Ward was the voice of Tennessee football for more than 30 years
Legendary Tennessee broadcaster John Ward died on Wednesday from a lengthy illness at the age of 88. His passing marks the end of an era in college football.
You have to remember that when Ward started broadcasting Tennessee football in 1968 (he began broadcasting basketball in 1965), only a handful of college football games were shown on television. In the South, where football was still a way of life decades before ESPN, Ward was the welcome voice that connected Tennessee fans to the games.
Of course, times have changed and by the time Ward retired, all of Tennessee's football games were broadcast on television. When they were, most fans would turn down the volume on their television to listen to Ward, a true tribute to his impact.
That being said, every college football fan base loves their team's broadcaster, but Ward was truly one of the best of his time. His famous phrases like, "It's football time in Tennessee!" and "Give him six!" are now Vol vernacular. There are so many great moments in Tennessee football history that he elevated with his voice, but here are my top five.
5. The Miracle at South Bend – Nov. 9, 1991
Fifth-ranked Notre Dame jumped out to a 31-7 lead in the second quarter, but Tennessee methodically worked its way back to go up 35-34 with 4:03 left to play. It looked like it would all be for naught when the Irish drove to Tennessee's nine-yard line and prepared to kick a field goal with four seconds to play. Kicker Rob Leonard attempted the kick and for a moment, even Ward thought it was good... but it wasn't.
4. Pandemonium – Sept. 19, 1998
After a wild 60 minutes, sixth-ranked Tennessee and second-ranked Florida were tied 17-17 and headed to overtime. Tennessee got the ball first and Jeff Hall booted a field goal to put the Vols up 20-17. On Florida's possession, Collins Cooper attempted a 32-yard field goal and as Ward, put it, "No sirree." Having beaten the Gators for the first time in six years, Vol fans spilled onto the field and Ward stated "pandemonium reigns." Casualties of that pandemonium included a CBS end zone camera and two goal posts. Legend has it that one of those posts is at the bottom of the Tennessee River.
3. The End of the Streak – Oct. 16, 1982
Tennessee had lost to Alabama 11 years in a row and most fans figured that streak would extend to 12 since the Crimson Tide rolled into Knoxville undefeated, having throttled eventual national champion Penn State the week before. However, Tennessee shocked the Tide with a gutsy performance that culminated in a 35-28 win. This game was not broadcast on television and the below highlights give you a sense of how great Ward was in his prime, most notably turning it over to the fans in the end to count down the win.
2. "5, 4, 3, 2, 1" – Jan. 1, 1986
All second-ranked Miami had to do was dispatch Tennessee and the national championship was theirs. But the Vols defense sacked Vinny Testaverde seven times and held the Canes to seven points, while the offense methodically scored 35. In the third quarter, Tennessee running back Jeff Powell ran 60 yards for a score to put the Vols up 28-7 and clinch the game. One of Ward's trademarks was to countdown the final five yards on a score and this play was the most memorable time that he did it.
1. "The National Champion is Clad in Big Orange" – Jan. 4, 1999
Ward announced earlier in the year that the 1998 season would be his last. His final season would be the greatest of his career, as Tennessee went 13-0 and beat Florida State 23-16 in the first BCS National Championship Game. When the title was clinched, Ward said, "The national champion is clad in big orange." What a way to go out.
-- Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports' Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.