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POLK MEMORIAL GARDENS - MAURY COUNTY, TENNESSEE

Howell Smith. "Hal" Wantland, 63, died Apr 9 , 2008, of Knoxville passed away at his home following a brief illness. He was the secretary and lifetime member of the University of Tennessee's Letterman's Club and the captain of the 1965 University of Tennessee Football team. Hal was preceded in death by his parents Grace [Turner] and Howell Z. Wantland and a brother, James Edward Wantland. Survivors include his wife, Joan [Murphy] Wantland and children Matt, Brad, Madeline and Mandy Wantland; granddaughter Jocelyn; sisters and brothers-in-law, Donna (Willie) Jones, Betty (John) Dixon and Debra (Steve) Harris; and brother and sister-in law Newt (Mary) Wantland.

Hal Wantland a sports leader at University of Tennessee.

By MARVIN WEST/Guest Columnist of Knoxville Tn Sentinel.

As bad news goes, this really hurts. The clock is supposedly running short on one of my favorite Tennessee football captains. Good doctor says cancer has put a mean hit on Hal Wantland. Hard lick. At age 63.

I never expected Hal Wantland to live forever, but if toughness was enough, he had a chance. He's top 10 among the rugged men who have ever put an orange jersey over his shoulder pads. Jacobs Blocking Trophy winner in '65 for Doug Dickey's first good team. Natural born leader, by example. Quiet type, heart of a lion, dependability instead of flash, dignity but no hot quotes.

Wantland's teammates say Hal has not surrendered to this affliction. Of course not. They haven't either. If they are praying for a miracle, so be it. They'd be grateful if Tennessee fans who believe in God would lend a helping hand and add Hal's name to prayer lists.

"We need help," said Mike Price, freshman wideout when Wantland was a senior, never quite as fast as Richmond Flowers but a key communications link through the years for the Tennessee football family.

Price is vividly descriptive about the dilemma. "Medically, we're out of bullets."

Wantland got the negative diagnosis just a few weeks ago. He was told he wasn't strong enough to endure high-powered treatment. Old Vols were stunned but, as their custom, they didn't panic and they certainly didn't give up.

They had a pep rally. Jerry Holloway, Johnny Mills, Ron Jarvis and maybe a dozen others hurried to help.

They were raising eyebrows when Charley Coffey, former guard, former assistant coach, former athletics board member, took the lead in a prayer circle. There is power in faith.

"You want to talk about support? It came from everywhere," said Price.

Bill Battle, Coffey, Dickey and others of affluence were ready to fly Wantland anywhere in the country for treatment. There were private planes on standby. Cost was no object. What could be done.

Not much. With the help of former teammates, Wantland made it home from the hospital to be surrounded with love and encouragement and milk shakes loaded with vitamins and minerals. Vital numbers improved.

Hal regain strength. The doctor, surprised by the progress, knows enough to be guarded in his optimism.

The Wantland wing of the Tennessee football family sees it differently. That brotherhood thinks a chance is enough. Old Vols know some things that don't appear on medical charts.

Howell Smith Wantland, born July 9, 1944 in Columbia, came to Knoxville when it wasn't fashionable, near the end of the Bowden Wyatt era.

He was a sophomore tailback (single-wing offense). Behind Mallon Fairclotch during Jim McDonald's interim season as coach, Hal threw two touchdown passes at Kentucky in 1963 (the day after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Wantland was a survivor of Dickey's infamous first winter workout under Section X at Neyland Stadium. He recalled climbing that blasted peg board, a stick in each hand that fit holes, drilled into each side of the big board, five holes up and five holes down.

Tough workout. He has never forgotten how bad is smelled inside the dungeon.

That football season, Hal tried to be whatever Dickey needed - quarterback, running back, wingback. I was in Baton Rouge for the halfback pass to Stan Mitchell that looked exactly like a touchdown.

Officials rubbed it out, ruling the passer was a step pass the line of scrimmage.

Wantland was a giant in '65. He was captain in the truest sense. He set the pace in spring practice. He led those who would follow, pulled those who were too tired to continue, lifted some who thought they couldn't get up. He was whatever he needed to be, an inspiration, your best friend or the Gibbs Hall police officer.

Wantland won two pages in Sports Illustrated when his dive over the line against Alabama in Birmingham on the third Saturday in October, the day Snake Stabler spiked the football on fourth down.

Wantland stood tall the next week when three Tennessee coaches died in the train-car crash. Wantland caught two touchdown passes from Dewey Warren in the Bluebonnet victory over UCLA. Wantland played in the Blue-Gray game and the Coaches All-America game and was drafted as an afterthought by the Washington Redskins.

He played a few pro minutes with the Miami Dolphins.

"He helped me get my first job," said Mike Price.

Wantland has never lost touch with the University of Tennessee.

He was a leader in the rejuvenation of the Letterman's Club. He was on the committee that planned the Wall of Fame. He was back on the Shields Watkins Field to receive some richly deserved honor on the Saturday old Vols allowed me to their fraternity - as an honorary letterman.

Hal Wantland is near enough to a perfect fit of what a Tennessee football player should be - an honorable man among men, a fierce competitor, brave to a fault, willing to give more than he gets.

If he had been as swift as Mike Price, Hal might have been all-world.

Story created Apr 05, 2008 - 23:38:31 EDT.

Obituary from Newsletter from Turner-Austin tidbits, from the records of Linda Sharp Yates, Carolyn Sharp Hicks & Anne Sharp Cole 31 Oct 2008. Article from Knoxville Newspaper. [cousin Wayne Austin 24 Oct 2008]