Johnny Majors' No. 45 jersey was retired Saturday prior to kickoff of the Tennessee vs. Florida football game at Neyland Stadium.
It was a nice move by Athletic Director Dave Hart and the UT Athletics Board. As a player and as a coach for the Volunteers, Majors excelled, and his feats certainly needed to be recognized.
Seeing Johnny Majors Saturday at Knoxville reminded me of his visit to Greeneville back in 2001 (has it really been that long ago?) as guest speaker for the Boys & Girls Club's Champions Dinner.
He sat down with me in the lobby of the General Morgan Inn and talked for an hour about his playing days, about his time as coach at Iowa State, Pittsburgh and Tennessee, and about his life in general.
At that time, there was a lot of bitterness in his voice. He had become so far removed from his alma mater due to that bitterness, that he had returned to Tennessee only once since 1992, and that was in 2000 when he attended a reunion of the 1990 Sugar Bowl championship team and was introduced at halftime to a rousing roar of approval.
It was in 1992 that Majors had heart surgery, and Phillip Fulmer took over the program in his absence. Majors would not return the following year.
Majors felt a lack of loyalty of some members of his staff and non-support from then Athletic Director Doug Dickey and then president Joe Johnson led to his departure from the school.
I recall that on the day I spoke with him I never pressed him to talk about his feelings of leaving the Volunteers because I knew it was still a sore spot with him. He did volunteer some thoughts, though, and he left no doubt that he harbored some ill feelings, particularly toward Coach Fulmer.
You could see the hardness in his eyes when he told me on that day, "I left UT with a winning program. I never had the luxury of taking over as a coach and having it laid out on a silver platter."
I can also recall him speaking of his playing days for Tennessee as a hard-nosed tailback who probably should have won the Heisman Trophy. As a coach, he talked freely about beating Alabama during Bear Bryant's final season as coach of the Crimson Tide.
This past Saturday in Knoxville, he was honored on the field prior to the game, then held court with a group of reporters in the press box at halftime of the football game.
He opened the impromptu gathering by asking for questions, then when a reporter queried him about his feelings on having the honor bestowed upon him, he spent the rest of the half talking non-stop about all the good things that had happened to him in his association with Tennessee.
He mentioned the names of several teammates, including Charlie Rader from Greeneville, with whom he played in 1953.
With the second half of the football game rapidly approaching, there was no time for other questions.
I looked back in our newspaper archives and found the story that I wrote after interviewing Majors in 2001. I had said in that column that I hoped some day that Majors would bury the bitterness that he held toward the university. I also said that there are two sides to every story, and I was sure the university had a reason for doing what they did in replacing Majors. But the hurt he felt when he left UT squeezed most of the orange blood out of his veins.
But there was still some orange left in Majors. And you could tell Saturday after his number was retired that he was an extremely proud man.
The sellout crowd for the Florida game was loud and receptive when Majors was introduced. It was a good day for the man who was an All-American tailback at Tennessee; a man who left the University of Pittsburgh in 1977 to return to his alma mater and try to revive a program that was faltering.
Revive it he did. Now his number will be placed around the stadium along with the other numbers of people like Peyton Manning, Reggie White and Doug Atkins.
I think the bitterness has been buried.