Every Story Needs a Villain

Joe Robbins

Steve Spurrier, the icing on yesterday's cake.

Tennessee would've taken The One Big Win over a ranked team coached by Bear Bryant or Dave Clawson.  We would've taken it over any divisional rival in the midst of their usual glory, we would've taken it at home or away, by one or one hundred.  We would've taken it against Georgia two weeks ago, and we're still celebrating it against South Carolina yesterday.

But there is no doubt it's worth that little extra because it was Steve Spurrier on the other end.

Kinder, gentler, still capable Spurrier at 68, to his credit, opened his postgame presser with this yesterday:

"First of all, give Tennessee credit. I think they out played us, although we were within a play or two of winning but we didn't do it. They hit a couple of deep balls which happens to us occasionally, and we didn't play well offensively at all. Tennessee had a good plan. Their defense played very well. They won the game.

Then he answered the next-to-last question this way:

"Georgia got beat by Vandy? Oh. Well, I guess all we've got to do is beat Missouri. We've got some work to do though, but give Tennessee credit. They played well, they out-played us and they out-coached us."

Maybe Spurrier was always gracious in defeat and we just never got much of a chance to find out when he was Steve Spurrier, Destroyer of Worlds in Gainesville.  But that's the thing about having a nemesis.  You usually get few opportunities to find out what victory is like...but man, when you do...

In the summer of 2011 we ran a Greatest Vol Villain tournament on our site, which unsurprisingly came down to Lane Kiffin and Steve Spurrier.  And even then, with Kiffin's wound still fresh, Spurrier took the crown.  Because Kiffin will ultimately be a footnote in the story of Tennessee Football.  Spurrier, through his wins and his losses to the Big Orange, deserves his own chapter.

The Vols moved to 9-14 against Spurrier with the win on Saturday, closing the gap again on a series that once stood at 7-2 Ballcoach.  But what really makes this rivalry special, aside from Spurrier's personality and the outright strength of those mid-90s Florida and Tennessee teams, is the way Spurrier and the Vols keep meeting each other in significant moments in the history of each program.

It was Spurrier who Phillip Fulmer vanquished as an interim head coach in 1992, opening the door for him to replace Johnny Majors.  It was Spurrier who helped define the greatest player in Vol history, and it was Spurrier that had to be beaten for the Vols to finally win it all in 1998.  Fulmer and the Vols ended Spurrier's time in Gainesville, beating him in 2001 in his final game on Florida's sideline in The Swamp.  And the Ballcoach returned the favor in 2008, with South Carolina's win serving as the final nail in Fulmer's coffin.

So perhaps it was only fitting for Butch Jones to get The One First Big Win against Spurrier.  So many of the other wins over Spurrier remain etched in the mindset of the Vol faithful, just the way all those losses to Spurrier remain painful in hindsight.  In fact, even the least memorable wins - 2006 in Columbia, 2007 in overtime in Knoxville, 2009 in the black jerseys - still resonate.  And the rest - 1990 in the landslide, 1992 in the downpour, 1998 in the breakthrough, 2001 with everything on the line - are some of our favorite moments of the modern era.

It's interesting to listen to Tennessee fans talk about Spurrier today, because what's also true about your nemesis is the degree of begrudging respect that forces its way into the relationship.  Spurrier, a native East Tennessean, also just has a certain way about him that reminds some of us of a slightly older time and slightly different days, like the one was enjoyed yesterday.  I'm not sure any Tennessee fan has it in them, deep down, to like Spurrier.  But beyond respect, there's almost a sense of...appreciation?  Is that the right word?  Is there another word to say that, despite all the losses over the years, deep down I'm glad Steve Spurrier is around because it's so much fun to beat him, and we've done it just enough to make his presence more than tolerable?  It's the same reason I hope John Calipari stays at Kentucky; wins are just worth more in every way with that guy on the sideline.

So now 2013 takes its place on the list, Butch Jones endearing himself to the Vol faithful by taking down our greatest enemy for his first signature win.  Let's hope it's the first of many...and let's hope the OBC sticks around for a few more years.  There is, quite simply, no one we enjoy beating more.

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