Columbia on a two-game losing streak. The Vols had endured a tough year, losing their head trainer to a heart attack during preseason practice. Head coach Johnny Majors had also endured major heart issues, undergoing emergency quintuple bypass surgery just before the season started and temporarily turning the reigns over to offensive coordinator Phillip Fulmer while he was ill. Tennessee went 4-0 in those games and attained a #7 national ranking.
When Majors, a 16-year Tennessee coaching veteran, returned to his post, the team struggled. Tennessee defeated LSU in Baton Rouge, then was upset at home by an unranked Arkansas team. Alabama, who would go on to win the inaugural SEC Championship Game and the national championship later that season, came into Neyland Stadium and defeated the Vols the next weekend. Fans called for Majors’ resignation.
When Tennessee came to Columbia on Halloween, they walked into a strange environment. Three weeks earlier, Wolf Den Productions announced that it would use Columbia as one of its principal filming locations for a movie called The Program that detailed the trials of members of a major college football team. The Tennessee game would be used for filming the game action. Clips of movie scenes from “Wolf Den Stadium” can be seen below, but be warned: they’re definitely NSFW, and contain lots of foul language.
Fans were told that 15 minutes worth of game footage would be filmed at halftime, and almost all of them stayed in their seats for the chance to say they were in a movie. It was undoubtedly one of the strangest, most unique atmospheres surrounding a college football game.
The Game Itself
The underdog Gamecocks were able to hang around for much of the game, and held a 24-17 lead in the final minutes. Mose Phillips brought Tennessee to within a point with two minutes remaining, scoring on a 39-yard touchdown reception by breaking eight tackles. The NCAA didn’t institute overtime rules until 1996, so an extra point would cause the game to end in a tie. Majors elected to go for a two-point conversion and the win.
Hank Campbell’s tackle saved the game and provided the Gamecocks with their signature win of the season. The (Spartanburg) Herald-Journal perfectly captured the emotion of the win.
At halftime of Saturday’s game at Williams-Brice Stadium, a Hollywood film crew took the field.
They were shooting game scenes for the upcoming film “The Program,” carefully choreographing stunning touchdown runs and thrilling down-to-the-wire finishes with that proper Hollywood touch.
Then the South Carolina Gamecocks showed them how to do it right with a stunning 24-23 upset of No. 16 Tennessee before a crowd of 71,529 at Williams-Brice Stadium.
With 1:28 left in the game, No. 16 Tennessee was about ready end to the Gamecocks’ improbable winning streak at two games. The Volunteers had come from behind in the final minutes, scoring when Mose Phillips went 39 yards with a screen pass to bring Tennessee within a point at 24-23.
And now the Vols were lining up for the winning two-point conversion, which would finally put the Southeastern Conference newcomers at USC in their place once and for all.
Instead, walk-on linebacker Hank Campbell slammed into Tennessee’s James Stewart, who had caught a short pass from Heath Shuler at the 4-yard line, stopped him, and with help from Norman Greene, pushed him backward to save the Gamecocks’ biggest victory of this amazing season.
Could any script top this?
The 24-23 Carolina victory would prove to be the final nail in the coffin for Johnny Majors, who was fired after the season. Phillip Fulmer took over the head coaching job, serving as Peyton Manning’s head coach from 1994-97 and winning a national championship in 1998, the first championship awarded by the Bowl Championship Series.
If you recognized the name Heath Shuler from the either video, kudos to you for knowing your politics. The Vols’ quarterback and Bryson City, NC native moved back to the North Carolina mountains after his playing days were done and now serves in the US House of Representatives as a Democrat from North Carolina’s 11th District.