Al Wilson is remembered by Tennessee fans as one of the best players who has ever worn the orange and white. He was talented, aggressive, and had a will to win like no other player has ever had. No event put this will to win on full display like halftime of the Tennessee-Memphis game, when Wilson blew up on the Vols’ quarterback, Peyton Manning, after a disappointing first half on the offensive side of the ball.
Former Tennessee defensive tackle Billy Ratliff and former safety Fred White recently discussed the story in an exclusive interview with Volunteer Roadshow. “Peyton, you know, was an All-American quarterback and we had all of these All-American receivers,” said Ratliff. “Offense was the best in the nation at that time, and we were playing against Memphis.” White intervened to add, “Coach Fulmer called them Memphis High.” Ratliff responded with a laugh, “That’s exactly what they were too, the offense was just like that. They were so predictable, I mean I could tell where the offensive lineman was going — that’s how simple it was.”
“But at halftime we were struggling, it was like 9 to 7, or something like that. We hadn’t even scored a touchdown,” said Ratliff. “On defense I can’t take anything away from them, but we had the No. 1 offense in the country, so it should have been easy to put up at least 14 points at halftime.” Ratliff continued, “So, we got into halftime and Al was just hot, man, like really pissed off. He was getting in Peyton’s ear, chewing him out, and I remember Coach Fulmer came over and told Al, ‘chill out, man, chill out,’ and Al goes, ‘If you get the (EXPLETIVE) out of my (EXPLETIVE) face, man. This is my (EXPLETIVE) teammate I’m talking to, man. You coach us man, get out of (EXPLETIVE) face, this is my teammate.’” White and Ratliff exploded with laughter as they continued the story.
“I remember I was like, Al, man, chill out, dog. Chill!” added Ratliff with a laugh. “Al was just over there, he was cursing Peyton’s (EXPLETIVE) out,” replied White. “He was like Coach Chavis,” laughed Ratliff. “He was just in his (EXPLETIVE)!”
“Let me tell you something else,” said White. “In the 1997 SEC Championship Game against Auburn… Listen, we had about 5 or 6 turnovers in that game, there’s no way in (EXPLETIVE) we should have been behind — we should’ve been blowing them out, really. Man, we walk in the locker room and the coaches go out to a room and talk to each other first. So, Peyton, you know he was the leader. He was trying to rally his guys, and he was talking and all of a sudden, Al Wilson said, ‘Man, I don’t want to hear that (EXPLETIVE)!” Ratliff and White then busted out in laughter. “And Coach Fulmer,” began Ratliff, “He was just like ‘let’s go,’ he didn’t have anything else to say.” White added, “That was the game when Al Wilson became Al Wilson.”
“It’s like church,” Ratliff concluded. “When Rev. Al Wilson starts preaching, you shall listen. Thou shall not say anything, until he shall finish, and if you don’t there is going to be some consequences.”
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