Before there was Peyton Manning, Reggie White or Al Wilson, there was Johnny Majors. One of the greatest backs ever to play on Rocky Top, Majors was the centerpiece for the one memorable Tennessee football team between Robert Neyland and Doug Dickey: the 1956 Vols.
That year, Paul Hornung stole the Heisman from Majors, which served as proof that the national voters hated Tennessee even more than Charles Woodson’s win over Manning showed. Majors led the Vols to a 10-0 regular season and what should have been a share of the national championship.
At the same time, he was the entire offense for the Vols. The guy just became a legend in his own name while playing in Knoxville and was beloved by everybody. Nobody was held in higher esteem except for maybe Robert Neyland himself.
However, Majors didn’t go to the NFL. He played one year for the Montrael Alouettes in the Canadian Football League and then went into coaching. His legacy as a coach was mixed to many. After all, he did win a national championship with the Pitt Panthers.
And after that title, he returned to Knoxville. You couldn’t have had a more splash hire in the history of coaching hires at the time. But while he had success on Rocky Top, it never reached the expectations or level he had at Pitt. Then he was forced out in 1992 in a bitter ending.
All that aside, though, Majors was a legendary player in Knoxville who had no NFL career. And as one of the greatest, he certainly belongs in this top three.