5. 1916: Tennessee beats Vanderbilt 10-6
Head Coach: John R. Bender
We go back to the prehistoric Tennessee football days for this one. And at this point, it’s another Vanderbilt Commodores game. But you have to remember that the Vols had a heated rivalry with Vanderbilt in the early years.
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In this game, John R. Bender was taking over for Zora G. Clevenger. Two years before, Clevenger led the Vols to what was their best season ever and was the early start to them being put on the national map. They had gone 9-0, won the SIAA and won their first game ever against Vanderbilt. Up to that point, Vandy had one 11 and tied one against the Vols but never lost.
Still, they won the next year, and Clevenger left. Enter John R. Bender. Bender led the Vols on a surprising run again, and they were 6-0 with three games left. On Nov. 11, they were set to host Vanderbilt. At that time, Tennessee football’s win over the Commodores two years earlier just seemed like a fluke. Both teams were undefeated at this point, and everybody knew Vandy would own them again.
It didn’t happen. Tennessee was a heavy underdog and had just barely beaten Chattanooga the week before. Vanderbilt was still the power of the South, but on this day, the Vols would pull off a huge upset. They scored a 10-6 win. The victory earned them a share of the SIAA Championship despite tying the Kentucky Wildcats the next week in their final game of the year.
Such a win showed that Tennessee football could compete at this level and with the big boys of the South. They began to set expectations higher, which led to the Robert Neyland hire with the goal of beating Vanderbilt a decade later. Finishing 8-0-1 with their second win in three years over Vanderbilt was key to that, which is why this win is so significant.