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  Who's Driving This Thing?
The Year in Review


A Titanic Year

The Tennessee Titans truly became the Tennessee Titans when they culminated their stellar '99 National Football League campaign (13-3 regular season) with a narrow loss to the mighty St. Louis Rams in the 2000 Superbowl. Suddenly, the team that had long been the rootless vagabonds of the NFL became a squad that people in Volunteer country could embrace.

Success continued in regular season '00, as the team appeared poised to capture the AFC's Central division title after week 16 (at 12-3, following a thumping of the hapless Cleveland Browns).

Vols Storm the Big Leagues

The 1994 UT depth chart included two particular names under the heading "quarterback," two players who followed widely divergent but equally successful paths into the world of professional sports.

One of those players needs little introduction; UT football hero and folk legend Peyton Manning posted even more impressive numbers through the course of the 2000 campaign than he did in 1999, when he guided the Indianapolis Colts to a 13-3 regular season record and made the AFC Pro Bowl Roster. Manning increased his personal bests in both passing yardage and touchdown passes, en route to a second Pro Bowl.

The other player, former UT starting quarterback Todd Helton, probably couldn't have hoped for a better turn of events than when he injured a shoulder and relinquished his QB duties to Manning early in the '94 season. Soon thereafter, Helton turned the whole of his attentions to his other sport, baseball. A good move, as evidenced by a 2000 season that saw Helton, now a first baseman for the Colorado Rockies, lead the National League in nearly every offensive category.


The Tennessee Volunteer football squad fell a bit from the lofty perch it had enjoyed in the polls of late. But the 2000 campaign nonetheless contained a number of high points for the Vol faithful, not the least of which was a season-ending six-game winning streak and a berth in the Cotton Bowl opposite Kansas State.

You read it here first (well, maybe not first): the year 2000 also witnessed the birth of another Vol legend when Mighty Casey, a.k.a. true freshman quarterback Casey Clausen out of California, came to bat as starting Vols QB for the Alabama game at mid-season. The highly touted recruit finished the regular season without a loss, and posted the highest quarterback rating in the SEC. Wait 'til next year, indeed.

One player UT won't see return is senior running back Travis "Cheese" Henry, who churned his way into the Tennessee record books as the school's all-time leading rusher. Surpassing former record-holder (now Detroit Lion 1,000-yarder) James Stewart and becoming the only back in UT history to rush for more than 3,000 yards in a career, the sturdy back with the big smile and redwood thighs rambled away from, around, but mostly through defenders and into the hearts of UT fans everywhere. We'll see him play again next year, too, only this time on Sunday afternoons.

We Play a Little Basketball, Too

Even after two consecutive trips to the NCAA tournament in Jerry Green's first two years as head coach, the UT men's basketball team was something of a disappointment. A first-round loss in 1998 and an embarrassing 30-point blowout to Southwest Missouri State in the second round of the '99 tourney were sour ways to end the Vol's most successful seasons in years. But Green—with the help of mercurial point guard Tony Harris, senior big man C.J. Black, and motor mouth freshman forward Ron Slay—made it over one hump in March 2000: the Vols beat UConn, the defending national champs, to get into the Sweet 16 quarterfinal round of the NCAA tournament, the first time UT had ever been that far. The frustrating loss to North Carolina that ended the tourney run—UT didn't score a field goal in the last seven minutes, and couldn't hold a double-digit lead in the second half—was disappointing, but the best March in program history left plenty of hope for this season.

For the six-time national champion Lady Vols, anything less than a title is a disappointment, especially when it comes at the hands of rival UConn. And that's exactly what happened, as Pat Summitt's team lost in the finals to Geno Auriemma's Huskies. But the Lady Vols did win yet another SEC championship and went to the Final Four for the 12th time. Oh, and by the way, Summitt was inducted into the college basketball Hall of Fame and named Coach of the Century in women's basketball. Not bad for an off year.

Smokies: Breathe Our Smoke, Knoxville

The Tennessee Smokies, late of Knoxville, opened their new stadium in Sevier County this season after Knoxville hemmed and hawed its way out of keeping the Toronto Blue Jays AA farm team in town. In their new fan-friendly digs just off I-40, the rejuvenated Smokies drew a record attendance of 256,000, pulling in people from all over East Tennessee. It's a little hard to tell now whether they'll all come back next year or whether they just came once for the privilege of laying down 18 bucks for a ball cap. We expected that. Everybody always wanted to go around winking at folks in a cap that says, "TS" right on the front.

Wrestlin' Returns to Knoxville

It had been 20 years since professional wrestlers body-slammed each other at Chilhowee Park. That changed this summer, as the World Wrestling Federation and local promoter Ron Fuller brought the WWF's junior varsity ("future stars," they said) to the K-Town Smackdown series at Chilhowee Park. The series also featured local stars like Bob Armstrong and the Rock 'n' Roll Express and Hooters girls at the concession stand.

"I call it a party," Fuller told the Knoxville News-Sentinel. "We're going to be creating some hot summer nights of our own."

December 21, 2000 * Vol. 10, No. 51
© 2000 Metro Pulse