This is the 10th in a series of articles ranking Tennessee's best players of the decade 2000-2009.…
Final Links To Neyland Are Fading
Knoxville - The news that arrived on Wednesday was simply devastating; the legendary Haywood Harris had died. The sentiment of his loss that was felt coursed deeply inside of me. It is a piece of one's self resolve that was silently leaving, taking a wisp of breathe from me.
Harris was a living legend, one of the few remaining links to the greatness of college football history that traces directly to U.S. Army General Robert Reece Neyland. He was one of the vintage bloodlines that encapsulated the national acclaim that follows Tennessee Football.
His longtime friend and another living legend in Gus Manning had marked the annals of a treasured time, that was a celebration of life in action following the passing of Neyland in 1962.
No one single person could make a game day in the Tom Elam Press Box more magnanimous than it was when Harris was present, spreading his gentlemanly presence while maintaining a scholarly disposition - always.
There are lots of sidebar stories that were shared from his mental think tank that found how heads above the crowd, his presence genuinely displayed.
For many of his latter years Haywood was the one voice of the press box that was both anticipated and highly sought on crisp fall Saturday's in Knoxville.
He called the games like he saw them, with an occasional - but not very often retraction, that made the bustling press box vibrant. His voice was an awaited piece of the legacy that defines the special bond of Tennessee.
His 1961 hiring by General Neyland on the recommendation of Manning, also marks the last traces of the time period that defined what the future held for Tennessee's football program for the next 49 consecutive years.
Harris, like Manning are the living roots, the few remaining connections that exist to the presence of Neyland and his aura that lives in spirit on The Hill in Knoxville and around the Volunteer state.
Manning and Harris were a duo like no other at any other university. The two men were supposedly retired, that was only documented on paper, never in real life.
Their presence was anticipated each Saturday with whispers by the media to each other, "Has Haywood arrived yet? Has anybody seen Gus yet?"
The two stars were there, making their way to the press box, like rock stars stopping to shake hands, speak, giving a smile, wink or a nod to those that awaited them.
They were royalty in no uncertain terms, and they were treated by those that knew them in those exact terms. The duo never shied away from sharing a quote or an observation to those willing to listen to them.
On the morning of the Memphis game last November, the early news did not surround a football player, a coach, or breaking news that the Tigers decided to possibly not arrive.
It was that Haywood had suffered a stroke, and he would not be there. The news was alarming and it caused a measure of despair, not hearing his voice flowing through the speaker system inside the press box was specious.
But, he was right back up and going soon after. When Vanderbilt arrived two weeks later, there he was. This time he took a seat with the media, sharing his wealth of information, not skipping a beat.
I was the last media person to sit with Harris, not knowing it would be his final home game at Neyland Stadium, inside the stately press box that sits high atop the floor of Shields-Watkins Field.
Wherever I was, Harris would seemingly find me to shake my hand, pat me on the back. I was privileged to share many warm conversations with Harris during the latter years that marked his life period.
I looked earnestly for him at the Chick-fil-A' Bowl Game in Atlanta on New Years Eve, but was told that he did not feel up to attending by UT SID Bud Ford and Football SID John Painter upon their arrival.
After taking my seat in the press box at the Georgia Dome, I found it was Gus Manning that would take the seat next to me moments before kickoff.
On this June day, I look back just a few short month's ago realizing that the last remaining lines of the legacy that began in 1926 with Neyland's hiring that spanned the sands of time, while running through many hands had actually touched mine.
I knew Haywood Harris, and I know Gus Manning. I did not know General Robert Reece Neyland. But, I've been witness to some of, perhaps the very best that was ever offered unto the game of college football.
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