ATLANTA -- Al Wilson knew the Vols were in need of something.
Trailing 20-10 to Auburn at halftime of the Southeastern Conference
Championship Game on Saturday, the Vols were in desperate shape. They
needed a spark. Things weren't going their way and everything they had
dreamed of --Êthe conference championship, the Orange Bowl, the national
championship --Êwas 30 minutes away from being dashed.
Wilson, the Vols' junior linebacker, playing with an injured right ankle,
wasn't going to stand for that.
"Al Wilson gave the greatest speech," UT wide receiver Peerless Price said.
"I'll remember that."
Al Wilson is the glue that holds the Tennessee defense together. Anybody
who doesn't believe that need only ask one of his teammates. Or look at
film from the Arkansas, Kentucky and Vanderbilt games.
Nobody wanted to win Saturday's game more than Wilson. Not that anybody
wanted to win the game any less than he did, but he provided the impetus
for the Vols' second-half comeback with an emotional half-time speech.
"Al is our spiritual leader and he showed it tonight," said UT defensive
end Jonathan Brown, who added two sacks to his SEC-leading total of 11.5.
"He showed a lot of guts by playing through his injury. I'm just so happy
Wilson touched his teammates and coaches by pleading with them to pull
things together in the second half, so that they could finally win the
championship they've been chasing for these past few years.
It was just the emotional charge they had been waiting for.
"I told them to remember how hard they'd played all season," Wilson said.
"We didn't come down here to lose, we came to be victorious. We came down
here to bring the championship back to Knoxville.
"If the guys took it to heart, then that means so much to me. I was pretty
emotional. I told them I had never won a championship. I told them I'd do
anything in this world to win this game. I shed a few tears. I knew we had
to play a better game than we did in the first half."
His speech had the desired effect, as the Vols rallied for a 30-29 victory
and that coveted championship.
"I'll tell my kids about how he cried about never winning a championship in
his life and how I felt it," Price said. "I wanted to win for him and the
team wanted to win for him. He broke down in tears and said we had to dig
deep, that nobody believed we could come back and win. He convinced me. I
think he convinced the coaching staff. I think he convinced everyone in the
Said Marcus Nash: "It was very intense. It was very motivating. Al's a very
intense guy. He said, 'Let's go. We're not playing like Tennessee.' This
game just proves that Tennessee doesn't always choke in a big game and this
was obviously a big game."
Wilson seemed a bit embarrassed by all of the fanfare surrounding his
speech, but was glad that it had the desired effect.
"At that moment it really hit me because I knew that we weren't playing the
type of game we could play," Wilson said. "I guess it meant a lot to them.
I'm happy it did."
Wilson inspires mates at half
Published: Mon Dec 08, 1997 | Modified: Sat Aug 06, 2005 01:24 p.m.