Who knew that Shakespeare was a football fan?
Once again it's time for the renewal of the battle between the Tennessee Volunteers and the Florida Gators. This is the game which always gets my blood up. As I have said before, the series against Alabama rivalry is the strongest and best rivalry that Tennessee has -- one grounded on mutual respect. The Tennessee v. Florida series, however, is about pure animus. At least it is for me.
The second game I ever saw in Neyland Stadium was the 1992 contest between Tennessee and Florida -- a game now know as "The Storm" or "The Downpour." That day Tennessee bested Florida 31-14. The next contest I would see between these schools would be in 1994, when Tennessee laid an egg in the home opener losing 31-0. That one sucked. So did my trips to Gainesville in 1995 and 1997. In 1998, however, the Vols managed to beat the Gators in what is, in my opinion, perhaps the greatest game played in Neyland Stadium in the modern era. In total, I have witnessed ten different games against the Gators in person. The Vols record in those games where I was in attendance is 3-7.
I'm beginning to think that me attending the games is the problem...
Either way, this weekend marks the renewal of the grudge match between the two schools and it is sure to be a slugfest on the field (and likely in the stands). In light of the way that both teams have played up to this point in the season, I am really not sure who will win. I know that Florida is favored by 7 points, but I also know that point spreads mean little when it comes to rivalries such as this. Though I realize this makes me somewhat of a homer, I am going to take the Vols in this game (just like my friends at Hugging Harold Reynolds did -- proving it's not just a Tennessee thing) and I'm going to tell you why.
Tennessee has nothing to lose against the Gators this year...
While it is not necessarily the sort of thing you wish for, losing your opening game against an unranked and unremarkable opponent can be liberating. Having already fallen flat on your face while the whole nation is watching brings great freedom in the form of fans throwing up their hands and shaking their heads. In the minds of some, the season was over when the final kick against UCLA sailed wide. This is not meant to glorify failure -- to the contrary, Tennessee should have beaten the Bruins handily -- but rather to point out that a little self-doubt (or a large chip on your shoulder) can give you the freedom to leave it all on the field. This is what sets the two teams apart this weekend.
I could go into the numbers, analyze the stats, try and find the way that Tennessee could win, but others have already done a far better job at that than I could ever hope to do. All I will say is that for the last 15 years the only way you beat Florida is to run the ball well. The good news is that the Vols happen to have a pretty darn good running attack. I know that the statistics all say that the Vols will be out-matched and out-gunned at many positions, and that Florida will have the advantage. I know that, on paper that means nothing -- this is the vaunted Florida Gators -- but I just have a feeling that Tennessee will dig deep and find a way. I may look back in a day an realize I was wrong...
...but then again, maybe not.
I remember my first home as a student at Tennessee -- it was versus Florida and ... well ... didn't go well (that would be the 1994 loss). I remember two trips to Gainesville watching the Vols go down in flames in both 1995 and 1997. I remember more home losses than I care to remember. I also remember the victories -- few though they may be -- I remember them well. The reality is, however, sometimes it is the losses which spur us on more than the wins. Sometimes that chance at redemption means more than the chance at perfection. Sometimes you simply have to try one more time. Lord knows I have tried, since I keep coming back for more Florida games. I have a feeling that the Vols will as well, and will bring their best in an attempt to do as the header for this weekend (you may have to refresh your browser for it to change) here at the Gate says: "Carry the Fight to Florida and Keep it There for Sixty Minutes..."
I have seen some miserable games played by the Vols versus Florida, but I have also seen some of the best. I have gone to Gainesville, just like HSH, and had to put up with a depressing ride home after sweltering in the heat, being soaked by the rain, or both. I have had to put up with Florida fans ... well ... I'll just leave it at that -- no need to start a flame contest. Let's just say I loathe Florida for a reason, and it has little to do with who wins or loses the games. Let's just say I decided long ago that I'll not return to Gainesville ever, regardless of how good the Vols are -- a distinction which Florida alone has earned in my mind. Still, those losses were worth it when the victories rolled around.
I am not going to try and tell you from a football perspective how the Vols can beat the Gators. I'm just going to join in saying that I do think they have it in them to win. Hopefully, they realize that too. Hopefully, they are ready.
Once more unto the breach, dear friend, once more...
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