Alabama football wins over Phillip Fulmer are always special and Saturday afternoon will be his eighth loss to the Crimson Tide.
Many Tennessee football fans revere Phillip Fulmer. Alabama football fans have decidedly different opinions.
In Tennessee football history, only General Robert Neyland is more loved by fans of the Vols. Neyland is, of course, a college football legend. He deserves his place in college football history.
Phillip Fulmer is not and will never be legendary but he is the Vols second-winningest head coach. Fulmer’s entire head coaching career was at Tennesse, 17 seasons led to 151 wins, two SEC Championships (1997 and 1998) and one National Championship in 1998. In 1995-2004, Fulmer’s teams beat the Alabama Crimson Tide nine out of the 10 games, including a streak of seven straight.
One of those wins came in 2003 in Tuscaloosa. The Vols came into the game at 4-2 and ranked No. 22 in the nation. In Mike Shula’s first season, Alabama football was 3-5, including a loss in Tuscaloosa to physically tougher, Northern Illinois. A Crimson Tide win would have been a huge boost to Shula, but the Vols won 51-43 in the fifth overtime period. The Crimson Tide finished the 2003 season, 4-9.
Closely following the Tennessee seven-game winning streak in 1995-2001, the 2003 OT loss was demoralizing for Alabama football fans. In the 12 games between the old and bitter rivals from 1995-2006, the Crimson Tide managed only two wins. Absolutely no Alabama football fan, player, coach or administrator could have known how much and how soon everything would change.
A rapid reversal of Crimson Tide fortunes occurred and it only took Nick Saban one season. In 2006, the Vols were ranked in the AP Poll the entire season. Shula’s Crimson Tide played them tight in Knoxville, losing 16-13. The Vols finished 9-4.
In 2007 the Vols won the SEC East Division and the Crimson Tide lost to Louisiana-Monroe. But Nick Saban’s first Alabama football team was way too much for Fulmer and Tennessee. In the second quarter, the Vols led 14-10. The final was 41-17 Crimson Tide. Tennessee’s collapse in the game quickly fueled disgruntled Tennessee fans who expected Saban to dominate Fulmer going forward. And those Vols’ fans were correct.
The 2008 season brought another Crimson Tide victory over Fulmer, by another one-sided score of 29-9, in Knoxville. Phillip Fulmer’s head coaching career lasted only four more games. His 10-5-1 record against the Crimson Tide was not enough proof he could handle Nick Saban.
Some of us Alabama football fans who, tirelessly bash Fulmer, believe Fulmer’s record against the Tide should be 10-7-1, including the 2018 and 2019 Tide victories with Fulmer as Tennessee’s Athletics Director. It will be 10-8-1, after Saturday.