Posted: 8:00 a.m. Sunday, June 2, 2013
By Will Shelton
In 1999 Tennessee's National Championship momentum lasted two games, then met a familiar end in Gainesville with a 23-21 loss. Down in the dumps, the Vols barely beat Memphis the following week 17-16. Auburn was up next in Tommy Tuberville's first season. But it was hard to be as excited because you knew you were behind the eight ball again in the East Division.
But that all changed a few minutes before kickoff: Alabama shocked Florida in overtime, handing the Gators a loss of their own and sending a surge of new life through Neyland Stadium. Though the Gators ultimately wouldn't lose again in league play, on this night thoughts of another championship suddenly came back to life.
Facing that surge of momentum was new Auburn quarterback Jeff Klein. The Tigers received the opening kickoff and started from the 20. It did not go well.
1999 was my first year in the student section, and while the games against Wyoming and Memphis were fun, this was the first real moment. We had excellent seats behind the Tennessee bench that night, and when Grant stepped in front of that one the noise was like an explosion. I turned to my friends and simply made the throat slash gesture; this one was over.
And it was. The Tigers wouldn't score, and Deon Grant wasn't done. The Vol safety picked off two more passes on the night, tying a school record in a 24-0 Tennessee victory. Grant sometimes gets lost in the shuffle of the immensely talented Vol defenses of 1998 and 1999, but he was as good as any of them and sometimes better, especially on this night. This was my real introduction to the student section, and what it can sound like when something really great happens.