UCLA was riding the crest of seven consecutive winning bowl appearances. Tennessee was coming off a 5-6 season in 1988 and an unimpressive 17-14 victory over Colorado State in its first game of '89.
In what turned out to be a watershed game for both schools, Tennessee easily beat the Bruins, 24-6.
Since then, the Volunteers have won two Southeastern Conference championships and had records of 11-1 and 9-2-2. UCLA was 3-7-1 in 1989 and 5-6 in '90.
UCLA will play Tennessee again today at Neyland Stadium, and Coach Terry Donahue can only hope that it will be a sequel to "Reversal of Fortune."
"There is no comparison between the UCLA team we played in 1989 and the one we'll play now," Tennessee Coach Johnny Majors said. "UCLA is considerably better."
Donahue agreed, saying: "I think we're much better than we were in 1989. We certainly have a more experienced quarterback. We were playing a redshirt freshman then, Bret Johnson, and we're playing a redshirt sophomore, Tommy Maddox, now.
"And I think we have much better toughness and morale. So I don't think there is any comparison."
Majors said his team isn't as good as it was in 1989, but such an assessment is relative.
The Volunteers have a veteran defensive unit that stopped Louisville, 28-11, on Sept. 5. Majors also has two of the premier players in the country in all-purpose wide receiver Carl Pickens and free safety Dale Carter, who led the nation in kickoff returns last season with a 29.82-yard average.
Tennessee isn't experienced on offense, but quarterback Andy Kelly is a seasoned player, and freshman running backs Aaron Hayden and James Stewart each ran for more than 100 yards against Louisville.
UCLA gained 434 total yards in a 27-23 victory over Brigham Young last Saturday night at the Rose Bowl.
Tennessee prevented Louisville from scoring when it had first and goal at the two-yard line.
"If the defense can do that every week, the offense will take care of itself," Pickens said.
Assessing the Volunteers' defense, Donahue said: "We don't play Washington, so Tennessee may end up being the best defensive team we play all year."
Donahue added that it will be difficult to run against the Tennessee defense, which is led by end Chuck Smith, linebacker Earnest Fields and middle linebacker Shon Walker, who had 15 tackles against Louisville.
UCLA probably will resort to its favorite formation, the shotgun, to buy more time for Maddox.
"The shotgun is a good formation for Tommy," Donahue said. "It gives him time for sight adjustments. And the offensive line doesn't have to be quite as good in (pass) protection from the shotgun."
Maddox got mixed reviews after the BYU game. He completed 12 of 15 passes for 225 yards and two touchdowns in the first half of his matchup against Ty Detmer.
However, in the second half, he completed only four of nine passes for 38 yards, fumbled for the second time in the game and threw an interception.
"Tommy was too loose with the ball in the pocket," Donahue said. "We have to coach him out of that. He needs to learn how to take care of the ball.
"That tainted his performance a little bit. It was not one of his premier performances. But all things considered, that he hadn't scrimmaged full speed and it was his opening game, he did fine."
Majors was much more effusive about Maddox, saying: "He's an ideal college quarterback. He has everything to be an excellent pro. He has a quick delivery and can throw the ball side-arm, moving forward, running to his left or right or backpedaling under pressure."
Given the strength of the Tennessee defense, Maddox may be backpedaling more than usual.
A crowd of 94,000 is expected today.
"It's a very difficult environment to play in. But the weather condition concerns you more than the noise," Maddox said. "It's going to be so humid and hot, and how do you prepare for that?"
The weather forecast is for temperatures in the 90s with high humidity.
Tennessee is a 7 1/2-point favorite. . . . UCLA Coach Terry Donahue is concerned about his kicking game. Punter Courtney Keyler averaged only 28.3 yards on three punts against BYU, his average dropping on a 14-yard punt. Dominic Sandifer had difficulty getting the ball to the end zone on kickoffs, and Luis Perez missed an extra point. . . . Donahue also must decide whether to instruct Sandifer to squib his kickoffs to keep the ball away from Tennessee's Dale Carter. There is the same problem on punts. The Volunteers' Carl Pickens carried one 67 yards to a touchdown against Louisville while filling in for Carter.
A new rule that penalizes a team for too much celebrating on the field doesn't appeal to Carter. He also likes to taunt opposing quarterbacks and receivers, another penalized offense. "I'm not doing any more dancing this year unless I'm on the sideline," Carter said. As for taunting, he said: "If I'm out there all serious, I won't have a great game."