Johnny Majors runs his words together when he gets excited, he admits.
At Thursday’s luncheon to name him the 2014 recipient of The Knoxville Award, some strained to understand what he said.
“We’ve always tried to surprise the nominee,” said Jim Haslam, founder of Pilot Corp. and a football player on University of Tennessee’s 1951 national championship team.
The surprise worked.
“My mouth quivered and my eyes watered,” Majors said before a crowd gathered at tables in the Knoxville Convention Center.
“When I get excited and nervous, I talk fast and mumble my words,” Majors said. “My wife will ask, ‘Are you speaking Portuguese, English or Major-ese?'” The award recognizes prominent people in the Knoxville community. Past winners include Haslam himself, his son and daughter-in-law Gov. Bill Haslam and Crissy Haslam, Sen. Howard Baker Jr., and former UT quarterback and current NFL starter Peyton Manning.
Like Manning, Majors’ most significant legacy in the community is largely considered to be via football.
Bob Kesling, director of broadcasting and the play-by-play man for the Vol Network, ran down the list of Majors’ highlights.
As a halfback at UT, he was voted SEC player of the year by the Nashville Banner in 1955 and again in 1956. Majors was also an NCAA All-American. United Press International named him National Back of the Year in 1956. And he was the Heisman Trophy runner-up in 1956.
As a coach, Majors was an assistant on the national championship University of Arkansas football team in 1964. At Iowa State University, Majors was named Big 8 Coachof the Year in 1971. Majors went to the University of Pittsburgh, leading the team to a national championship in 1976, and won National Coach of the Year twice.
Then he returned to Tennessee to coach, won seven of 10 bowl games in 15 years, and SEC championships in 1985, 1989 and 1990.
Kesling said Majors was known for his preparation. He said he spent the day with Majors before a bowl game once, touring historic sites in New Orleans.
What was he doing?
“Not watching football games,” Kesling said, adding that Majors was so organized and confident that he didn’t need last-minute planning.
Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero said Majors has “been the face of Knoxville and football … heart and soul for half a century.” The luncheon benefited Senior Citizens Home Assistance Service, which helps seniors and disabled people by offering companionship, housekeeping, personal care and other needs through its programs.
founder Jim Haslam, left, congratulates former University of Tennessee football coach Johnny Majors after Majors was presented with The Knoxville Award on Thursday at the Convention Center.
AMY SMOTHERMAN BURGESS/ NEWS SENTINEL
By Gerald Witt
Courtesy of: Knoxville News Sentinel