The score of 23 to 16 capped off a perfect season. The Tennessee Volunteers had won the first ever BCS National Championship and their first college football national championship game in 47 years.
On January 4, 1999, The Vols, led by quarterback Tee Martin and head coach Phillip Fulmer, won the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl over Florida State. Fulmer still remembers that game like it was this season.
Leading up to the game, the Vols had some question marks. Offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe left after the SEC Championship to he the head coach at Ole Miss. Running backs coach Randy Sanders stepped in to call plays for the first time, but Fulmer said his team never flinched.
“It probably helped us so Randy and I put our heads together and we got a plan. It was probably three to four days before the game where we picked three to four running plays that we thought would work because they were so good, but it turns out we ran the ball better than that. They were very confident – not cocky, but very confident,” said Fulmer in a recent interview.
The running game held its own, but Peerless Price’s 199 receiving yards led the way.
Fans celebrate the big win
Fans riding high off an unbeaten regular season and an SEC Championship win traveled all the way to Tempe, Arizona, to cheer on the team and share in the excitement. The Pride of the Southland Band also made the trip and marched in the Fiesta Bowl Parade.
Fans on the Cumberland Avenue Strip went wild when the Vols beat the Seminoles to cap off their perfect season. After the celebration came a buying spree as eager fans snapped up orange and white merchandise. Marketers hung Power Ts and national championship regalia on all sorts of products.
That excitement reached all the way down the grocery aisle where bags of Tostitos tortilla chips were flying off the shelves even before the game. Fans thought Tostitos were good luck snacks since the chip maker sponsored the Fiesta Bowl, and the rush kept going after the win was in the record books. Tostitos responded with commemorative bags of chips decked out in orange and white.
Of course, there was a hero’s welcome in the works in Knoxville and a throng of autograph seekers wanting to spend a moment with Coach Fulmer.