Florida game just means more

Marvin Westwestwords

Commissioner Greg Sankey would have us believe the world’s second-best promotional slogan, “It just means more,” is about the history, legacy and positive impact of the Southeastern Conference.

You and I know better. This week it is obviously about the Tennessee-Florida football game, scheduled for Saturday at sold-out Neyland Stadium.

Bill Milkereit, creative writer at a Dallas ad agency, made it adjustable six years ago – just in case the Volunteers eventually acquired the coaching and playing talent to go nose to nose with the toothy, snarly Gators.

As it is now, both sides think they will win. The gambling industry favors Tennessee. That’s one way of saying Josh Heupel is in his second year as head coach and Hendon Hooker knows more than he did about who, what, when and where.

The SEC funded 11 days on the road, 2,900 miles in a luxury van, throughout the league’s footprint for video of what real life is like in the league. Actress Wynn Everett, an Auburn girl, tells the stories of people and places – Toomer’s Corner, a double-major graduate student at South Carolina, parents of a world-renowned Arkansas athlete, a chartered fishing boat at Orange Beach, Alabama.

There is a spirited rendition of Rocky Top but not a word, so I’ve been told, about Nick Saban.

“Imagine telling the story of the mighty Southeastern Conference, unquestioned king of college football, without ever mentioning a single SEC football player or coach,” said Milkereit.

“We went to great lengths to dig deeper than the clichés and be supremely authentic with respect to SEC tradition, passion and culture.”

There is The Grove in Oxford and the iconic barn off Georgia State Route 15. There are stories of Florida-alumni surgeons who just happen to be father and son. There is insight into Big Blue Madness and the LSU student section on a Saturday night.

One segment features a single listener listening to the Mississippi State radio network description of a game. There is big dog Reveille leading Texas A&M onto the field. I have not seen Smokey and I don’t know why not.

Tying these art elements into “It just means more” is incidental compared to the outcome of Tennessee-Florida.

Once upon a time, Florida vs. Tennessee was as big as it got in college football. Some Tennessee fans thought the Gators had replaced Alabama as the No. 1 foe. For 18 consecutive years, from 1990-2007, the Gators and Vols were nationally ranked when they met, and 11 of those games were top-10 matchups.

Jack Sells, a former Tennessee assistant coach who was fired in 1991 for what Tennessee said was NCAA recruiting violations, was the star of faxgate. Kinko’s caught him faxing part of the playbook to then-Florida defensive coordinator Ron Zook the week of the game.

A Tennessee fan heard about it, took the transgression personally, recognized Sells in a bar and punched him in the mouth.

Head ball coach Steve Spurrier, master of needles and barbs, recognized mediocrity when he saw it. He said the Vols and Citrus Bowl were forever linked.

“No way to spell Citrus without u and t.”

Spurrier even took a dig at Peyton: “He came back for his senior season because he wanted to be a three-time MVP of the Citrus Bowl.”

Florida QB Danny Wuerffel, on a pretty good day, threw six touchdown passes. That was 1995. There were 48 unanswered points. The Gators romped, 62-37.

Now and then, the pendulum swung toward Tennessee. With linebacker Al Wilson playing like a man possessed (he forced a school-record three fumbles), Tennessee won in overtime, 20-17 – because the Gators missed a 32-yard field goal.

Fans flooded Shields-Watkins Field and tore down the goalposts.

John Ward said “pandemonium reigns.”

That made the national championship possible.

Lane Kiffin turned up the temperature. He said Florida coach Urban Meyer was a cheater. The commissioner demanded that Lane apologize and wash out his mouth.

There was a spirited debate about a make-believe catch. Jesse Palmer threw a pass to Jabar Gaffney with 14 seconds to go in the 2000 game. Jabar held it for the blink of an eye, just long enough for official Al Matthews to signal touchdown. It was the winning edge, 27-23.

Some found fault with Matthews’ heritage. He played at Vanderbilt.

The legend of Tim Tebow was born in the arms of Tennessee in 2006. This is a mountain peak in the rivalry.

As of now, Florida has won 16 of the last 17 meetings. Several Tennessee fans think the worm is about to turn. Enough is enough.

This meeting simply means more.

Marvin West welcomes reader comments or questions. His address is [email protected]

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