Many remember the comeback like it was just yesterday.
Over a quarter of a century has passed since Tennessee's "Miracle in South Bend" comeback win over Notre Dame, and yet it feels like just yesterday to some. The latter being true for former Vol Jeremy Lincoln, as the Toledo, Ohio native found his way south wearing orange in the late 1980s.
"I ran track and was an All-American running track in high school," Lincoln said about his recruitment. "I was on the world junior team. Back in those days, Tennessee football and track went hand in hand with Willie Gault, Terry McDaniel and it was how they recruited back then. I was recruited all over the country. It came down to Tennessee, Notre Dame and Penn State.
"Recruiting was so different then compared to now. Notre Dame and Lou Holtz told me, 'I know you play quarterback in high school so I want to put you on the offensive side' and I was like there goes Notre Dame. Joe Pa said we know you love track, but maybe we will let you run that in your second or third year. I loved Knoxville and Jack Sells wrote me this long seven or eight page letter on why I should be at Tennessee. That just stuck with me. My mom still has that letter."
After playing as a true freshman, Lincoln was injured during his second year on Rocky Top forcing him to redshirt. After the following season, he sat down with then coach Johnny Majors and had a conversation that he recalls to this day.
"One thing that stood out to me after the my sophomore year was Johnny Majors coming to me and telling me he was going to get me some help," Lincoln said.
"I didn't really understand at first, but he said he was going to get me some pass rushers. He went out and got Chuck Smith, Chris Mims, Shazzon Bradley moved inside. He got Mark Moore and Todd Kelly was coming along as a young pass rusher. They brought in Dale Carter and Floyd Miley and we became very formidable."
And that led to Tennessee's success in the 1989-90-91 seasons. A run that included the famed comeback in South Bend in Lincoln's final year. Tennessee trailed by 24 points before a second half for the age, going on to a 35-34 win. The game ended with Lincoln blocking a short 27 yard field goal attempt.
"Everyone talks about my block, but I like to talk about the scoop and score by Floyd Miley," Lincoln said. "We became a different team in the second half. They were down close and it should have been a chip shot. I just remember telling coach (Larry) Lacewell at the time that I'm going to get this field goal. I just remember the hitch of the ball and I was gone. If I was offside, I don't know, but I remember taking those three steps to get around. I remember diving that I knew I was going to overrun the ball. That's why it hit me on my side. The rest is history."
Ironically, Lincoln made the play against Holtz and the Irish after spurning them coming out of high school. A loss that was rough for the longtime Irish head coach.
"I've been in this game a long time," said Holtz following the game. "That was as difficult a loss as I've been associated with, ever. Ever."
The celebration inside Notre Dame Stadium spilled into the locker room where the Vols were loud and proud over the next hour.
"Those were the days that they let the family in to the locker room early," Lincoln said.
"We were singing and that may be the longest and loudest. I don't think Rocky Top has ever been sang that loud and that long. I think we sang Rocky Top for thirty minutes. Coach Majors didn't even know it was blocked. It just ricocheted off me. He thought the guy just missed the ball. My uncle had gotten into the media room and he yelled out that I blocked it and coach Majors just went with it. We got back in Knoxville the next day where we go over the film and hand out awards and he was like, 'dad gummit, he did block that ball with his behind.' and it is something I'll never forget."
Fans will always talk about the 45-5 run that Tennessee had in the mid to late 1990s, but don't sell Lincoln and his group short. They were pretty special and the wins they amassed during his final years on Rocky Top were almost as special as the players he played with.
"Peyton Manning is one of the greatest players and will go down that way," Lincoln said. "People say to me, did you play with Peyton and I'm like no, I played with Chuck Smith, Dale Carter, Anthony Morgan, Andy Kelly, Alvin Harper and down the line we can go. I played with that group of guys that truly should have been in the national championship game.
"You think about 1990, we tie the eventual national champions in Colorado. A year later, we beat the national champions in Notre Dame. We just couldn't beat Alabama. That was our rut. It is what still eats at us when we get together. We knew we had that kind of a team. If you look at our team from top to bottom, a lot of those guys played in the NFL for a long time. We feel like we don't get enough respect from the school for those two teams that won the SEC. Nobody gives us that love which sticks to us a little bit."
And the memories that Lincoln made will always stick with Vol fans everywhere.