sports (2006-29)

Sweeping the broom of fate across UT football

What If...

by Tony Basilio

Being a sports fan is as much about living in the past as in the moment. Of course, if you’re an Alabama fan, the past is all you have. Even so, if you’re not asking “what if” about your team to some degree, you’re missing the boat. As we pine for the beginning of the ’06-’07 college football season in late-July, here are some “what ifs” from yesteryear that could have shaped the tomorrow that we are anticipating.

What if David Cutcliffe never left for Ole Miss back in ’98? As Tennessee’s offensive coordinator, Cutcliffe was on the fast track after developing Peyton Manning and leading UT through an unprecedented period of offensive prosperity. A romp through an undefeated regular season in ’98 with new QB Tee Martin only made him hotter. What if Cutcliffe would have stayed and waited for a better opportunity than Ole ’Mess’? Does UT fall into the offensive abyss that befell Randy Sanders? Chris Simms, who committed to Cutcliffe and UT in November of ’98, had a stellar career at Texas. Could you have imagined the Simms-Cutcliffe combination in Knoxville rather than Austin? Speaking of Quarterbacks….

What if Chris Leak would have honored his commitment to UT before ultimately landing in Florida? You remember how Leak was an early commitment to UT before getting sideways with the Vols over the supposed mistreatment of his brother CJ. All Tennessee did was take a mediocre quarterback and give him a courtesy scholarship. The strategy ended up backfiring on UT when CJ failed to pan out. With Chris Leak, does UT still struggle in the last three years to find its offensive pace? Furthermore, would Phillip Fulmer still be in trouble heading into ’06? Does Leak, regarded as the top QB prospect in the country during his senior season in high school, still have a pedestrian career in college? Heading into this season, Leak is still trying to reach his first SEC title game as a senior while UT is attempting to win its first SEC championship since Spurrier departed. And on the subject of St. Steve….

Have you ever asked what if Bowden Wyatt would’ve switched away from the antiquated single-wing offense when Spurrier was a senior at Johnson City’s Science Hill High School in the early ’60’s? Does UT have its first Heisman Trophy winner in the late ’60’s? If Spurrier were a UT alum, does he enjoy the kind of run with Tennessee that he turned in with Florida in the ’90’s? Would he have possessed the recruiting ability necessary for success in Knoxville? Speaking of coaches and timing….

Have you ever wondered what if Johnny Majors didn’t have quadruple heart bypass surgery, thus expediting his departure from UT in the fall of ’92? How much longer did Johnny have in the tank? Maybe five years? Does Phillip Fulmer stick around to see Johnny’s tenure through, or does he bolt to a South or East Carolina? How would Fulmer have fared in an understated program without the bells and whistles offered by Tennessee? Does UT still get Peyton Manning with Majors at the helm? Would David Cutcliffe (who was a young assistant under Majors) have still been in Rocky Top when Manning was recruited in ’94?

While Johnny’s on our minds, did you ever stop to ponder what if the Cobb-Webb backfield would have stayed intact during the ’89 season? Separate, they were formidable; together, unstoppable! Remember the dynamic duo’s performance versus Auburn in the rain in early ’89? Remember Webb’s single-handed throttling of UCLA in the season opener? The Cobb-Webb spun tremendous memories before being dismantled by the broom of fate. Or, in the case of Reggie Cobb, a pipe of peace. Would the ’89 Tennessee team have ended up posting an 11-1 record and a top five national finish even without Cobb? Would the duo have been enough to lead the Vols over the Tide that year in Birmingham? If Majors gets UT to a national title game back in ’89, wouldn’t he have been untouchable for at least a decade?

Speaking of national title hypotheticals, ever stopped to consider what if Clint Stoerner holds the ball at the end of the UT-Arkansas game in week nine in ’98? If Arkansas puts UT down in that game, do the Vols ever get a crack at Florida State? Tennessee and Arkansas surely would have met for a rematch in the Georgia Dome a few weeks later. Arkansas, 8-1 when they left Neyland Stadium, fell off the map after the loss with a string of defeats, keeping them from the SEC title game. What would Phillip Fulmer’s tenure look like if he loses this game? Is he legendary? Is he still employed presently in Rocky Top?

Playing the “What If” game is fun. So fun that I’ve got to grab a couple of Advil for this self-induced headache.

Tune in and talk sports with Tony Basilio weekdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on ESPN Radio WVLZ 1180 AM. Visit for more information.