EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the second story in a series counting down the top five players in University of Tennessee football history. The Times Free Press previously published companion series on Alabama (May 4-8) and Georgia (May 11-15).
No list of Tennessee's top five football players of all time could possibly exclude the Robert Neyland era.
Neyland guided the Volunteers to an astounding 173-31-12 record during three separate stints that sandwiched his time in the military, where he ascended to the rank of brigadier general. He led Tennessee to separate streaks of 33, 28, 23 and 20 games in which the Vols never sustained defeat, and his career accomplishments included two Southern Conference championships that predated the formation of the Southeastern Conference in 1933, five SEC crowns and the 1951 national title.
Multiple All-Americans excelled under Neyland's tutelage, including quarterback Bobby Dodd, halfbacks Gene McEver, Beattie Feathers, George Cafego and Hank Lauricella, as well as two-way linemen Herman Hickman, Bob Suffridge, Ed Molinski and Doug Atkins. Neyland referred to McEver as "the best player I ever coached," while Atkins became the first Tennessee player ever to get inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The pick here, however, as the fourth-best Tennessee player ever based solely on his time in Knoxville is Suffridge, who is the only three-time All-American in program history.
"Suff had the quickest and most powerful defensive charge of any lineman I've ever seen," Neyland once said. "I have never seen a lineman play his position so well. He never made a bad play."
Playing guard at 190 pounds, Suffridge was on three Tennessee teams from 1938 to 1940 that went 30-0 in regular-season games. The 1938 Vols outscored opponents 276-16 during the regular season before blanking Oklahoma 17-0 in the Orange Bowl.
Tennessee's 1939 team is the last in college football history to go the entire regular season without allowing a point. The Vols that year outscored foes 212-0, with 7-0 toppings of Auburn serving as the closest calls in both 1938 and 1939, but they couldn't extend their dominance in the Rose Bowl, falling 14-0 to Southern California.
The 1940 Vols racked up 319 points and allowed just 26 during the regular season before losing the Sugar Bowl to Boston College 19-13.
Suffridge's quickness off the line once resulted in him blocking the same extra point three times. He was flagged for being offside on the first two attempts, though multiple accounts claim the officials were in error.
The Rockne Memorial Trophy was the most coveted honor for a lineman during that era, and Suffridge won it in 1940. He played for the Philadelphia Eagles in 1941 and 1945, serving in between as a lieutenant commander in the Navy during World War II.
Suffridge became North Carolina State's line coach from 1946-51 but eventually returned to Knoxville and worked as an insurance broker before his death in 1973.
In 1982, when the SEC held its 50th season, Suffridge was named to the league's all-time team.
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