Tennessee football: Ron Franklin called some of Vols’ most historic wins…and losses

Tennessee sophomore quarterback Peyton Manning (16) fires a pass against Georgia on Sept. 9, 1995. Manning picked apart Georgia's defense for 349 yards and two touchdowns as the eighth-ranked Vols won a 30-27 shootout at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville.
Tennessee sophomore quarterback Peyton Manning (16) fires a pass against Georgia on Sept. 9, 1995. Manning picked apart Georgia's defense for 349 yards and two touchdowns as the eighth-ranked Vols won a 30-27 shootout at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville. /

In 1989, Tennessee football was set to begin its most successful run of the modern era. The Vols were about to embark on a journey of 16 straight bowl appearances, four SEC Championships and a national championship in 1998. That same year, a guy who was there to see lots of historic moments in that run called his first UT game.

Ron Franklin, the ESPN College Football Primetime lead broadcaster from 1987 to 2005, called the Vols’ 17-14 win over the Georgia Bulldogs. It was UGA’s first season without Vince Dooley and the first of nine straight wins by the Vols against the Dawgs. That win pushed UT to 5-0 en route to an 11-1 season, an SEC title and a top five finish.

The longtime ESPN broadcaster passed away Tuesday at age 79, according to reports from ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla and former sports director at the ABC affiliate KVUE in Austin, Texas, Mike Barnes. Franklin was the Texas Longhorns play-by-play broadcaster for five years in the mid-1980s before joining ESPN, and Fraschilla was his partner on Big 12 basketball broadcasts.

After that Georgia game, Franklin began a run of calling numerous historic Tennessee football wins in 1990, when he and another person Vol fans are now familiar with, Gary Danielson, called the Vols’ 45-3 win over the Florida Gators. That was when UT and UF began their annual matchup, and it was Steve Spurrier’s first game against the Vols with Florida.

One week before, Franklin and Danielson called a 26-26 tie between the Vols and the Auburn Tigers, the only tie by UT he ever called. In 1991, he teamed with Mike Gottfried, and their first UT game together was the Vols’ 30-21 win over the Auburn Tigers, which was the last game between the two that could be officially considered a rivalry. They stopped playing annually after that.

So three years in, Franklin had called the start of a historic UT winning streak against an eventual SEC East rival, the beginning of what for a while became the Vols’ biggest rival and the final game that had been the Vols’ biggest rivalry game for 25 years. That latter one also began another era, Franklin and Mike Gottfried, which would last on ESPN for 15 years.

More historic wins that they would call followed, including the Vols beginning their longest winning streak ever over the Alabama Crimson Tide, seven games, with a 41-14 victory in 1995, a blowout win over the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in 1999 and the longest game in school history, a 41-38 six-overtime win, against the Arkansas Razorbacks in 2002.

They also oversaw historic individual performances, including Peyton Manning throwing for five touchdowns against the Texas Tech Red Raiders in 1997, Deon Grant intercepting three passes against the Auburn Tigers in 1999 and Kelley Washington setting a school record for 256 receiving yards against the LSU Tigers in 2001. Franklin’s UT games were must-see TV.

Even after he and Gottfried separated, Franklin called another historic game, the 2005 21-0 comeback by the Vols at the LSU Tigers to win 30-27 in overtime on a Monday night after Hurricane Rita postponed the game. Rick Clausen was another individual hero there.

Of course, the history wasn’t all wins. Tennessee football had some historic losses with Franklin calling the game, particularly beginning in the 2000s. He and Gottfried called the Vols upset loss at LSU in 2000, a game that put Nick Saban on the map, and a week later, they called Georgia’s 21-10 win over UT, which ended the Vols’ streak and changed the course of the programs.

A year later, Franklin and Gottfried called Alabama’s end to the Vols’ seven game winning streak in the series, a 34-14 win at Neyland Stadium. They also called the worst bowl loss in UT history that year, a 30-3 Peach Bowl thumping by the Maryland Terrapins.

It continued into 2004. Although the rivalry had ended, the Vols played Auburn that year and hadn’t lost to them since 1988. They were one win away from tying the series. Franklin and Gottfried called Auburn’s win, which cost the Vols the SEC East outright.

Over the course of 14 years, the Vols went 17-9 with Franklin and Gottfried calling their games. UT won nine straight with those two from 1995 to 2000. They went 20-10-1 under Franklin all time. His last UT game was a 31-14 loss by the Vols to the Arkansas Razorbacks.

By far the most notable game Franklin called was Tennessee football’s matchup with Georgia. Not only did he call the beginning of the Vols’ streak in 1989 and the end of it in 2000, but he also called the 1993, 1994, 1995 and 1996 games against UGA. More notably than most, he called the 1999 UT win against a top 10 UGA team at home.

Other wins he called include LSU in 1992, the Vanderbilt Commodores in 1996, Alabama in 1997, the Southern Miss Golden Eagles in 2000 and the South Carolina Gamecocks in 2003. He also called many other losses, including Florida in 1991, which cost them a share of the SEC, Alabama in 1994, the 2003-04 Peach Bowl against the Clemson Tigers and Auburn in 2004.

Next. Vols' 10 greatest upset wins in history. dark

You can’t tell the story of Tennessee football’s success in the modern era without mentioning Franklin. The “Decade of Dominance” DVD documentary about UT in the 1990s features Franklin as one of the interviewees. Reminders of him and Gottfriend brings nostalgia to many college football fans from the 1990s and early 2000s.