100 Days of Vols #57 - Welcoming Spurrier to the SEC

Kevin C. Cox

In Steve Spurrier's first game against the Vols as the head coach at Florida, Tennessee gave him a beating he would never forget.

October 13, 1990 was my ninth birthday, and since we tend to take the second Saturday in October as a bye week around these parts, it was the only UT game played on my birthday until we lost to Mississippi State last year. But even if we never play another game on October 13, I received a lifetime of memories in that one night in 1990.

Tennessee had played five games and two of them ended in a tie, one with eventual National Champion Colorado and one with #3 Auburn. The Vols were ranked fifth and were hosting the up-and-coming Florida Gators, 5-0 and ranked ninth. It was Steve Spurrier's first season on the sidelines in Gainesville; The Visor had beaten the Vols while at Duke two years earlier. With Alabama down in '90 and the Vols playing Auburn to a draw, you knew the Tennessee-Florida winner would be the frontrunner in the SEC race.

The Vols led 7-3 at halftime, but many were fearful that Tennessee couldn't keep Shane Matthews and the developing fun-n-gun in check much longer. Instead, Tennessee took the second half kickoff and unleashed thirty minutes of the best football you've ever seen.

If you've got an hour, you won't find many better UT-related ways to spend it than the second half of this game. The electric free safety Dale Carter's kickoff return on a ball he probably shouldn't have even fielded made it 14-3 Vols, but we're just getting warmed up.

Florida returned their kickoff into Vol territory, but two plays later Errict Rhett was blasted, fumbled, and Tennessee recovered. Tennessee was in third and long but an end around to Vince Moore led to a huge first down. Then Tony Thompson converted on a Johnny Majors classic sprint draw call on 3rd and 5. Then fullback Roland Poles converted a 3rd and 1. Then another draw play beat the blitz and Tony Thompson took it in from 12 yards out. 21-3 Vols, still with nine minutes to play in the third quarter.

After a Florida punt another long run by Thompson put the Vols in Gator territory. Then Johnny Majors and Phillip Fulmer went deep into the playbook with a play action fake, end around handoff to the tight end Von Reeves, who then threw a perfect spiral to Carl Pickens in the end zone for 48 yards and a 28-3 lead. I haven't seen that one drawn up before or since. Still 4:40 to go in the third.

So Spurrier being Spurrier, he makes a quarterback change. The backup Brian Fox comes in...and throws an interception to Dale Carter on the very first play. The Vols would miss a field goal here, but no worries, because he's going to throw another interception on his very next snap, and Tennessee's going to return this one for a touchdown. Off the pressure by Todd Kelly, Reggie Ingram housed it from 22 yards. Bang, bang, bang, bang, 28 points in 13 minutes, 35-3 Vols.

When the game finally moves to the fourth quarter, poor young Fox throws his third interception in as many drives, this one to, guess who, Dale Carter. The Vols bring in Sterling Henton who is obviously going to run, but that doesn't stop him from gashing Florida right up the middle immediately for 15 yards. What might've pissed Spurrier off is this drive gets to 4th and 2 at the Gator 19, and Tennessee comes out to go for it. Florida called timeout, then the Vols sent the field goal unit back to make it 38-3. Oh well.

The Gators go a third quarterback...who fumbles his first snap, and there's Reggie Ingram again to pounce on it.

At this point, the crowd has peaked and been smelling blood for a while now, and as Chuck Smith mimics the Gator chomp after this play, he's joining in with what the crowd has been doing for several drives. 95,000 people are mocking the Gator chomp not just for a few minutes, but the entire fourth quarter. You can see it at 42:16 in the video above. If you're a Florida fan, right now Neyland Stadium is the center of hell. If you're a Tennessee fan, you remember it for the rest of your life.

The Vols move to 4th and 2 at the Gator 15...and go for it for real this time, and get it. Henton runs it in three plays later, and the damage is done at 45-3.

More chomping and clock-running-outing would erase the final nine minutes. This one didn't get erased from Spurrier's mind, no doubt - Florida ran up the score on Tennessee any chance it got after this one. But it didn't get erased from the collective mind of the Volunteer faithful either - this win propelled Tennessee to the 1990 SEC Championship, and gave the Vols the first victory in their two decade battle against Steve Spurrier. I don't know how you rank such things, but 23 years later this remains one of the most enjoyable nights in Neyland Stadium history.

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