Vols v. Gators: a history of hate

james_wilhoit_2006_09_30

1,516 wins. 9 national championships. 24 SEC conference titles. 70 consensus All-Americans. The Tennessee Volunteers and Florida Gators have as impressive a combine resumé as any two teams in sports. History, glory, acclaim, all are words that could be used to describe the rivalry between the Vols and Gators, but it’s not THE word that has come to embody the rivalry. Hate is that word. Vol fans don’t like Alabama, but they respect the Tide. Vanderbilt is arrogant and annoying, but that hasn’t been much of a rivalry since the ’30s. Georgia is a solid and consistent foe, but that rivalry lacks a certain spark. There is nothing like Florida week. There is no mutual respect between the teams, or the fan bases. Jalen Taber may say it isn’t a rivalry to the Gators after 11 consecutive wins, but his actions, his incessant off season trash talk, indicate otherwise. These teams really don’t like each other, plain and simple. Which poses the question, how did two teams that didn’t regularly face each other until 1992 become such hated rivals? A closer look at the history of the rivalry holds the answer.

1910s: Vols 1-0

Key game: In their very first meeting, the 1916 Vols squad shut out in the Gators in Tampa. Vol coach John Bender lead the vols to a 24-0 victory, and an undefeated season.

1920s: Vols 1-0

Key game: In coach Robert Neyland’s debut against Florida, the  Vols slipped by the Gators in a match-up of the unbeatens.

The Tennessean’s Blinkey Horn described the season finale masterfully, “Bob Neyland’s Vols riding the crest of a tidal wave of maniacal fury engulfed the Gators 13 to 12. Tennessee drained dry the goblet of inspiration to muster strength to swing the weapon which flattened Florida. The Vols blended skill, courage, aggressiveness and determination in splitting of what few unshed drops of dope remained in the old bucket. Some of these days the experts will make a wild swing and launch an accurate guess. Today they were picking Florida to win by four touchdowns.”

13-12 Vols

1930s: Vols 2-0

Key game: In in 1930, senior Bobby Dodd lead the vols to a victory in Jacksonville with the now famous trick play, the fumblerooskie.

13-6 Vols

1940s: Vols 2-0

Key game: General Neyland’s Vols drubbed the Gators at Shields Watkins field on their way to a 10-1 season and birth in the Sugar Bowl in 1940.

14-0 Vols

1950s: Vols 3-1

Key game: In 1954, the Vols first season in decades with General Neyland, the Gators claimed their first win in the series. The 4-6 Vols were beaten at home by the Gators, 14-0.

1960s: Gators 1-0

Key game: In one of the oddest match ups in Tennessee history, the 1969 Vols met conference foe Florida not in the regular season, but in the post season Gator Bowl. Doug Dickey’s Volunteers came up just short of the win, missing out on a potential 2nd national championship in 3 years. To make matters worse, the Gators took not only the game, but the coach. Following the game, two seasons removed from a national title, coach Dickey departed to become the Gators head coach. And Vol fans thought the Kiffin departure was nasty.

14-0 Gators

1970s: 2-2 Even

Key game: In 1977, Vol legend Johnny Majors’ debut season, Tennessee lost to Florida for the second consecutive year. This marks the first time in the rivalry that Florida posted two wins in a single decade.

27-17 Gators

1980s: 2-0 Gators

Key game: When Vol fans reminisce on 1985, they think of the Sugar Bowl victory over “The U”. Often forgotten is the Vols lone loss of the year, to the Florida Gators. The Gators spoiled a national championship for the Vols in Gainesville.

17-10 Gators

1990s:  7-3 Gators

Key games:

1991: This game is where the rivalry truly began. Each time the two teams would meet for the next decade, both would be ranked in the top 10. Steve Spurrier, an East Tennessee native and the new head coach of the Florida Gators, lead his team to a 35-18 blowout of the Vols in the swamp. This was the year Spurrier won his first SEC championship, and relegated the Vols to the second most popular team in the SEC East. He went on to win 5 of the next six games against the Vols.

1998: Head coach Phillip Fulmer had lost 5 straight games to Spurrier and the Gators in 1998. Even legend Peyton Manning was unable to find victory against them in 4 years of college football. In 1998, Fulmer broke “the curse” pt. 1 with a late field goal by kicker Jeff Hall. The Vols went on to win the first BCS National Championship.

2000s: 7-3 Gators

Key games:

2000: In front of a then NCAA record crowd of 108,000, the most controversial game in the history of the rivalry unfolded. The Vols led 23-20 late in the 4th quarter, and punted the Gators the ball for one final drive. Florida drove it from their own seven yard line to the Vols end zone, culminating in a play known as “the Gaffney catch.” Florida receiver Jabar Gaffney pulled in a last second catch in the end zone, but it was knocked loose by the vols secondary. The officials ruled it a touchdown, much to the disagreement of Tennessee coaches, players, and even media. The Gators won in a heart breaker, 27-23.

2004: In the Vols latest victory against the Gators to date, a late call from an official turned the tide of the game. A bogus unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, and mismanagement of the game clock gave the Volunteers the ball and good enough field position to line James Whilhoit up for the game winning kick. The Vols prevaled at home, 30-28.

2010s: 6-0 Gators

Key game: The Vol’s most recent contest against the Gators was perhaps the most heartbreaking in rivalry, and football history. Late in the game, with a chance to end a ten year losing streak, the Vols allowed Gator receiver Antonio Callaway to convert a 4th and 14. Callaway caught the ball right at the first down marker, and evaded Vol defenders all the way to the end zone, eliminating a late Vols lead. Kicker Aaron Medley missed a last second field goal, sealing it for the Gators, 28-27.

 

Tension and excitement permeate the atmosphere in Knoxville. Exactly 24 hours from now, the teams will kick off their 42nd contest. Vol fans are as tense as they have ever been, but that won’t stop the party tomorrow around Neyland Stadium. The risks have never been higher for Tennessee. This is an absolute must win game for Butch Jones, and the program as a whole. However, when you have the most to lose, you often have the most to gain. The jerseys will be grey, the stadium will be checkered, Jones will be red, and the Vols will have the green light to end the streak.

 

 

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