Tennessee football’s program was cursed when playing in the Georgia Dome. As a result, Volunteers fans say good riddance to its destruction.
Tennessee football played its first game in the Georgia Dome in the 1997 SEC Championship. That should have been an omen for what was to come.
In a game in which they were heavily favored, the Vols committed six turnovers against the Auburn Tigers and also had an extra point blocked and run back. They did everything possible to lose that game.
Fortunately for them, Peyton Manning was quarterback, and through sheer will and talent, he overcame all those obstacles to still lead UT to a 30-29 win. Still, Manning had to beat Auburn and the inevitable Georgia Dome curse to win that game.
That curse pushed the Vols on some seriously hard times that they have never recovered from. So when the building came down on Monday, Tennessee football fans everywhere had no trouble saying good riddance.
Following the Auburn win, the Vols had to overcome the curse again in 1998 by just being a significantly better team than the Mississippi State Bulldogs. But once again, this mediocre MSU team that couldn’t stay on the field with any of Dan Mullen’s good teams had the Vols on the ropes and were up 14-10 in the fourth quarter.
Tennessee regrouped for two straight touchdowns to win. It would be their last win in the Georgia Dome for a while.
Following that, the curse showed its true colors. And it started in the worst way. In 2001, Tennessee football suffered its worst loss in school history.
Ranked No. 2 in the country and coming off arguably its greatest road regular season win ever over the Florida Gators, the Vols just had to beat a lowly ranked LSU Tigers team led by Nick Saban in his second year.
Tennessee destroyed them earlier in the season, and they were up 17-7 when LSU lost its starting quarterback and running back. And all of a sudden, an unknown guy named Matt Mauck with an up and coming coach in Saban shocked the Vols, knocking them out of the national title and ruining their chances of an SEC title.
The curse ran so deep that it put LSU and Saban on the map. But it didn’t stop there.
In 2002 and 2003, the Vols went to the Peach Bowl as favorites. Both times, they got blown out by significantly worse teams in the Maryland Terrapins and Clemson Tigers respectively.
Then came 2004. Tennessee football got back to the SEC Championship. They lost to the Auburn Tigers, but there was no shame. Auburn, after all, was undefeated and a heavy favorite.
But still, that was four losses in four years in that building. The Vols were favorites in three of them, and one became the worst loss in school history.
Three years later, Tennessee football got back to Atlanta. This time, they had a chance at revenge. The Vols were facing LSU as underdogs. The Tigers were hoping to get to the national title with a win. Tennessee could do to LSU what LSU did to it in 2001.
Into the fourth quarter, it looked like that would happen. The Vols were up 14-13 with the ball. But their senior quarterback Erik Ainge, in unexpected fashion, came apart.
Ainge threw a pick-six. He then overthrew two passes on the next drive in the red zone, causing a turnover on downs. The Vols then got the ball back, and he threw a pick in the red zone.
Just as Tennessee football was about to reverse the curse, its senior quarterback made a series of blunders to lose. Then, Tennessee’s downward trend began the next year.
But that trend wasn’t without another Georgia Dome loss. The Vols lost the Peach Bowl to the Virginia Tech Hokies on the eve of 2009 in another blowout. And then Lane Kiffin left the program soon after that.
Simply put, the Georgia Dome derailed Tennessee football. When the Vols finally exorcised the curse with a win over the N.C. State Wolfpack in 2012, they followed that up with a 5-7 season that saw Derek Dooley get fired.
So yes, the Georgia Dome was the site of two great wins for Tennessee football. But it caused much more heartbreak. And with its destruction, maybe the curse of the Vols will be lifted. Nobody on Rocky Top will ever miss it.