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The time Howard Schnellenberger scored a game-winner against Tennessee

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A True Story of Schnelly Greatness

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On November 20, 1954, Kentucky beat Tennessee 14-13 in Knoxville. This game was not capital I Important; nobody won or lost the conference, or made or missed a bowl game because of the outcome. It wasn’t really an upset, as the Wildcats entered at 6-3 while the Vols were 4-4. The losing coach, Harvey Robinson, did get fired after the season, though ending the year with a 26-0 defeat to Vanderbilt was at least as big a factor as this loss.

I stumbled upon this game thanks to a very normal and healthy habit of mine: going to newspapers.com, putting in a college football name, and seeing what’s in the older parts of the archives. This game came up because of who scored the winning touchdown for Kentucky:

“Run That By Me Again,” Kentucky Educational Television

LOOK AT THAT HANDSOME ROGUE. THAT COLLAR DATED YOUR AUNT FOR THREE YEARS AND WHILE IT DIDN’T WORK OUT LONG-TERM, THINGS ENDED AMICABLY AND YOU’VE GOT GOOD MEMORIES OF GOING BOWLING WITH THAT COLLAR AND GETTING TO TASTE A BEER FOR THE FIRST TIME.

Sorry about that.

That’s Schnellenberger on a 1977 episode of “Run That By Me Again,” an old Kentucky PBS show that reviewed great moments in UK basketball and football. Lest you think he is out of place, this is the host, Kenny Wolin.

Kentucky Educational Television

And this is one of Schnellenberger’s old teammates.

Kentucky Educational Television

This could just be a post that says “Howard Schnellenberger scored a game-winning touchdown against Tennessee once, and here are some photos of him and his friends in extremely 70s outfits.” It isn’t, because that episode of “Run That By Me Again” revealed something intriguing: Tennessee didn’t just lose because of that touchdown. There were several dumb and unpleasant moments that made that final blow possible.

Let’s review them now.

FIRST QUARTER: KENTUCKY’S STUPID MIRACLE PUNT

The weather leading up to this game was total trash. I know this thanks to that totally normal newspapers.com habit I mentioned.

The Courier-Journal, Nov. 21 1954

Kicking held no interest for either team, which is why Tennessee went for it on fourth and goal from the nine. They got stopped at the one but Kentucky didn’t gain any yardage and was forced to punt from there.

Then the punter fumbled the ball.

When he recovered the ball, the punter, Bradley Mills, was running to his left. This was not ideal, as Mills kicked with his right foot.

Also, he was surrounded by the other team.

Somehow, Mills managed to punt with the wrong foot. Was it a booming, awe-inspiring punt? No, but it kept Tennessee from getting two points on top of possession.

SECOND QUARTER: BALL DON’T LIE (BUT SOMETIMES IT IS CONFUSED)

Up 7-0, Tennessee had a first and goal from the seven. The following sequence ensued:

  • 1st and goal: UT runs for no gain
  • 2nd and goal: UK intercepts a pass in the end zone, promptly fumbles it back to UT around the Kentucky 10
  • 1st and goal: UT runs to the Kentucky 3
  • 2nd and goal: UT runs up the middle for no gain
  • 3rd and goal: UT runs to the Kentucky 2
  • 4th and goal: UT stopped for no gain

Lots of teams botch red zone possessions, but Tennessee has a unique flair for leaving you asking “they ran HOW many plays inside the ten? And scored no points?” Read that sequence again and tell me it didn’t happen under Derek Dooley or Butch Jones.

Conservatively, Tennessee missed out on five points in the first half, and Kentucky tied the game early in the second half.

Good news: the Vols didn’t flinch and scored on the very next possession.

Bad news:

THIRD QUARTER: THE MISSING POINT

It is not pleasant to watch 1950s placekicking. The form has no grace, with the kicker lining up straight on, hunched over, and then poking at the ball like he’s trying to push some spilled cereal under the fridge so he doesn’t have to go get the broom. I would not be surprised to learn coaches avoided field goals at this point in football history simply because they hated watching kickers kick.

Watching 50s kickers miss, however, becomes almost funny? Of course this dorky extra point got blocked!

That put Kentucky in position to win the game with a touchdown and extra point of their own, which means it’s now time to talk about the thing that led me to this game in the first place.

FOURTH QUARTER: YOU FORGOT ABOUT SCHNELLENBERGER

The Vols and Wildcats each finished this game with 34 passing yards. Most of Kentucky’s came on this, the go-ahead touchdown to Schnellenberger.

Schnelly is so wide open that he WAVES HIS HANDS IN THE AIR THREE SECONDS BEFORE THE BALL IS EVEN THROWN AND THERE’S STILL NOBODY NEAR HIM ONCE IT GETS THERE.

Wanna make it worse? This was the first time Kentucky beat Tennessee in Knoxville in thirty years. What a brutal way to lose a game you likely should have won, or at least tied. Thank you, Howard Schnellenberger, newspapers.com, and Kentucky Public Broadcasting, for helping me learn about it.