On Oct. 26, 1985, in the pre-dawn hours in a hotel in Knoxville, Tenn., a fire alarm rang out. This particular hotel was boarding the Georgia Tech football team, in town to play Tennessee that night.
As guests gathered outside of the building in the cool autumn dark, Tech coach Bill Curry noticed that star linebacker Ted Roof was clothed in boxer shorts or a similar garment and nothing else.
“I said, ‘Get some clothes,’” Curry said. “He said, ‘Coach, I don’t have any clothes. They said to get out of the room.’”
Almost 32 years later, Curry connected the dots between that false alarm and how Roof, now Tech’s defensive coordinator, gave one of the great individual performances in team history that evening.
Said Curry, “Maybe it made him mad.”
As Georgia Tech and Tennessee add to their 43-game series Monday night in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game at the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, history recalls the 6-6 tie in the 1985 meeting at Neyland Stadium mostly for two things.
One is Carlos Reveiz’s fourth-quarter field goals from 55 and 51 yards that salvaged a tie for Tennessee. The other is Roof’s 25 tackles.
“It was a performance none of us will ever forget,” Curry said.
Against a Tennessee offense that was without starting quarterback Tony Robinson, Tech’s “Black Watch” defense played with a symphony’s unity, each part contributing to the whole of a near-perfect performance.
Aside from being a commemoration of big hair and a time before sideline reporters, the ESPN broadcast, uploaded last year to YouTube, is a testimony Roof’s gifts for linebacking. His ability to fend off or skate away from blockers, his sense for taking the proper line to ballcarriers and the power to unload on them are repeatedly demonstrated.
“He was very tough, very smart, quick,” said Tennessee coaching great Phil Fulmer, then the Volunteers’ offensive line coach. “I don’t know that he was super fast, but he was very quick, and one of those guys that had a nose for the ball. When he tackled you, you were tackled.”
The night was something of a harmonic convergence. Without Robinson, Tennessee turned to backup Daryl Dickey and played a conservative, run-heavy game. As Fulmer noted, it played into Tech’s hands. With teammates such as Ivery Lee, Ken Parker and Glenn Spencer occupying blocks, Roof ran free much of the night.
“There were just certain offenses that were set up so that we could keep blockers off him, and anytime we could keep him clean, keep people from blocking down on him, he was going to make (the tackle) every time,” Curry said.
On this night, it seemed everything was working for Roof. On at least two instances, Tennessee blockers tripped on the artificial turf, allowing him a free run at the ball carrier. On a third-and-short in the second quarter – set up by a textbook open-field tackle by Roof on second down – he split the gap between the center and right guard, where he was blocked by a lead fullback.
As Roof fell, tailback Keith Davis ran up the middle and was tripped up by his helmeted head, flipping head over heels, short of the first down.
“It was that kind of night,” Curry said.
Roof, who could not comment because of a recently instituted policy not to permit assistant coaches to speak with media, finished the game three tackles shy of the school record, set by Eric Wilcox against Georgia in 1967. Escaping defeat, the Volunteers did not lose again, winning the SEC championship and beating No. 2 Miami in the Sugar Bowl to finish No. 4 in the country.
The Jackets finished 9-2-1, their first nine-win season since 1970. The tie at Neyland forever will be one that got away from Tech. The Volunteers tied the score with four seconds remaining on the second Reveiz field goal. But the memory of Roof lingers, as well.
“He was a really good college player, but he was a great player against us,” Fulmer said.
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