VOL. 42 | NO. 26 | Friday, June 29, 2018
Seivers in College Football Hall of Fame? Yeah, sure, why not?
By Al Lesar
Officially, Larry Seivers had one dropped ball during his career with the Vols. But, he admits, one of his most important touchdown catches wasn’t really a catch. He is seen here celebrating after his famous catch in the 1974 game against Clemson, helping the Vol’s to a 29-28 win. -- Courtesy Of The University Of Tennessee And The Tennessee Sports Hall Of Fame
Don’t look for any campaign propaganda to be mailed out. There won’t be any personal stumping. Heck, Larry Seivers even refused to fluff up his own bio. If the former University of Tennessee two-time All-America wide receiver finds his way into the College Football Hall of Fame, it will happen because of the numbers and the memories that made him one of the game’s best in the 1970s.
Seivers, who was a 6-foot-4, 198-pound possession (that means he wasn’t very fast) receiver for the Vols from 1974-76, has been on the ballot a couple times before.
Maybe it was a lack of NFL success (Seivers was in four NFL camps over the course of two preseasons but was cut each time) or the fact that there were too many Vols on the ballot (“Two years ago, Peyton (Manning) was on the ballot. Heck, my mom would have voted for Peyton over me,” he says.)
Whatever the case, it hasn’t happened – yet.
“It depends on the backgrounds of the voters,” explains former Vols head coach Bill Battle (1970-76), a voter and the chief lobbyist behind Seivers’ campaign. “The cream always rises to the top. I hope it works out this year.”
Humble … almost to a fault
The 64-year-old Seivers is one of three owners of East Tennessee Portables, on the east end of the Knoxville area not far from the zoo.
They lease portable toilets and own a couple construction landfills.
His office isn’t a shrine to football glory.
Of the dozen pictures on the wall, 10 are family-centric – with a heavy lean toward his four grandkids.
The Clinton native has just two dedicated to himself: A painting called “Magic Hands,” depicting his game-winning 11-yard touchdown catch in a 7-3 1974 Liberty Bowl win over Maryland (back when bowl victories meant something), and the other a collage of several of UT’s top players.
Get Seivers re-living the memories long enough, and you could almost see the juices start to flow again. His mind is back on that miserable Tartan Turf at Neyland Stadium (with skinned knees and elbows that didn’t heal ’til the end of the season), calling an audible for a pass inside the 10-yard line (something the Vols never did) when he noticed a freshman backup corner was trying to defend him (it worked, by the way, though the coaches weren’t happy).
Seivers also dropped his guard a bit and allowed himself to ponder what getting the notice from the College Football Hall of Fame might mean to him.
“I guess it would mean more than I think it would,” he acknowledges. “I never have been really impressed with myself. I’d be truly honored… My first thought would be thanks to everybody that was involved.”
“That’s typical Larry,” Battle says with a chuckle. “He’s low key; a great human being.”
It’s impossible to ask an offensive lineman how many blocks he missed in his college career.
But, ask Seivers how many passes he dropped in his three years as a regular, and it’s a simple answer.
“One,” he said without hesitation. “It was late in the game against Clemson. We were winning big. For some reason, I lost focus and let the ball go through my hands and roll down my body.”
“You throw the ball anywhere near him, he’d go catch it,” Battle says.
His hands better be good, because his legs weren’t. Seivers could jump up and touch 11 feet, 2 inches, but his best 40-yard dash time was 4.55 seconds.
In football terms, he was more plodder than burner.
Still, he finished his career with 117 receptions for 1,924 yards and eight touchdowns on a team that was focused on the run. Seivers was a consensus (first-team on at least half the national lists) All-America in ’75 (41 catches, 840 yards, 4 TDs) and ’76 (51, 737, 2). That qualified him for Hall of Fame consideration.
Actually, Seivers dropped a second pass in his career, but only he knew it. It was a cold and miserable day at Vanderbilt, late in the season. The Vols had just scored and were going for a two-point conversion. A pass was lofted in his direction in the corner of the end zone. He caught the ball, but never really secured it. It actually slipped through his hands and fell to the ground.
“All the officials were worried about was my feet,” he recalls. “I knew I was in-bounds. What they didn’t see was that I never caught the ball.”
Chalk one up for the lack of instant replay. Tennessee got the two points and escaped with a 21-21 tie.
Everyone needs a break
Seivers has a unique philosophy concerning the personnel on a football team: Some guys are automatic, you know they belong; some guys are in over their head, they don’t have a place; and some guys just need a break.
Seivers got a break. Actually, two of them.
Playing for the Vols turned out to be the high point of Seivers’ football career. He had shots with four NFL teams but never made it to the regular season.
-- Courtesy Of The University Of Tennessee And The Tennessee Sports Hall Of Fame
His first year at UT was spent on the freshman team (“When I came in, all I wanted to do was start on the freshman team. You don’t see guys thinking like that anymore,” he adds). His second year was on the “dummy” squad, what they call the scout squad now.
That’s when big-time receiver Stanley Morgan showed up.
“When Stanley got here, you knew he was special,” Seivers says. “That’s when I called my dad wondering if (UT-Chattanooga) or (Middle Tennessee) might still interested. My dad told me to stick it out through the spring and see what happened.”
“I don’t remember Larry not being in the picture (with the Vols),” Battle remembers. “Sometimes your fears are greater than the reality. That was obviously the case with Larry.”
Morgan went on to play 14 years in the NFL, all but one with the New England Patriots. He caught 557 passes for 10,716 yards and 72 TDs.
No way was Seivers going to beat him out at Tennessee.
The first break came in the spring of ’74 when Morgan went down with a broken bone in his elbow. That opened a spot for Seivers. The second break came when the Vols threw some passes in his direction and they stuck like bugs on flypaper.
Come fall camp, Morgan was moved to running back, and Seivers had an opportunity to shine.
“We were trying to be a good run-first team,” Battle says. “We did want to throw the ball. (In ’76), we needed speed at tailback. Stanley probably didn’t want to play tailback, but he took one for the team.
“It made people focus more on the run. That opened up the play-action passes a lot. That’s why Larry was able to make All-American two years in a row.”
Quite a package
When Terry Moore was a hot item as a college football recruit, Seivers’ stock was never higher.
Moore, who passed away at 55 on July 4, 2009 because of a tree-trimming accident, was a fullback and Seivers’ teammate at Clinton High. In 1972, Moore, who told schools he and Seivers were a package deal, was Florida’s No. 1 recruiting priority.
That made Seivers the toast of Gainesville. However, when Moore decided on Tennessee, Florida didn’t even call Seivers back. Fellow Clinton player Russell Williams made it a threesome.
Battle admits, given Clinton’s run-oriented offense, Seivers was easy to overlook.
However, UT assistant coach Rex Dockery saw something in the 6-4, 155-pound string bean that translated well to college ball.
Moore went on to be the first UT player ever to play on the varsity (the rule allowing freshman to play was instituted in 1972) while Seivers languished in obscurity.
“I got to play two plays on the varsity (as a freshman),” Seivers says. “One was an interception, the other was a fumble.
“The best thing was running out onto the field (at the start of the game). I ‘bout ran over the drum major.”
Over the years, Seivers was hardly a model student. He admits his recreation education degree was the product of a young guy looking for a way to play football, go to school and still have a little fun.
Most of the fun happened at a group of night spots on “the strip” in downtown Knoxville.
“We complained that so many (of the establishments) closed at 3 a.m.,” he adds. “Why so early?”
Years later, he acknowledged that he didn’t give school his best effort.
“I went back (after graduation) and took a couple classes,” Seivers says. “I wanted to prove I wasn’t a fool. I wanted to show I had some sense about me.
“I guess if I had it to do over again, I’d try to be a better student and prepare for the real world. I’d try not to do so many stupid things.”
NFL fades away
A two-time college All-American is destined for a big-time NFL future. Right?
Well… Maybe not.
Seivers was a fourth-round pick of the Seattle Seahawks in the 1977 NFL draft. It didn’t take long for reality to take hold.
“I got a $15,000 signing bonus,” he recalls. “When I got the check, it was for ($11,800). I said, ‘Wait a minute…’”
Don’t forget taxes and other fees. Welcome to the real world. Had he made it to the third year of his first contract, Seivers would have earned a whopping $34,900 – pocket money for third-year veterans today.
Steve Largent happened to be in the Seahawks’ camp. Some rookie possession receiver wasn’t going to beat him out.
Seivers was traded to Tampa Bay before the final preseason game. John McKay was the head coach. The Buccaneers’ possession receiver was J.K. McKay, the coach’s son.
“I knew I had one game to prove myself,” Seivers continues. “I worked hard that week. Stayed after practice to learn what I could.”
Seivers never saw the field in that exhibition.
“McKay called me in his office and said, ‘Sorry, I forgot you were here,’” Seivers says. “And then he cut me.”
After staying in shape and working out the entire year, he was back in camp with Philadelphia and Green Bay. The only positive memory was a two-sentence note from Packers coach Bart Starr that Seivers just recently found, thanking him for trying out.
“I took for granted I’d be a pro,” Seivers adds. “My wife (Sally) said it was a blessing. I took enough hits to the head in college.”
Happy with a new normal
It took a couple years before Seivers could go back to Neyland Stadium for a game. Being shunned by football can leave a deep wound.
Today, it’s the cackling of the fans that drives him to his easy chair to watch. No fans. Fast-forward past commercials.
But, ever the receiver, he’s tough on the guys catching the ball.
“I critique receivers pretty closely,” he admits. “The worst stat is yards after catch. What about, yards after drop? Nobody mentions that. So many interceptions really aren’t the quarterback’s fault.”
At one time, the plan was to move his family back to Clinton. While preparing a space to build a home, it became obvious to Sally that “There were just too many Seiverses in Clinton (Heck, the stretch of TN 61 that runs through Clinton is named for Larry’s uncle Charles).” They put distance between them and their extended family and moved to Blount County.
“I’m blessed,” he says, looking up at the photos on the wall. “I’ve got four grandkids who are all healthy and a great family. That’s all anyone can ask for.”
Such a Hall of Fame life doesn’t need another honor.
But, it would be pretty cool.