Tennessee Football History
You know Johnny. Everybody knows Peyton and Reggie. Lots of long time Vols’ fans remember Doug. Majors, Manning, White, and Atkins are names that invoke legendary tales of Tennessee Volunteers football days gone by. Tales of triumph. Tales of greatness. Tales of moments forever etched in the memories of those telling or hearing the tale.
For a program with over a century’s worth of football players on its rosters, it is certainly a special honor to be recognized as one of the best ever to play here. The University of Tennessee has bestowed such an honor on eight men by retiring the numbers they wore. But I only mentioned half of them. Do you know even one of the names of the other four? Chances are you probably don’t. Allow me to introduce you to them in this article.
These men were true heroes, honored more for what they did off the football field in another field of battle. They all died fighting for their country in World War II. Sadly, we know such little about them.
Bill Nowling, No. 32; Rudy Klarer, No. 49; Willis Tucker, No. 61; Clyde “Ig” Fuson, No. 62. I have followed the Tennessee Vols all my life. And I only recognized one of those names, Clyde Fuson, and that’s only because Fuson is my mother’s maiden name Also, Clyde was from Middlesboro, KY, not far from my family’s roots in Harlan. So, there’s at least some small possibility I’m related to one of only eight football players to ever have their jersey number retired as a Tennessee Volunteer!
But what tales could be told about these men who paid the highest price of their lives for this land? What memories are molded into the minds of Vol fans? Unfortunately, other than a few pieces of information, mostly just basic bits of data, the answer to both is not many.
Their names and numbers hang high in Neyland Stadium. But for these four, both will be remembered for their nature of courage more than competitiveness. We recognize them for their temerity more than any touchdown. They went to battle for Coach General Neyland in every game in Knoxville and cities near. But they went to war for their country in battlefields worlds away.
You can scour the archives of the internet and you won’t find much more information about three of the four than the following facts:
Klarer was a reserve guard in 1941 before earning a starting spot his senior year. He was from Louisville, KY. He passed away at the age of 21, a couple months before his 22nd birthday.
Tucker was a local boy who graduated from historic Knoxville High and earned a football letter in 1940. He also starred for the track team. Tucker died at the age of 26 on Nov. 28, 1944.
Fuson was known as “Ig” and was a native of Middlesboro, Ken. He shared playing time with Nowling in 1942. His younger brother Herschel “Ug” Fuson transferred to West Point from Tennessee.
Rick Bragg, in his collection of news stories, “Somebody Told Me,” shares this excerpt on Nowling:
“Bill Nowling had started at fullback every game of his last three years at the University of Tennessee and played in two Sugar Bowls.
After graduation, he was commissioned an infantry second lieutenant at Fort Benning, Ga., in June 1943, and married his high school sweetheart in July.
He was killed in August 1944, leading his platoon in fighting in France.
Like many fans, I had at least noticed their numbers in Neyland. Yet, even though I had seen them, I knew not their names. And while we may still not know their stories, we have a better idea of the tales they could tell. Tales of valor. Tales of sacrifice. Tales of leaving football behind and fighting for freedom. Tales from and memories of men that at the very least are deserving of the rest of us learning the name behind the number.
God bless you and your families, Bill Nowling, Rudy Klarer, Willis Tucker, and Clyde Fuson. God bless those still serving and sacrificing. And God bless America.