Florida vs. Tennessee is one of college football’s most eccentric rivalries. It takes place early in the season, usually opening each team’s SEC schedule (although that will unfortunately change come 2014). Despite it’s schedule placement, between 1992 and 2009 the game decided who would win the SEC East in all but three years.
From Robert Neyland, to Ray Graves and Doug Dickey, to Steve Spurrier and Philip Fulmer, to Urban Meyer and Lane Kifin, the game has seen its share of characters. With such a long history it’s difficult choosing only ten highlights. Here are our favorites.
1) 1928 Mud Game
This game was played before the teams squared off on a yearly basis, but it laid the foundation for the rivalry. Both teams were undefeated, and Tennessee boasted star coach Robert Neyland and the legendary Bobby Dodd. The Vols won the game on their home field, but not without controversy. Florida players and coaches contested the results, saying Tennessee watered down the field to make it muddy in order to slow their speedy opponents.
2) We Own You: The Peyton Manning Years
In his illustrious career, Manning never beat the Gators. The biggest missed opportunity was undeniably 1995’s game in Gainesville. Manning and the Vols jumped on Florida early, and led 30-21 at halftime. In the second half, Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel rolled off 48 straight points, completely dominating and demoralizing the Volunteers. Whispers of Manning not being a “big game” quarterback began with his inability to win against Florida.
3) The Great Pumpkin
Peyton never beat the Gators, but Tee Martin sure did. In 1998, the sixth-ranked Vols took the second-ranked Gators to school in Neyland Stadium. Whoever wins the rushing battle always wins the UT/UF game. This game saw the Vols hold Florida to -30 yards on the ground. Tennessee topped its foes and began their march to a national championship.
4) Can’t Spell Citrus Without UT
Steve Spurrier is always good for a sound bite (FSU=Free Shoes University). Growing up in Tennessee he always reveled beating his home-state. During his apex of dominance Spurrier coined a new phrase for second place, “You can’t spell Citrus without UT,” referring to the Citrus Bowl.
5) Well … ‘Bye
Postponed by the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Florida vs. Tennessee was pushed to the final game of the season. Florida fans insist the Gators would’ve won had the game been played in its normal slot. However, Tennessee was a much better team later in the year. The Vols beat a stacked Gators team poised for a BCS Championship run. Adding insult to injury for the Gators was the departure of Steve Spurrier at season’s end. Spurrier’s last game as Florida head coach in The Swamp was a loss to Tennessee.
6) It Broke the Plane
You know it’s a passionate rivalry when a controversial call leads to death threats and job reassignment. In 2000, Jabar Gaffney caught a last-second touchdown pass from “Bachelor” Jesse Palmer to win the game. Gaffney only held the ball for a split second before it was slapped away. It was a play that could’ve gone either way, and was a surprising call against the home team. For his safety, referee Al Matthews was reassigned. Vols fans still contest this game to date.
7) To the Victor …
Few things incense fans more than watching opposing players celebrate on their home turf. For that reason, Casey Clausen may be public enemy number one in Gainesville. Clausen went 2-0 in the Swamp and smugly directed the band in its playing of Rocky Top after each victory. To the victor go the spoils.
8) Beginning of a Dynasty
When Urban Meyer came to Florida he put heavy influence on the Gators three rivalry games. The 2005 game against Tennessee was Meyer’s first chance to put his stamp on the program. What both fan-bases witnessed wasn’t pretty, but for the Gators it was just a little bit better looking. The only touchdown came on an end-around by Bubba Caldwell. Meyer never lost to Tennessee during his tenure at Florida.
9) Keep Calm and Carry On
In a closely contested 2004 game, the Gators were trying to run down the clock when wide receiver Dallas Baker racked up an unsportsmanlike penalty. Florida was forced to punt, and Tennessee drove down for a game-winning field goal. Florida fans were incensed that Baker drew a penalty when replays showed his hit was retaliatory. However, it was a bone-headed play that encapsulated the Ron Zook Era.
10) A Legend is Born
In his freshman season, Tim Tebow was more battering ram than quarterback. His first SEC game was against Tennessee, and featured what would become a defining play for the season: Tebow up the gut. Around Gainesville it’s known as “4th and Tebow.” Late in the game, Meyer subbed in his young stud to convert on a crucial 4th down, allowing Florida to continue it’s drive and win the game.