Sam Venable 

Department of Irony

The Vols Were JinxedThe place: Neyland Stadium, Knoxville, Tennessee.

The teams: Alabama versus Tennessee.

The date: Saturday, October 15, 1994.

The outcome: A last-gasp, utterly demoralizing (to the home crowd) Bama victory, 17-13.

I defer to the wonderfully crafted opening of sportswriter Mike Strange’s report of the sad affair: “Tennessee remains under Alabama’s big Crimson thumb for at least another year, maybe forever. Once again, the Vols inched up to the brink of their most agonizing threshold, only to fall back for the ninth year in a row.”

Late in the game, the Vols were in command, 13-10. But with a mere 3 minutes, 4 seconds to play, the Tide capped an 80-yard scoring drive to go ahead. UT refused to give up. Guided by a freshman quarterback—his name escapes me right now; it was Manging, Maiming, Meeming, Peyton Place, something like that—the Vols drove to the Bama 7, only to run out of downs with 1:01 on the clock. End of story.

Uh, not quite.

I submit that Tennessee may have been cursed from the get-go because of an illegal event that occurred 24 hours earlier. 

I’ve been in correspondence with two members of a Tennessee family who know precisely what I’m talking about. I won’t name names because one of the direct participants—we’ll call him Mister X—requested anonymity, rightly worrying that some Vol partisans might seek a pound of flesh in revenge.

Coincidentally, pieces of once-living flesh—as in cremated human ashes—are the key to this story.

Official UT policy forbids the practice of scattering ashes on the field. But on Friday, October 14, 1994, Mister X did it anyhow. The remains in question were those of a Nashville man described by his widow as “the most rabid Big Orange fan to ever walk planet Earth.”

He’d wanted his ashes sprinkled on Shields-Watkins Field, and the family went through official circles to gain permission. No dice.

So, the afternoon before the game, Mister X and an old fraternity brother filled their pockets with ashes and idly wandered onto the field, making casual conversation with workers and “scooping out” when they got the chance.

“We didn’t sprinkle a lot,” Mister X told me. “Just enough to comply with his wishes.”

Family and friends went to the game the following night, content their mission was accomplished. But, horror of horrors, where had those ashes been placed?

“Right where Alabama scored to win the game!” Mister X moaned.

Now, do you see why he’s in the witness protection program?

Sam Venable is an author, entertainer, and columnist for the Knoxville (TN) News Sentinel. He may be reached at