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BYU Nearly Played Tennessee For National Championship In 1984 Holiday Bowl

Left: BYU Photo/Mark Philbrick; Right: (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Allsport/Getty Images)

PROVO, Utah – Like many of you, I find myself watching old sporting events during these unprecedented times without sports. One of the games I’ve pulled out of the archives in recent weeks was the 1984 Holiday Bowl, BYU’s National Championship game against Michigan.

We all know the story, BYU defeated Michigan 24-17 to claim its first and only National Championship in program history.

Many in the college football world claimed BYU should not have won the title because they played a 6-5 Michigan team. What many people don’t realize is that the Holiday Bowl executives tried to get BYU the best possible opponent in hopes of creating the closest thing they could to a National Championship game.

Holiday Bowl staff contacted numerous programs before extending an invite to the Michigan Wolverines. One of the programs that nearly faced BYU was the Tennessee Volunteers.

BYU nearly played Tennessee in the 1984 Holiday Bowl

Charles Davis, an NFL analyst for CBS Sports and the popular Madden video game, was a defensive back for the ’84 Vols team. He recently joined the “It’s Never Just A Game” Podcast. The show is hosted by NJ and Greg Pesci two brothers who attended BYU during the ’80s and have over 50 years of experience between them running organizations and teams. Greg Pesci helped create BYU’s Gameday app used at home football and men’s basketball games in 2018.

“There was a possibility of us (Tennessee) playing [BYU] in that Holiday Bowl,” said Davis. “It came down to us, Michigan, and maybe one other that they (Holiday Bowl) were considering.”

The other team Davis was referring to that the Holiday Bowl considered was Maryland, who turned down a matchup with BYU to play in the Sun Bowl. Rumors were floated at that time that top-five ranked Washington was also pursued, but no Holiday Bowl offer was formally extended to the Huskies who played in the Orange Bowl.

“So they (Holiday Bowl execs) call Tennessee and told us, we’re considering you guys, would you be interested? Of course, we’d be interested,” Davis said. “We had a meeting and Tennessee told us the Holiday Bowl is interested. So we were all juiced up, are you kidding me?  San Diego, Shamu, BYU, the number one team in the country, darn right we want to give that a try.

“In the meantime, while the Holiday Bowl kind of said well, we’ll get back to you, the Sun Bowl called and said, hey, firm offer you guys play Maryland take it or leave it. Well our administration told us, bird in hand, we have to take this, we have to do it. No one was excited about going to El Paso. Now it turned out it was a great bowl trip, wonderful people all that, but we’re like, hold on there, I thought we were gonna play BYU? This is the number one team in the country.”

El Paso wasn’t as exciting as San Diego for the Vols

Tennessee who was 7-2-1 entering the bowl season ended up losing to the No. 12 ranked Terrapins 28-27 in the 1984 Sun Bowl.

“I don’t know what the time frame was but the Holiday Bowl allegedly called back and said, you guys come and play and we had already taken the Sun Bowl offer. Our administration, to their credit, did not go back on their word.” Davis said.

The Holiday Bowl in 1984 would have marked the first meeting between BYU and Tennessee. Instead, that first meeting ended up happening 35 years later in Knoxville this past fall. A game in which BYU won 29-26 in double-overtime. In 2023, Tennessee will make its first-ever trip to Provo for the second meeting.

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12-3 pm) on KSL Newsradio. Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.

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