1995-96 CompUSA Citrus Bowl
(1 January 1996)
Tennessee 20 • Ohio State 14
Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium
Continuing on with 1995, after beating Bama soundly and ending the 10-year drought against the Crimson Tide, the Tennessee Volunteers finished out their regular season at 10-1. Their only loss coming at the hands of the Florida Gators in a 62-37 drubbing which tarnishes the 1995 team’s otherwise exemplary record. Tennessee finished the season ranked 4th, but in the days of the so-called Bowl Alliance, the "premier" bowls were reserved only for conference champions, thus, Tennessee received a bid to the "first outside the money" CompUSA Florida Citrus Bowl to take on the similarly situated Ohio State Buckeyes, who lost their last game of the season against arch-rival Michigan, and with it the Big 11 10 title, and ended the seasons ranked ... uhh ... 4th also.
Cover from the Official 1996 Citrus Bowl Program. Ohio State later sued the bowl committee for omitting "THE" (in all caps and 72 pt font) from their name -- the matter was ultimately resolved in a settlement whereby Ohio State received a case of oranges and an autographed photo of Mickey Mouse.
The fact of the matter remains, no matter what either school would claim publicly, neither Tennessee nor Ohio State wanted to be in Orlando on New Year’s Day. Both had completed 1-loss seasons, and both came within a half of playing for the National Championship or, at a minimum, playing in one of the top-tier Alliance Bowls. Ohio State wanted to be in Pasadena and Tennessee in New Orleans or Tempe. Regardless of what they wanted, they were set to play one another in a game which -- in my book -- ranks as one of the best bowl games I’ve ever watched in person or on television.
Ohio State came in smarting from the late season wrench Michigan had thrown into their "destiny" to play in the Rose Bowl. Despite this failing, Ohio State running back Eddie George had won the Heisman Trophy only weeks before the game in Orlando -- which made them feel a whole lot better about having their entire season implode in Ann Arbor -- as it did so regularly under then coach John Cooper.
Tennessee on the other hand, found itself on the outside looking in as Florida waltzed into a date with the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Fiesta Bowl. In retrospect, however, Tennessee is probably glad it didn’t make the trip to Tempe, since Florida took it the hard-way in a 62-24 slobberknocking by Nebraska, which led Steve Spurrier to ask in a halftime interview, "Can someone ask that scary man with no facial expressions and his corn-fed boys to stop hurting us. Please... "** Still, at the time Tennessee was highly disappointed at being left out of the big one, and all they had gotten to make them feel better was a few free passes to Disney World courtesy of the bowl committee.
By the time the teams, fans, alums, bands, and hangers-on arrived in Orlando, both had several weeks simmer and let the bowl slight fester.
One thing that became immediately apparent to me when I arrived in Orlando was that many Ohio State fans had very little respect for Tennessee. Now this is not meant as an indictment of the entirety of the Buckeye Nation, but at the time it seemed that Ohio State not only felt that they had been slighted in terms of bowls, but also in terms of opponents. In the interest of full disclosure, it is worth mentioning that my better half is an Ohio State graduate and -- when not playing Tennessee -- I pull for the Buckeyes. Still, at the time, in all of my interactions with Buckeye fans during the run-up to the New Years Day game, it seemed that Ohio State was assuming that they would simply show-up and beat Tennessee handily.
In all honesty, at the time, I thought they might be right...
Tennessee had turned the early-season disappointment of getting absolutely slaughtered in the second-half at Gainesville versus the Gators (which is right near the top of my all-time least favorite games), into something really special. Still, there was a lot of uncertainty about how the Vols speed would match up with the strength and running ability of the Buckeyes (where have I heard that one before?). While I was never one to open doubt that team, in my mind, I felt there was a distinct possibility that Tennessee could lose ... and badly.
There was so much going on that week, in preparation for the game, that I didn't have too much time to worry about it ...
If you’ve never been to a game, you really should go, at least once. They can be one hell of a lot of fun, and are wonderful experiences. I must say, despite the misgivings surrounding the 1996 Citrus Bowl, it is (and remains) one of the best run bowls anywhere. Regardless of whether Tennessee and Ohio State thought they deserved to go elsewhere, the City of Orlando really knows how to host events, and they do a bang-up job when it comes to the Citrus Bowl (now known as the CapitalOne Bowl). There are more events, parades, parties, pep-rallies, and so forth than you could possibly attend (unless you actually have to play Rocky Top till you’re blue in the face at each one, that is). In the days leading up to the game, I had a blast ...
... at least that’s what everyone tells me.
At any rate, after several beautiful sunny days in the high 70’s, New Year’s Day arrived, and the weather that day -- more or less -- reflected the physical and mental states of many who had "Given Their All for Tennessee" in the New Year’s Eve Debauchery category. It was foul. The temperature had dropped, and it rained incessantly throughout the 12 hours leading up to the game. By the time I arrived at the Citrus Bowl, along with 350 of my dear friends (the Pride of the Southland Marching Band) it had already been determined that the bands would not be permitted to perform their pre-game shows as planned, because the field -- just like those New Year’s partiers -- just wasn’t up to it.
So, there we sat -- all 70,000 football fans, clad in Orange or Red Ponchos -- in the rain, waiting for the mud to start flying...
The game started and Ohio State scored first, taking a 7-point lead over the Vols, in the first quarter, who were really unable to get things going on the offensive side of the ball. During this time, every time the Buckeyes had the ball all that could be heard was a constant chant from the Buckeyes of "Ed-die, Ed-die, Ed-die, Ed-die!!!" which, got old real fast for Tennessee fans. I also thought that the other 10 guys on offense for Ohio State -- out there busting their hump as a team -- were probably getting tired of it as well.
Then, in the second quarter, Ohio State drove down inside the 5, and looked as if they might add to their lead, putting Tennessee even farther behind. The Tennessee defense, however, held, and Ohio State was faced with 4 and goal. Rather than kick the field goal, the Buckeyes chose to try and run it in on the legs of "Ed-die" and put the game out of reach for the Vols. When the snap came, however, it was Tennessee’s Bill Duff who grabbed the spotlight -- and the momentum in the game -- as he clotheslined "Ed-die" a good yard behind the line of scrimmage and trounced him down to the grass.
At that moment, the entire complexion of the game shifted, and Tennessee began to stretch its legs...
Soon thereafter, Tennessee was on the board with as Jay Graham rumbled 69 yards to knot the score at 7. Peyton Manning added to that in the third-quarter, and Jeff Hall sealed the deal with two field goals in the fourth. Here’s John Ward (along with Fred Thompson) with the highlights:
As for "Ed-die," the Heisman trophy winner was held to a season-low 89 yards rushing, and was effectively stopped from the second quarter on. In an altogether more humorous note, after the Tennessee defense stopped him on the 2 yard line, the crowds shifted and it was the Tennessee fans who started chanting "Ed-die, Ed-die, Ed-die, Ed-die!!!" which ended up being even louder than the Ohio State fans, and far more exuberant.
To their credit, however, the Buckeyes bowed their backs and fought to the very last. In the end, however, it was Tennessee’s tenacity on defense which won the day, as they fought down to the wire to keep the Buckeyes from finding the endzone again, and potentially stealing the game away. Until the final second was off the clock, the game was never a sure thing for either team.
Final Score Tennessee 20, Ohio State 14.
The win over Ohio State was one of the hardest fought victories against long odds that I ever personally witnessed the Vols record. Finishing the season 11-1, propelled the Vols to final ranking of No. 3 in the AP Poll and a No. 2 ranking in the final coaches poll -- ahead of Florida. That final ranking made the Citrus Bowl seem like quite a prize indeed, and looked far better than the beating that the Gators took in the desert of Arizona.
After all, Orange juice tastes much better than Cactus juice ...
** The quote from Steve Spurrier is complete bullshit, but I would have given real money to hear him say that.
Images Courtesy of: UTSports.com • The VIB
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