If you grew up watching college football in the 1990s, the annual September showdown between the Florida Gators and Tennessee Volunteers was as big as the Iron Bowl is now. The rivalry became heated in 1992 when the SEC was split into two divisions that became the SEC East and West. Legendary Florida Head Coach from 1990-2001, Steve Spurrier, a Tennessee native, created a lot of the intensity of the rivalry as well due to the comments he made about the Volunteers. Every year throughout the 1990s into the early 2000s, the winner of the Florida-Tennessee game would represent the SEC East in Atlanta for the SEC Championship game. Florida dominated Tennessee during that time and won seven SEC Eastern Division Championships during Spurrier's tenure.
The first meeting between the Gators and the Vols was in 1916 in Tampa, and was won by Tennessee 24-0. Florida's first win over the Vols was in 1954 in Knoxville in a 14-0 shutout. When you think about bowl games, you expect to meet a team from another conference, but Florida would play the Vols in the 1969 Gator Bowl in Jacksonville in a 14-13 win. It was, however, Ray Graves's final game as the Gators head coach.
Florida struggled to win a home game against the Vols until until they did so in 1977 under former Tennessee head coach Doug Dickey. The Gators knocked off the Vols 27-17 at Florida Field that day, and after the game, emotions ran high between the two teams as benches cleared. The Gators and the Vols did not meet much until the 1990s, but I guarantee you that there was hate before it actually became a rivalry when Steve Spurrier arrived in Gainesville in 1990.
"You can't spell Citrus without UT", that's what legendary Gators head coach Steve Spurrier said about the Vols after the Gators Florida knocked off Tennessee in 1997. Throughout that time period the team that would finish second in the SEC would head to Orlando to play in the Citrus Bowl against a Big Ten opponent. Spurrier also claimed that "The Citrus Bowl was the winter home for Tennessee" and that Peyton Manning came back for his senior season to be "three-year Citrus Bowl MVP." If you are a Florida fan, I bet this is the week that you miss Coach Spurrier, I know I certainly do.
When you think about the Florida-Tennessee rivalry, you think about Spurrier vs. Fulmer, but long before that, there was hatred between Florida and Tennessee. Former Gator Doug Dickey, who coached Tennessee from 1964-1969, would become the Gators head coach after the 1969 Gator Bowl following Ray Graves decision to step aside. Dickey coached the Gators from 1970-1978, his coaching tenure was a mixed bag but he ultimately led the Gators to a 58-43-2 record during his time in Gainesville. He did lead the Gators to the Sugar Bowl in the 1974 season, but the Gators ended up losing to Nebraska. After Dickey's tenure at Florida was over, he returned to Tennessee to be the Athletic Director from 1985-2002.
There are actually several connections between the Gators and the Vols, besides Steve Spurrier. Former Gator head coach Ray Graves was born in Knoxville in 1918 and played for the Volunteers from 1939-1941 and eventually made his home in Gainesville from 1960-1969 the programs head coach and eventually served as Athletic Director from 1960-1979. As head coach, Graves lead the Gators to a 70-31-4 record.
Bod Woodruff who played for Tennessee from 1936-1938 and would later become the head football coach and Athletic Director for Florida from 1950-1959 and Tennessee from 1963-1985. Woodruff had a career record of 53-42-6.
This rivalry also has a track record of having national championship implications to it and while that likely isn't the case this year it doesn't diminish the importance of the game at hand. This goes back to the 1928 game in Knoxville, where all Florida had to do was beat Tennessee. The weather was not on Florida's side, though, as a cold and rainy day was not what the Gators were used to. Florida fell to the Vols 13-12 due to two missed extra points, but if the Gators had won that game, they would have gone to the Rose Bowl to play for a National Championship.
This one is another heartbreaker because this was my first ever trip to The Swamp. The Gators were supposed to play the Vols on September 15th, but due to the 9/11 attacks, the game was moved to December 1st. Florida came in at number 2 in the country and fell to the Vols by a score of 34-32 in Gainesville. If the Gators had won the game, they would have gone to Atlanta, and quarterback Rex Grossman likely would have won the Heisman Trophy (even though he should have won it anyway). It was also one of those high scoring games where the Gators usually had to kick field goals, and if you settle for field goals in high scoring games, you don't win. It would be the first time that the Vols had won in Gainesville since 1971, but it was also a rough night for Gator quarterback Rex Grossman as he was sacked four times by the Tennessee defense.
This feud didn't last long in this great rivalry, but Tennessee had a coach named Lane Kiffin. The day that Kiffin was hired in Knoxville he decided to take a shot at Florida "I'm looking forward to embracing some of the great traditions here at the University of Tennessee, for instance, the Vol walk, running through the T and singing Rocky Top all night long after we beat Florida next year." On signing day in 2009 Kiffin took a shot at Urban Meyer, Florida's coach at the time, by saying "I love that Urban had to cheat and still didn't get him." in reference to blue-chip WR Nu'keese Richardson from Pahokee HS in Florida that both coaches were very interested in. Richardson ultimately decided to signed with the Vols. The game finally came on September 19th of 2009 and it turned out to be a much closer finish that people though as Florida was a 30 point favorite. The Gators beat Tennessee 23-13 in The Swamp.
Florida currently leads the series 31-20 and has won 16 of the last 17 games. In the past, the team with the most rushing yards always came out on top. Florida comes in with a 2-1 record and Tennessee with a 3-0 record, but these two teams are evenly matched. The Gators are a 10-point underdog and played the underdog role well in their opener against Utah. I have seen a team play the underdog role to their advantage in this rivalry very well. I remember 20 years ago in Knoxville, in a pouring rain, Florida came into Neyland Stadium 10th in the country against number four Tennessee. The Gators upset the Vols 30-13 and I do think that the Gators can do it again 20 years later.