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The Tennessee Volunteers' 1998 National Championship

Aug 17, 2007
In 1998, the Tennessee Volunteers' football team opened their season with a win against Syracuse. UT fans celebrated, but at that time, no one realized that this would be the year the Volunteers would become the "Team of Destiny", and make history by completing the season with a perfect 13 wins and 0 losses record, winning the NCAA Division IA National Championship.

In fact, many fans were concerned. Their golden quarterback, Peyton Manning, was off to (one of the best young careers in) the NFL. How could they possibly come back from the loss of such a leader?

Head Coach Phillip Fulmer, who's been in that position since 1993, thought he had an answer to the fans' concerns. Fulmer believes in recruiting good players, working them hard and winning football games, and he was confident his young team could have a great season.

With the loss of quarterback Peyton Manning, Tee Martin stepped up to the role of starting quarterback. Other offensive players included Travis Henry, a.k.a. "Block of Cheese", Travis Stephens, Peerless Price, and Cedrick Wilson.

The equally-talented defense included Al Wilson, Shaun Ellis, Eric Westmoreland, and Derrick Edmonds, among others.

During the 1998 football season, the unanimous national champ Volunteers were also the Southeastern Conference football champions, where the Vols held an 8-0 record. They won the SEC championship against the Mississippi State University Bulldogs, 24-14, which allowed the Vols to be back-to-back SEC Champions.

What set the Vols apart in 1998 was not their undefeated record, although it was quite a feat. It was that they played the game like it should be played. They were a unique team that was able to play as a whole on both sides of the ball with a fierce determination and an unstoppable attitude.

The final game was played at the Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Arizona against the Florida State University Seminoles on January 4, 1999. Offensive MVP Peerless Price made two touchdowns, a 76-yard pass and a 79-yard pass. The other Big Orange touchdown came from Dwayne Goodrich's 54-yard interception return.

While most fans wrote off the team's chances for an amazing season due to the loss of major players like Payton Manning, Fulmer saw it as a chance to bring up the younger players on the team and test their skills. His belief in his young team created history, and Fulmer was honored with the National and SEC Coach of the Year award.

The National Championship earned Fulmer a six year contract renewal, and many of the starting players went on to join their former team mate Payton Manning in the NFL.

Watching the University of Tennessee Volunteers play football has long been a favorite pastime of East Tennesseans, and will continue to be so long into the future. But the fall of 1998 will live long in many college football fans' memories as the magical year of the Team of Destiny.
About the Author
Mac Bartine writes about business, entertainment and nature for his website, KnoxvilleBusiness.com.
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