3. 1987: Tennessee beats Iowa 23-22 in East Rutherford, N.J.
Tennessee football was an odd program in the late 1980s. The Vols had finally arrived under Johnny Majors by winning the 1985 SEC Championship. But they could never piece together consistently winning seasons.
After 1985, they were a massive disappointment in 1986. The same was true for 1988. It was like every other year, they’d be good. The 1987 was the epitome of this. After a disappointing 1986 season, the Vols entered 1987 looking to prove that the program’s 1985 run wasn’t a fluke.
They would face a major first test against the No. 16 ranked Iowa Hawkeyes in the Kickoff Classic at the old Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. Ranked No. 17 themselves, this was meant to be a thriller. It was SEC vs. Big Ten on the East Coast. How much more exciting could things get?
Well, the game proved it could get really exciting. In an ugly game, the Vols scored one touchdown when Darrin Miller intercepted an option pitch and ran it back. They used breaks like that and a traditional running game behind Reggie Cobb, who rushed for 133 yards, to win.
Down 22-17 in the fourth quarter, Majors’s team stayed patient all day. They used a field goal drive to cut it to 22-20. Then they got back into field goal range with eight seconds left, and Phil Reich kicked a game-winner.
Tennessee football won a thriller 23-22 for an epic season-opener. It got the program back on track, as they would end up going 10-2-1 that year. So unlike the first two wins on this list, this one actually set off a good season.