The Legendary Exploits of Doug Atkins: Must Reading for young Vol Fans

#1

Volosaurus rex

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#1
Some of us on the Recruiting Forum have recently found diversion by discussing the legendary exploits of Doug Atkins. Predictably, some of the younger contributors to that thread were unfamiliar with him, and I imagine that many contributors to this forum would also fall into that category. Given the fact that this is the offseason, now is as good a time as any to rectify that situation and introduce you to one of the true immortals of Tennessee football.

Doug was an anchor to General Neyland’s last great teams, including the 1951 national championship squad. He possessed extraordinary God-given talent, size (roughly 6-8, 265 lbs. when he entered the NFL back in the early 1950s) and natural strength. He was fiery and unpredictable. At least some of his appetites were herculean. One could justifiably describe Doug Atkins as the “Babe Ruth of Tennessee football.”

So, without further ado, get your popcorn ready and sit a spell. Even the true Doug Atkins stories are Paul Bunyanesque, and many of them will split your sides with laughter, so this thread should be a blast. I realize that some of you are adverse to reading lengthy blocks of text, so I will split my personal contributions on this topic into a host of different posts. Please feel free to share any and all Doug Atkins stories that you may run across.
 
#3

ChuckNorris

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#3
"It was not just on the field that Atkins cut a giant swath. He rumbled around training camps--armed and accompanied by his pit bull Rebel--through bars, and over anyone who got in his way.

Atkins would arrive at training camp each summer packing two .44-caliber Magnums, several derringers and a shotgun. Sometimes, when the Saints trained in San Diego, he fired his shotgun at destroyers cruising off the coast, claiming that coach George Allen was spying on the team from the ships.

He once silenced some noisy rookies in the room above him by firing a gun into the overhang outside their window.

"I needed my sleep," Atkins said. "I was old. I came in at curfew and needed to rest up. They wanted to keep that music playing so I just quieted them down."

Atkins was no fan of rock 'n' roll. His first day in the Saints locker room, he turned off a player's radio that was tuned to a top 40 station.

"He said, 'We're going to listen to American music here because we're all Americans,"' Ariail remembered. "Then he put on a Johnny Cash song and everybody listened to country and western the rest of the years. There weren't any complaints."


Rebel was Atkins' constant companion, jogging with him and sleeping in his locker during practice. He even went with Atkins to a little French Quarter bar.

"Doug would sit on one stool and Rebel would sit on another and they would get drunk together," Ariail said.

Even after Atkins decided he was tired of looking at his picture on the wall of the bar and shot it down, he and Rebel were welcome.

"He liked to drink, but I never saw it bother him," said Joe Impastato, who was his regular waiter at a French Quarter restaurant where Atkins dined after Saints games. "I'd ice down a quart of gin for his martinis and about a half-dozen bottles of beer, then he'd have a few Grand Marniers and walk out of there perfectly straight.""

Wildman Remembered : Although Doug Atkins Was Not Exactly a Saint, He's Soon To Be in New Orleans' Hall of Fame - latimes
 
#6

Volosaurus rex

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#6
If we begin just with the honors that Doug earned on the collegiate and professional levels, this is all you need to know in order to realize that Doug Atkins absolutely must be in the top-5 Volunteers of all-time: “He [was] the [first] Tennessee player to ever be voted into both the College Football Hall of Fame (inducted 1985) and the Professional Football Hall of Fame (inducted 1982)" (UTSPORTS.COM - University of Tennessee Athletics - Football). He also "was the only player to be unanimously named to the All-SEC Quarter Century Team and was awarded SEC Player of the Quarter Century (1950-74). He was also selected to the All-Time All-SEC Team (1933-82)" (Doug Atkins Bio - UTSPORTS.COM - University of Tennessee Athletics).

Reggie White later joined Doug as a member of both honorary institutions; he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2002 and the Professional Football Hall of Fame in 2006. After his retirement from the NFL, Peyton will certainly join their ranks as well. Additional spots on any hypothetical "Mount Rushmore of Tennessee Volunteers" are open for discussion, but the first three spots must be reserved for those gentlemen.

If you also want to take a look at Doug’s NFL resume, consider the following:

8× Pro Bowl selection (1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1965)

4× First Team All-Pro selection (1958, 1960, 1961, 1963)

6× Second Team All-Pro selection (1957, 1959, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1968)

Pro Bowl MVP (1958)

2× NFL champion (1954, 1963) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doug_Atkins
 
#8

Volosaurus rex

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#8
Even Butkus was terrified of Atkins. He was a terror. If they had kept Sack stats back then he'd probably still be #1.

Yes, to quote the same source that ChuckNorris cited, "Doug had a way of making people apprehensive," said Warren Ariail, the Saints' trainer in 1968-69. "He was so big and so strong and when he wanted to do something he did it. Johnny Unitas told me one time Doug was the only player he was afraid of. Dick Butkus said the same thing. Now if you can imagine Dick Butkus being afraid of someone, you get an idea of how Doug affected people."

As for sacks, "There are no records of Atkins' sacks, because that statistic wasn't kept until 1982. The record for a single season is 22. "When I was with the Bears, there were a few years I might have had 25 or so," Atkins said. "It was just playing the position, nothing special in those days."

It should be noted that Doug played in an era of 12-game regular seasons through 1960 and 14-game seasons thereafter.
 
#9

BowlBrother85

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#9
During a Fox NFL Sunday broadcast several years ago, John Madden recalled knowing several players who would skip the Pro Bowl because they didn't want to have to play against Doug Atkins. Pat Summerall said he knew some of those same players. Summerall also once told a story that Atkins was traded from the Browns by Paul Brown for burping during a team meeting... One of the great characters and players not just in Tennessee history but in the history of the game.
 
#11

Volosaurus rex

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Here are a few sometimes awestruck, sometimes hilarious comments that expound upon the intimidation factor that Doug Atkins naturally evoked:

Bill Curry (Colts center, 1967-72) on playing Doug Atkins: "This guy is not a regular human being. If we don't irritate him, he will not kill any of us today. So, don't you dare mess with him."

Another Bill Curry observation: “"He was, like, from Olympus. If you envision Zeus . . ."

And a third Bill Curry comment: “Doug took two steps, leaped completely over and landed on top of Johnny Unitas. It was just surreal.”

Bill Werndl (XX Sports Radio, San Diego): “He was 6-8, 265 lbs., and he was one of the nastiest human beings to ever walk this earth.”

Alex Hawkins (Colts’ running back, 1959-65): “I saw him eliminate the entire Minnesota backfield. He put Brown and Mason out on two straight plays. And, the following week, he put Hornung and Taylor out with clotheslines on two consecutive plays.”

All of these comments are accompanied by NFL highlight film clips of Doug and are excerpted from Top Ten Pass Rushers: Doug Atkins - NFL Videos.

Incidentally, these film clips show Doug's patented hurdle move that he regularly used in route to the quarterback.
 
#12

Volosaurus rex

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#12
For a hilarious story of how Doug Atkins helped Bill Anderson, John Ward's old sidekick, make the Washington Redskins’ roster by deliberately making it look like Anderson was able to consistently block Atkins in a preseason game, tune in to the 5:30 mark of https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NMBFf9KZjv8.
 
#13

Volosaurus rex

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#13
One of the funniest Doug Atkins stories is courtesy of Sgt Nick Fury (http://www.volnation.com/forum/tennessee-vols-football/199646-legend-doug-atkins.html):

"Which brings me to my favorite Doug Atkins story ... one he told me every year we worked together for his annual golf tourney to help Lupus victims. And, forgive me Doug if I get any of this wrong, but it has been 20 years.

The Chicago Bears always held their training camp near a little town in central Indiana on the campus of St. Joseph's College. It was a dry county, the campus surrounded by cornfields, and miles and miles from any city big enough to find trouble. But knowing the situation he was living in for those 8 weeks a year, Doug ALWAYS came prepared ... with plenty of gin and vermouth and a case of olives. Along with his handy 9 mm that went everywhere with him, especially any stadium that might contain pigeons.

This particular training camp had several malcontents, including Mike Ditka, who was quoted as saying "That tight son-of-a-***** throws nickels around like they were man-hole covers. " Of course, referring to George Halas, owner, head coach, GM and contract negotiator. Which prompted Doug to take a more forward and direct approach to re-negotiating his contract. A couple weeks after training camp opened, Doug and a few teammates were putting a serious dent in the gin stash. And Doug was drinking in proportion to his size. The more they drank, the madder they got over their contracts. The madder they got, the more determined Doug was to do something about it. So with all his friends egging him on, Doug storms out of the dormitory, after curfew, jumps into his car, and heads off to Chicago to have a "face-to-face with that SOB". He navigates through the cornfields, winds his way through the suburbs, and faces the traffic of the Big City to find himself on George Halas' doorstep. Still filled with rage, this behemoth man takes his massive fist and starts beating on Hallas' front door, hard enough to nearly knock it off its hinges. In no time at all, the front door opens, and to Doug's surprise, it wasn't George answering, but his wife.

"Well Doug, what brings you out on such a lovely evening?" she asked. Now Doug was raised as a Southern Gentleman, born in Tennessee, played in Tennessee, and never lost touch with those roots. So as politely as possible, Doug said: "'Scuse me Ms Halas, but may I please see that ... I am sorry for the time ma'am ... Is George here?" Seeing he was extremely angry and at some level beyond tipsy, Mrs. Halas invited Doug in, had him sit down, and then asked: "Why Doug, aren't you supposed to be at training camp?" "Yes ma'am." "And isn't it past curfew?" "Yes ma'am." "And wasn't Coach Halas at training camp with you today?" "Yes, ma'am." "Well then Doug, don't you suppose he's still there?" It was not until that exact moment that Doug realized he'd driven all the way to Chicago, while Hallas was sleeping quietly 3 doors down in the dorm. "Well Doug, I'll get you a raise right now. I won't tell George that you broke curfew, saving you a $250.00 fine. You can go tell your teammates you got a raise, and if you hurry, you can be back in bed before they find you're gone."
 
#14

Volosaurus rex

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#14
It is regrettable that the author of this article did not provide a more precise citation for his anecdote, but it is certainly vintage Doug Atkins, nevertheless. "As Marvin West relates in his book, Tales of the Tennessee Vols, Atkins was once ejected from a game at Tennessee. When he refused to leave the field, the referee walked to the sideline and told Neyland that Tennessee would have to forfeit the game if the coach didn’t get Atkins off the field. Neyland’s response was, “YOU ejected him — YOU get him off the fieldNo. 6 UT player: Doug Atkins | BenGarrett.net.
 
#15

Volosaurus rex

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#15
Here are some interesting tidbits about Doug’s skill in basketball and track, his massive growth spurt in high school and his signing bonus with the NFL:

“Like many that attain greatness in one sport professionally, Doug's initial athletic interest was in another game-basketball. He was, in fact, playing with the Detroit Vagabonds professional basketball team when Cleveland Browns' coach Weeb Ewbank found him to offer a pro football contract.

Atkins' basketball interest came naturally enough for it was "THE" high school sport in his hometown of Humboldt, Tenn., where he was born on May 8, 1930. Only 5-2, 118 pounds his first year in high school, Doug grew rapidly and, as a senior, was an all-Tennessee star. He went to the University of Tennessee on a basketball scholarship and immediately did well, scoring 38 points in one freshman game. An all-round fine athlete, Doug also filled in one year on the track team and won the Southeastern Conference high jump title with a 6-6 leap. He later would use this ability to leap-frog over blockers in his mad rush to get at NFL passers.

. . . "Atkins was the most magnificent physical specimen I had ever seen," Ewbank says of his first meeting with Doug. "Paul Brown told me I could go as high as $10,000 to sign him but he was really worth much more." Depending on the source, the figure varies, but Atkins signed for something between $5,000 and $6,800. Both sides agree, however, that Weeb threw in a special "Bonus" - eight beers and two hamburgers” (Chicago | Bears in the Hall - Doug Atkins).
 
#17

Volosaurus rex

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#17
More colorful quotes about Doug from his NFL peers:

"One of his favorite tricks was to throw a blocker at the quarterback." -- Johnny Unitas

"I played against some mean ones, but I never met anyone meaner than Atkins. After my first meeting with him, I really wanted to quit pro football. He just beat the hell out of me. He rammed me back there so hard the only thing I could do was wave to Johnny (Unitas) as I went by. It was awful. Finally, my coaches convinced me that not every pro player was like Atkins." -- Jim Parker

The Official Site of Doug Atkins

Marvin West, longtime sportswriter for the Knoxville News Sentinel offers this story: "Another NFL name you might recognize, Fran Tarkenton, remembered Atkins as the strongest man in football and also the biggest. “When he rushed the passer with those oak-tree arms way up in the air, he was 12 feet tall. And if he got to you, the world suddenly started spinning.” All-time greats list without Doug Atkins | Shopper-News
 
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#19

Volosaurus rex

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#19
According to this story from Marvin West, Johnny Unitas wasn't exaggerating about throwing would be blockers at the quarterback:

"If Bofah, being a North Carolina man, had researched Atkins’ magic moment as a Tennessee Volunteer, he would have gained understanding. It happened the first of November, 1952, Tar Heels at Shields-Watkins Field. Their fullback, leading a sweep, came at Doug with a cross-body block. Atkins caught this full-grown man with his hands and forearms – and threw him, like a log, at the tailback. It was an awesome show of force.

. . . Great quarterback Johnny Unitas saw that same power play in the NFL: “One of Atkins’ favorite tricks was to throw a blocker at the quarterback, which does tend to disrupt the passing game.”

All-time greats list without Doug Atkins | Shopper-News
 
#23

NYCVol

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#23
IF this isn't the best thread ever, could someone please show me the better ones?

Awesome. My dad has talked about Doug Atkins as long as I can remember, but some of this is new info to me.

Thanks.
 
#25

armchair

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#25
Here is another good article about him. I didn't know, or had forgotten, that Atkins came to UT on a basketball scholarship--basketball was his first love. He also won the SEC high-jump title one year.

Why in the world did the Cleveland Browns trade Atkins? I haven't read anything that says why. Who trades a guy who is going to be All Pro the next 8 or 9 years and become a Hall of Fame player? Has to be one of the stupidest moves in the history of the NFL!

Atkins needed knee replacements in the mid-1990s but said he couldn't afford it. I have to think he eventually had it done. He's 85 now.

Chicago | Bears in the Hall - Doug Atkins
 

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