Tennessee football beat the Florida State Seminoles to win the 1998 national championship. But the Volunteers don’t get credit for that due to one injury.
It’s great for Tennessee football that Chris Weinke is now part of the staff as a running backs coach. He brings major recruiting connections, championship experience and a diverse background in leading different units on the football field. However, with the Vols set to begin the Jeremy Pruitt era very soon, his arrival has brought back to light an annoying talking point.
That talking point is that had Weinke not been hurt in the Fiesta Bowl against UT for the 1998 national championship, Florida State would’ve won. Of course, what everybody cites is Marcus Outzen throwing a pick-six to Dwayne Goodrich and Peter Warrick only having one catch.
Heck, even Phillip Fulmer recently all but admitted that. He said that he was glad Weinke missed the game against the Vols that year, according to Wes Rucker of GoVols247. That’s ridiculous and actually exposes the lack of confidence Fulmer may have had in his defense 20 years later.
The fact is we don’t know what would have happened in that game had Weinke played. However, there are a few things we do know to completely dispel this ridiculous notion. And it’s beyond time to do that here.
Let’s start with the fact that in Florida State’s last game of the season, against the Florida Gators, they had no problem winning without Weinke. In fact, the Seminoles won by two scores, and Outzen was able to get Peter Warrick the ball eight times for 119 yards and a touchdown.
By the way, Florida’s only other loss that season was to Tennessee football, and that was in overtime after committing five turnovers and missing a field goal at the end. So Florida State was able to completely control Florida without Weinke. Why couldn’t they do that to the Vols?
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On top of that, the ‘Noles lost to the N.C. State Wolfpack earlier in that year WITH Weinke. He threw six interceptions in that game and was an abysmal 9-of-32. Are we to say the guy who did that to a 7-5 team but wasn’t even playing for his team’s most impressive win of the season would’ve been the difference in the national championship game? Please.
But this isn’t just about minimizing Weinke. He deserves credit and did win the title the next year. Still, this is also about the fact that such talk minimizes what Tennessee football had to go through to win that title.
In case you forgot, the Vols also lost their best offensive player on the season for 1998 in running back Jamal Lewis. Want to know what Phillip Fulmer and David Cutcliffe were able to do? They turned to Travis Henry and Travis Stephens while relying more on Tee Martin.
Make no mistake, Lewis was even more crucial to the Vols offense going into 1998 than Weinke was to the Seminoles. And he wasn’t the only big loss. You know the pick-six to Dwayne Goodrich that’s cited as an excuse for Florida State losing the title game?
Well, Goodrich got hurt with a minute left in the first half and the Vols up only 14-9. He missed the entire second half. Why couldn’t Outzen get the ball to Warrick after that? He was able to do it against the Florida Gators, after all.
So with Tennessee football’s best cornerback hurt and their best offensive player out of the game, Florida State could not cut into a simple 14-9 lead. And the 79-yard fourth quarter touchdown pass from Tee Martin to Peerless Price in the fourth quarter is what broke the game open. But sure, it’s all about the Weinke injury. See how ridiculous this sounds?