There was a time when Tennessee dominated Kentucky like few teams have ever dominated another. It all started 30 years ago with a team that will never be forgotten.
Tennessee’s winning streak ended at 26 games when the Wildcats upset the Vols 10-7 in 2011. Five U.S. presidents served during that streak, the eighth longest in NCAA history among uninterrupted opponents. The only longer winning streak in the history of the SEC is Florida-Kentucky. That’s at 29 and counting.
Kentucky found a way to lose for more than a quarter of a century. As expected, there were blowouts. However, there were also close games that the Vols were able to eke out, or Kentucky found a way to lose.
Many fans, especially the younger ones, forget how the streak started. It occurred in 1985, a year after the Wildcats beat Tennessee 17-12 in Knoxville. The Vols got revenge against the Cats the following season, beating them 42-0. The final score was a sign of things to come for the rest of the season and for the Tennessee-Kentucky series.
Many in Generation X or Y understandably assumed that Kentucky was a sure-fire, annual win. Former Tennessee coach Johnny Majors didn’t see it that way in 1985. He was obviously pleased just minutes after his team scored 36 points in the second half to blow out the Wildcats.
“It was about as pretty a football game as I could expect a team to play that I’ve coached,” Majors said.
At the time, no one knew just how special that team was that beat Kentucky. That team would go on to win Tennessee’s first SEC championship in 16 years and play one of the greatest games in Tennessee football history. All of that wouldn’t have happened had it not been for the blowout in Lexington on Nov. 23.
Quarterback Daryl Dickey was efficient and explosive. He completed 11-of-17 passes for three touchdowns. Receiver Tim McGee caught a 37-yard and a 12-yard touchdown pass. Joey Clinkscales caught a 19-yard touchdown pass. Dickey also ran for a score. The defense was led by linebacker Dale Jones and defensive back Chris White, among others.
“I’ve never been around a team that was this unique, that just found a different way to win every Saturday,” Majors said.
At the time, many wondered if Tennessee was the best representative for the SEC in the Sugar Bowl. They proved they were worthy with a 35-7 pummeling of Miami and become a team of folklore.