9. 1987: Phil Reich, 19-yard field goal
Tennessee beats Iowa 23-22
It was a tumultuous time for Tennessee football. As Johnny Majors began his 11th year in the program, the Vols had struggled with wild inconsistency in his first decade, but the trends were pointing upward. They had one winning season his first four years. Then they fluctuated between six and nine wins the next four years.
In 1985, they appeared to break through by winning the SEC Championship and defeating the Miami Hurricanes in the Sugar Bowl. But they fell off again in 1986 to a 7-5 record. As a result, nobody knew what to expect in 1987. And the Vols, ranked No. 17, were to open that season in the Kickoff Classic at Giants Stadium in New Jersey against the No. 16 ranked Iowa Hawkeyes.
This was the perfect setting for UT to establish itself and prove it was trending upward. That’s exactly what it did. The Vols and Hawkeyes played a back and forth game all day, but trailing late, Majors’s team drove deep into Iowa territory.
Down 22-20 with eight seconds left, the Vols were inside the five-yard line. They called on Phil Reich to kick a short field goal from the far left hash mark, which was very difficult. As a result, it was very questionable what would happen.
But there was no doubt after the kick took off. Reich drilled it. Sure, it was a short and easy kick. However, it propelled Tennessee football to a 10-2-1 record that year, showing the program was creeping onto the national stage again under Majors, and it took off for good two years later. This is one of the greatest season-opening wins in school history, and Reich’s kick is a reason for that.