Tennessee and Florida used to be …

Marvin Westwestwords

As omens go, there was a beautiful orange sunrise in Union County. Alas and alas, the Volunteers don’t play here this week.

Once upon a time, Tennessee and Florida were football rivals. The Gators ruined the relationship. They won 11 in a row.

The game is not what it used to be. TV confirms the status. Kickoff will be at noon, a time often set aside for preliminaries.

There have been some unusual connections between the schools. Old Vol tackle Bob Woodruff was Florida coach in the 1950s. One of his quarterbacks was Doug Dickey.

Old Vol center and captain Ray Graves was Florida coach in the 1960s. Dickey replaced Graves. Several million Tennessee fans resented the sleight-of-hand.

There have been strange developments. Florida once rallied from 16 points behind for a 62-37 romp. That was 1995. Here’s how 48 consecutive points looked on paper: Touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown.

Steve Spurrier thought that was very funny. He was still laughing years later.

“You can’t spell Citrus without UT,” said Spurrier, a reference to the Citrus Bowl’s acceptance of second-place SEC teams, too often Tennessee.

Peyton Manning failed to beat Florida in his glorious UT career.

I still don’t believe Jabar Gaffney really caught the ball for a Florida touchdown in 2000.

Lane Kiffin probably should not have called Urban Meyer a cheater without some fragment of proof and he definitely should not have promised a Tennessee victory.

Starting in 1990, the Gators and Vols met as ranked opponents for 18 consecutive seasons. At the beginning of that streak, the Vols won a 45-3 blowout. In 1996, the teams played two games in one. Florida went up 35-0 in the first half. Tennessee scored 29 after intermission.

In 1998, Tennessee’s national championship season, the Vols didn’t produce much yardage but defense proved to be the difference. It forced four Florida turnovers. The teams went into overtime 17-17.

The Vols got a field goal from Jeff Hall. Florida kicker Collins Cooper trotted out to tie the game and bring on a second overtime period.

He missed.

My friend Chester Henderlight shouted, “Glory be.”

He did not lead a hymn or take up a collection.

In 2004, UT kicker James Wilhoit went from goat to hero. He missed an important extra point but hit the winning field goal.

In 2007, the Gators won by 39.

Phillip Fulmer, as coach, won 74.3 per cent of his games, more than enough for first-ballot election to the College Football Hall of Fame. Against Florida, his teams went 5-12.

In Derek Dooley’s first two years as UT coach, the Vols gained 20 yards rushing.

There were some emotional overloads. Florida once threw a pass in the closing moments of a decisive victory, trying to run up the score even more. The Vols were irritated. Joe Hough led a crazy charge across the field and ignited hand-to-hand combat.

John Chavis, then a rugged defensive lineman, later defensive coordinator, ranks that one near the top on his all-time list of favorite football brawls. Jim Noonan and Danny (Pert) Jenkins thought it was more fun than the county fair.

Dickey returned to Knoxville in 1970 as Florida coach and Bill Battle’s first team thrashed him and his, 38-7. Jackie Walker and Conrad Graham returned interceptions for touchdowns.

“The respect I had for him was still there,” said quarterback Bobby Scott, “but, when we put on the orange jersey that day, it was blood and guts. We were going to war.”

Tennessee fans were kind – for old times’ sake. Those in the south end zone, near where Dickey entered the arena and departed, generally said welcome and goodbye without throwing anything.

The legend of Tim Tebow may have been born against Tennessee in 2006. The freshman in his third game was a big bully on third and fourth downs. It was a glimpse of things to come.

I understand there was never any love lost between the Gators and Vols. I still wish faxgate had not happened.

Jack Sells, a former Vol and UT assistant coach, was fired in 1991 for what Tennessee said was recruiting violations. Before the Florida game that fall, Jack faxed 15 pages of diagramed plays and checkoffs to his good buddy Ron Zook, defensive coach in Gainesville. A Kinko employee told on him.

The story went up like a mushroom cloud. Zook denied receiving a fax. Spurrier didn’t know anything about it. The SEC investigated with both eyes covered and couldn’t find anybody to penalize.

Eventually, all concerned told at least part of the truth. Zook insisted that the fax was “immaterial, it made no difference and had no relevance, it was nothing.”

The fax made a big difference to others. Sells sued Kinko’s for violation of privacy. Tennessee fans heaped traitor hatred on him. One allegedly punched him in the mouth. Sells went away. If he ever came back, I didn’t see him.

When Tennessee and Florida had a real rivalry, it was often hot. There was plenty of firewood. Let us remember the games for what they used to be.

Perhaps what Tennessee did to Chattanooga will provide a turn toward equalization – but don’t bet on it.

Marvin West welcomes reader remarks or questions. His address is marvinwest75@gmail.com

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