Sometimes, you find inspiration in the places that you would least expect.
I was born toward the end of 1988, in the midst of a five-year drought of no football games played between the Vols and the Gators. By the time the Vols recorded their first win against the Gators in five tries, I was only two years old. Coincidentally, that was Steve Spurrier’s first game and the first game of what would soon be an intense rivalry that has lasted until this very day.
Unfortunately, I do not remember that game nor do I remember the Vols victory in ‘92 due to my infantile status as a human being. My tiny baby brain was not yet equipped to handle the greatness of the Volunteer Orange.
Contrary to that last statement, what I would experience over the next five years of my short life was nothing but heartbreak, shame, embarrassment, and an intense form of hate that is usually reserved for people who decide not to use their blinker in traffic, or that sweet, yet mind-numbingly inconsiderate old lady who decides to pay for her entire bag of groceries with change.
Yes, as a child, these feelings dwelled deep inside me. And these feelings derived from the Florida Gators.
The Steve Spurrier Years
The Gators were obnoxious, brash, and downright despised by Vols fans. And all of that negative energy came straight from the top, in their head coach, Steve Spurrier.
Spurrier went 8-4 against the Vols from 1990-2001 and ruined quite a few seasons that could have led to us playing for a national championship in addition to the 1997 and 1998 seasons. Spurrier’s teams averaged a whopping 29.4 PPG against the Vols. He also brought the first-ever NCAA football championship to Gainesville.
Spurrier is one of the best collegiate coaches of all-time, and oddly enough, is from Tennessee. Which is one of the reasons why Vols fans would take his jabs so personally - but damn, they were funny.
After defeating the ever-glorious Peyton Manning and the Vols for three straight years, Spurrier possibly cracked the best one-two combo in college football trash-talking history when he said that “you can’t spell citrus without U-T” and then went on to insinuate that Peyton Manning returned for his senior season so he could be “a three-time Citrus Bowl MVP”.
And just to put the cherry on top, Spurrier and Co. would go on to beat the Vols, 33-20 that season.
Even at eight years old, that was enough to make me want to put The Pedigree on Spurrier.
However, we would get the last laugh as we would go on to win the SEC and face off against Nebraska in the national championship game. Even though we lost. And lost hard.
The worst part about Florida’s dominance during the nineties was the fact that it allowed all of these little gnat-like Gator fans to start creeping around Tennessee and implanting their jean-short wearing ways into our society. Kids love to talk trash, and what is more fun than talking trash to the home team in order to feel superior?
Mullets and Lee’s carpenter shorts aside, it’s no joke that Florida’s dominance over the Vols in my early years is what led to my intense love for the program. Having my hopes and dreams crushed year in and year out just brought me that much closer to my team and it gave me a “villain” for my “superhero”.
The Birth of the BCS and the Break of 1998
Oh yea!! That was a helluva year!!
Not only did we finally stop the Gators’ win streak, but we also won the Fiesta Bowl! 13-0, baby! National Champions!!
But hey, did I mention that WE BEAT THE GATORS?!?!?!
This also led up to a nice six-year span in which we beat the Gators three times, with them returning the favor just as often. After losing 8 of the last 12, a .500 average sounds pretty damn good to me!
With the burning hatred of the Gators already instilled in me from my younger days, things definitely got real during my adolescent years.
As the Gator victories began to pile up, so did the jean shorts and the chomps. Gator Blue was filling the halls of my high school. It was so horrifying to watch.
Yet again, I found my boys on the right side of the loser squad, losing a historical eleven straight games to those leathery swamp-heathens from down south. At the moment of the absolutely gut-wrenching loss in 2015, I had now experienced a Gator victory over the Vols for 20 of my 27 years.
What’s even worse? How about my birthday being on the third Saturday of September?
Fate, why do you hate me?
So, in case you couldn’t pick it up, the Gators have been the Alliser Thorne of my life. Whoever said losing builds character is an idiot.
A New Dawn?
Even though Butch Jones lost his first three games of the series, he was severely undermanned in 2013 and you could argue that the defense choked the games away in 2014 & 2015 - two games in which he lost by a total of two points combined.
Finally, after years of misery, the Vols finally broke through last season at Neyland and rallied back from a 21-3 halftime deficit to win, 38-28. They scored 38 straight points in the victory and absolutely dominated the Gators in the second half of the game.
It will be interesting to see how this year’s matchup will play out. Both teams have questions at quarterback and on offense in general. The game will be in Gainesville, which doesn’t bode well for the Vols, who have only won there twice out of the last 15 trips.
In all, I love the University of Tennessee and I will cheer for them any chance I get. I feel privileged to be able to have experienced the success and failures that this program has endured. To be attached to something that is as much as fun as this program is truly a blessing.
But as I look toward the future, I believe that it is indeed a bright one and that we should turn out on the right side of the upcoming matchups, as long as nothing crazy happens.
Optimism is key, right? Certainly.