Guys, we have a new recurring (probably) concept that you can file under “ideas that probably aren’t lame.” We’re going to call it our Grainy Game of the Week.
What is it? Well, it’s exactly what it sounds like. Each week, we’ll go to the public library and dig up a pre-HD television version of a classic football game from the past. That, or we’ll just grab one off of YouTube.
What’s that you say? There’s an entire linear television channel dedicated to this sort of thing? Shh. Don’t ruin this.
Let’s kick things off with No. 10 Arkansas at No. 1 Tennessee in 1998.
The Hogs entered the season unranked before rolling to eight straight wins—including a week three demolition of No. 22 Alabama—and rising into the Top 10 ahead of their trip to Knoxville.
Fresh off of an 11-win season in 1997, Tennessee opened the campaign ranked 10th before earning victories over No. 17 Syracuse, second-ranked Florida and seventh-ranked Georgia, eventually taking over the pole position for the first time since 1956.
The Vols looked like a team that was straining under the pressure of that long-awaited return to the top, too. Head coach Phil Fulmer’s bunch played extremely tight for the majority of the contest—particularly early, as Arkansas jumped on them.
With less than six minutes to play in the first quarter, Tennessee running back Travis Stephens coughed up the football, setting up the Arkansas offense deep in Vols territory.
No one saw this live, however, because—in what was an absolutely surreal few minutes—CBS News’ Dan Rather was patched into the broadcast to update Americans on the growing conflict in Iraq.
Two plays later, Clint Stoerner hit Emanuel Smith in the flats and, courtesy of some awful tackling, Smith made his way into the end zone for first blood.
On the first play of the second quarter, the Razorbacks set off some fireworks, as Stoerner found one of the program’s all-time great wide receivers, Anthony Lucas, who was even with the defender down the far sideline. Lucas plucked the ball off of the cornerback’s head and took care of the rest.
The Vols finally got on the board with a 41-yard field goal with 6:23 to play in the first half, but that modest success was short lived. On the ensuing possession, Stoerner found Lucas again at the tail end of a dominant drive to put Arkansas up 21-3.
That catch put Lucas atop the Arkansas record book for career and single-season receptions.
Tennessee would answer. But, once again, viewers at home would not see it, as CBS News coverage of the situation in Iraq again cut into the live game action. Rather re-entered living rooms with the Hogs up 21-3. When he kicked it back to Sean McDonough, it was 21-10, Arkansas.
In the interim, it was Peerless Price on the receiving end of a Tee Martin touchdown pass after running right by Orlando Green.
That play would prove to be huge, as Arkansas had, in large part, crushed Tennessee on its home field in the first half, but led by just 11 at the break after—in spite of possession at the 41-yard line, three timeouts and a full minute left in the half—Houston Nutt was content to simply kill the clock.
Nonetheless, Tennessee stumbled a bit out of the gates to open the second half, ultimately gifting the Razorbacks a field goal off of a turnover to push the lead back to 14, and it looked as though Arkansas was back in control.
Instead, Travis Henry got it going.
Henry rushed for 56 yards on the ensuing possession before Tee Martin took care of the rest to cap a 69-yard scoring drive and pull within a touchdown.
The scoring drive was Tennessee’s second consecutive march to a touchdown and third consecutive scoring drive after a horrible start. The Vols made it four straight with a field goal on their final drive of a third quarter in which they held the football for 9:29.
Over the course of the final quarter, Arkansas fans got their first real glimpse at an expression on their head coach’s face that would become more and more prevalent with each passing year.
Up to this point, Nutt could do no wrong in Fayetteville. But he’d never quite wear the same charm his performance in Knoxville in ’98.
Still, even amid its collapse, Arkansas had myriad opportunities to put the game away.
After a big completion from Stoerner to Lucas set the Hogs up with first down inside the Tennessee red zone midway through the fourth quarter, things fell apart.
Stoerner ate a huge sack on second down:
Joe Dean Davenport dropped this sure touchdown:
Then, Tennessee blocked a long field goal attempt:
Still, the Arkansas defense rose to the occasion, pushing the Vols’ offense out of field goal range after the sudden change and returning the football to its offense—an offense that had been a bunch of world beaters right up until the point that its head coach sat on three timeouts 59 yards from pay dirt prior to halftime.
Their efforts were rewarded with … Weeeeeee!
Still, the Arkansas defense delivered, stomping out Tennessee’s comeback bid at midfield with under two minutes remaining.
Game over, right?
On second down and 12, Tennessee with just one timeout, Nutt elected to throw the football. That was bad. Bad was made much, much worse when Stoerner stumbled and attempted to hold himself up with the football.
It is a play that will forever live in infamy in Fayetteville—and a play that a lot of Tennessee fans in attendance that day didn’t see, as droves of fans headed for the exits a few minutes prior.
Five plays and 43 yards later …
Tennessee’s one and only lead of the game arrived with 29 seconds to play in one of the most inexplicable endings in college football history.
The Vols would go on to win the first BCS National Championship, 23-16, over Peter Warrick and Florida State.
Arkansas’ second loss of what could have and probably should have been arguably the greatest season in program history would come the very next week at Mississippi State when this field goal was apparently good:
The loss at Mississippi State was the death blow, as it prevented the Hogs from winning the SEC West and getting a rematch with Tennessee in the SEC title game.
A little over a month later, some dude named Tom Brady led Michigan past the Razorbacks in the Citrus Bowl.