It’s safe to say that Tennessee football owns half of the 2021 NFL Hall of Fame class. Three of its members lost to the Vols while playing college ball. Then there’s Peyton Manning, a former Vol himself, who owned the weekend.
Beyond Manning, though, the class included Jimmy Johnson, who was inducted as a head coach, Drew Pearson, who was inducted as a wide receiver, and Isaac Bruce, who was also inducted as a wide receiver. All of them lost to the Vols in college.
Simply put, the Vols are deeply connected to multiple members of the 2021 NFL Hall of Fame class. Obviously, Manning stands out among them as the one former Vol. Here’s a look at his full speech during his induction.
Let’s look at how UT is connected to the other inductees, though. Johnson is famous for his two Super Bowl championships with the Dallas Cowboys. He also won a title in college as head coach of the Miami Hurricanes in 1987.
Two years before that national title, though, Johnson suffered one of his worst defeats at the hands of the Vols. Miami faced Rocky Top, which won the 1985 SEC title, in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1, 1986. The ‘Canes were heavy favorites and ranked No. 2. However, the No. 1 ranked Penn State Nittany Lions lost their bowl game, so Miami would win the national title if they won theirs.
Johnny Majors’ Sugar Vols played spoiler that day and dominated, winning 35-7 to finish in the top five themselves with a 9-1-2 record. It remains one of the greatest wins in the history of Tennessee football and delayed Johnson’s only college national title by two years.
More from All for Tennessee
- How to Win a GUARANTEED $200 Bonus Betting Just $5 on the Vols vs. Florida!
- Tennessee Football at Florida: Five Keys to a Vols Victory
- Week 3 SEC Power Rankings: Did Tennessee Football’s Win Help At All?
- Week 3 AP Polls: Why Did Tennessee Football Drop in the Polls?
- Tennessee Football: Top Five Performers in 30-13 Win vs. Austin Peay
Pearson and Bruce also lost to the Vols while playing for their colleges. In 1971, when Pearson was a wide receiver for the Tulsa Golden Hurricane, his team traveled to Knoxville to face Bill Battle’s Vols. They lost 38-3.
Bruce, meanwhile, was a junior at Memphis State University, now the University of Memphis, in 1992. One day after the news broke that Majors would not return to Rocky Top after 16 years on the job, the Vols snapped a three-game losing streak by beating the Tigers at the Liberty Bowl 26-21. That began a four-year winning streak to close out the season.
Obviously, the Vols’ wins over Bruce and Pearson are less notable than their win over Johnson, but it’s still interesting that they beat three members of the 2021 NFL Hall of Fame class while a fourth member of the class is one of their own. The group is just a reflection of UT’s successes.
Then there’s Charles Woodson, who beat Manning out for the Heisman Trophy in 1997, although the two never faced each other. That’s a connection on its own, which runs even deeper because Woodson was on a Michigan Wolverines team that had Tom Brady as the backup quarterback.
Speaking of 1997, Alan Faneca, who was also inducted, played for the LSU Tigers from 1994 to 1997. He and Manning were both out of New Orleans in the same recruiting class, and Faneca’s blocking helped LSU upset the Florida Gators in 1997, which allowed UT to advance to and win the SEC Championship that year, Manning’s final one on Rocky Top.
Simply put, the Vols are deeply connected to the 2021 NFL Hall of Fame class. Given the success of the program, it will naturally be connected to lots of classes, but this one is particularly unique as it largely highlights the accomplishments of the program itself.