Marc Daniels: When UF-Tennessee Was The SEC's Biggest Game

Tennessee v Florida

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From 1919 through 1969 Florida and Tennessee played just thirteen times on the football field. Despite being just 550 miles apart, the two schools rarely met. 

Back in the old days, the SEC allowed its members to make their own conference schedule. Could you imagine if that rule still applied today? But back then teams traveled by train or bus and both schools felt it was too expensive to play every year.

Those early meetings featured seven games in Knoxville, two in Gainesville and four at sites around Florida(Jacksonville and Tampa). The Volunteers won the first nine meetings. The Gators first win in the series came in 1954 when they won at Tennessee 14-0. In 1992, when the SEC expanded to 12 teams and split into two divisions, the new schedule found Florida and Tennessee playing every year and for many years it was the biggest game in the best conference in college football and always penciled into the third Saturday in September.

Starting with the showdown in 1985, both teams came in ranked every year through 2007. Think about that for a second. For 23 straight years, Florida and Tennessee were ranked coming into the game and in 11 of those 23 years- both were ranked inside the top 10.

Florida has won 29 of the last 36 matchups and leads the overall series 31-20.

In 1969, the two met in the Gator Bowl and after Florida's 14-13, they hired Tennessee's coach Doug Dickey, who played quarterback at Florida. Dickey would eventually resign after nine seasons in Gainesville to return to Knoxville and become the athletic director.

The 84' and 85' seasons saw Florida beat Tennessee and finish atop the SEC standings. But the Gators were on NCAA probation for violations under Charley Pell. The SEC's executive committee voted to allow Florida to keep the championships but conference presidents overturned the decision and Florida was stripped of the title in 1984. To this day, Florida believes it was Tennessee who led the cause to strip Florida of that title. The presidents voted 6-4 against allowing Florida to keep the title and some believe Tennessee had changed their minds after being a yes vote for Florida.

In 1990, Steve Spurrier arrived in Gainesville and Florida suffered a 45-3 loss in Knoxville. Spurrier didn't forget that awful game for his team. In 1991, the 10th ranked Gators beat the 4th ranked Vols 35-18 and Florida went on to win their first recognized SEC title.

The 92' game took the rivalry to another level when Tennessee's interim head coach, Phil Fulmer, saw his 14th ranked team beat 4th ranked Florida 31-14 in Knoxville. Fulmer took over for Johnny Majors, who underwent heart surgery in August. After a 3-0 start under Fulmer, Majors returned and Tennessee went 5-3. The school bought out the remainder of Majors contract and Fulmer coached a bowl win and landed the job with a new contract.

Florida won the next five and eight of the next 12 in the series. Spurrier loved beating Majors and often used Majors and Tennessee as a punch line in press conference and coaching circuit speeches. Peyton Manning, may have been one of the best college quarterbacks in the country but went winless against Florida.

The year after Manning went to the NFL, Tee Martin took over and led the Vols to a win over the Gators in overtime, an SEC title and a national championship beating FSU in the title game.

The 2001 game would be moved to the first Saturday in December after the attacks on 9/11/01. Tennessee, ranked fifth, won in Gainesville for the first time since 1971 beating the second ranked Gators 34-32. It would be Spurrier's final regular season game at Florida. After coaching the Gators to an Orange Bowl win over Maryland, he left for the NFL.

When Urban Meyer arrived in 2005, he talked about retaking control of the Tennessee series and beating Georgia. Meyer never lost to Tennessee, winning all six games and he won five of the six games against Georgia. The 2007 Florida-Tennessee game saw Florida roll to a 59-20 win and it was the time both schools were ranked when they met in the game.

Florida has 16 of the last 17 games but Saturday's game feels like a momentum moving game for Tennessee. Josh Heupel has the Vols inside the top 15 with one of the nation's best offenses. Tennessee is home with a sold out crowd. The Gators come wobbling into Knoxville after barely escaping with a win over South Florida. Anthony Richardson, may again, not be the best quarterback in the game. A win by Tennessee and it would feel like the Vols have indeed moved past Florida.

Billy Napier's family is from Tennessee. They moved to Georgia when Napier was two. He said earlier this week the family is rooting for the Orange and Blue. He knows how big the game is to Gator fans and knows what a win by either team means.

The 2022 version is the first time since 2017 that both teams come in ranked. If Tennessee wins they move into the top 10 and Florida would fall out of the polls. A win and star performance by Anthony Richardson would excite Gator fans and send a message across the field that Florida still has their number.

It's the third weekend in September and Florida and Tennessee are about to play a big game, the way it is supposed to be in a rivalry...

Final note: The average life for a female mosquito is 50 days while a male mosquito lives on average 10 days.

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