Thursday September 13, 2012The Weekly List: Florida-Tennessee Boils Blood Before and After Game
Trailing 38-7 at Neyland Stadium with the clock winding down, frustrated Florida defensive end Jack Youngblood couldn't help himself. The 1970 Florida-Tennessee game ended with Youngblood dropping his pants and mooning Volunteers fans.
And a near riot.
In 1977, UT coach Johnny Majors was furious when UF called a timeout in the final seconds of a 27-17 home win for the Gators. The post-game handshake ritual became a shoving match between coaching staffs with Majors smack in the middle of it.
That was before Tennessee-Florida really became a true rivalry.
Worth noting: UF and UT played only 21 times in 59 years of Southeastern Conference play before the league expanded in 1992 and the Vols and Gators were placed in the league's Eastern Division.
Of course, Steve Spurrier had a lot to do with the venom that eventually spewed between the two. The quarterback from Johnson City, Tenn., who became Florida's first Heisman Trophy winner and its first coach to win the SEC took everything to another level. More like levels. When the Gators and Vols clashed in the '90s, it was the first really big game of the college football season. Period.
Spurrier, in fact, made UF-UT topical even in the offseason, with one of his most famous booster club quips taking direct aim at the Vols and one of their greatest icons.
So our Week 3 list focuses on great moments in the Florida-Tennessee feud that did not occur on the field. The fact there are enough to make a list -- and probably some incidents that did not make the cut -- should say something.
Here's our 10:
The 1969 Gator Bowl matchup between a pair of SEC opponents, Florida and Tennessee, offered up enough intrigue on its own, but the pre-game storyline had nothing to do with the game. UT coach Doug Dickey, reports said, was Florida's top choice to replace Coach Ray Graves, who was believed to be retiring from coaching to become athletic director. It made sense, given Dickey starred at Florida in the '50s, but it also mad a lot of people mad (especially up in Rocky Top). There were denials, there were no comments. And three days after the game, a 14-13 win for the Gators, Dickey (pictured above with QB John Reaves) was announced as UF's next head coach. The state of Tennessee promptly announced Dickey a "traitor."
The Gators were placed on NCAA probation three weeks into the 1984 season and declared ineligible for bowl play, with Coach Charley Pell resigning under fire. Under interim coach Galen Hall, however, Florida rolled off eight straight victories to finish 9-1-1 (including 6-0-1 in league play) and captured the first SEC title in school history. Seven months later, in a controversial move that still steams long-time Gator loyalists, conference presidents voted to at the league meetings in Destin, Fla., to retroactively strip UF of its championship. And it was Tennessee president Joe Johnson who led the behind-the-scene charge to take the title away.
In the offseason of 1997, riding the momentum of three straight SEC titles and the first national championship in school history, Spurrier took aim at the Vols with some of his most memorable digs. Basking in the glow of three consecutive defeats of Tennessee -- including a 35-29 upset win in Knoxville that catapulted the Gators on their national title jaunt -- Spurrier proclaimed, "You can't spell Citrus Bowl without a 'U' and a 'T,' " and even mocked quarterback Peyton Manning's decision to return for his senior year. "He wants to be three-time Citrus Bowl MVP." The Vols had played in the Orlando bowl game three of four years (following the '93, '94 and '96 seasons). Good stuff. Ironically, months after Spurrier's greatone-liner, the Gators were in the Citrus Bowl (after beating Tennessee a fourth straight time, no less).
In 1928, Florida had the nation's highest-scoring team (336 points), led by two-way star Dale Van Sickle (above), the first All-American in the program's history. UF was considered the fastest team in the country and the Volunteers (8-0-1) took that into consideration when they hosted the Gators (8-0) in the season finale with a berth in the Rose Bowl on the line for Florida. In the early hours before the game, Tennessee grounds keepers were out before sunrise to hose the field down until it was soaked, thus reducing UF's speed advantage, much to the dismay of Coach Charles Bachman. And then it rained. Florida, which averaged nearly 38 points per game that season, matched Tennessee with two touchdowns, but failed to convert either point-after and lost 13-12.
It was on national signing day in 2009 when Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin spoke at a breakfast for Vols fans and accused UF coach Urban Meyer of violating NCAA rules by trying to steal away prep wide receiver Nu'Keese Richardson with illegal texts to the player. Richardson signed with UT. "I love the fact that Urban had to cheat and still didn't get him," Kiffin said. Well, not only did Meyer not break any rules, Kiffin violated the SEC's Code of Ethics and was ordered by league president Mike Slive to issue a public apology for the remarks. He did.
The day after the Gators were clobbered 62-24 by top-ranked Nebraska in the Fiesta Bowl national championship game, the final 1995 USA Today/CNN Coaches poll was released and had Tennessee (11-1) ranked ahead of Florida (12-1). The two teams had played earlier in the year with Gators annihilating Manning and the Vols 62-37 in Gainesville. The decisive vote reportedly came from the ballot of Coach Phillip Fulmer, who ranked his UT squad second and the Gators 13th, thus skewing the vote enough to drop Florida, the SEC champs, from second to third.
More than a decade before he was named Spurrier's successor as head coach of the Gators, Ron Zook (above) was Spurrier's first UF defensive coordinator. A couple jobs before that, Zook was defensive backs coach for Majors at Tennessee. There, he befriended a young graduate assistant named Jack Sells, who remained on the UT staff until he was fired in 1991 and left the program bitter. That fall, mere days before Tennessee visited Florida in a huge game, Sells went to a Kinkos in Knoxville and faxed 15 pages of Vols offensive plays he had left over from his time with the team to Zook at the UF coaches office. The next day, a Kinkos employee (and loyal Vol fan, obviously) alerted the UT athletic department, which called the SEC. The story blew up in both states and even got a nickname: "Faxgate." The SEC investigated and found no wrongdoing. Sells sued Kinkos for violating his privacy and the case was settled. A few years later, Sells was sucker-punched by a UT fan who recognized him in a bar in Chattanooga.
In the summer of 1991, Spurrier (above) and Majors were among a slew of coaches that attended a junket in Hawaii sponsored by Nike. It was at a cocktail party that the subject of Tennessee's 1990 SEC title came up. Spurrier reminded Majors how the Gators finished the '90 season with a 6-1 record that was best in the league, compared to UT's 5-1-1 mark. Majors, in turn, reminded Spurrier how the Gators had been placed on NCAA probation for violations committed by the previous regime and were ineligible for the conference crown, thus giving it to the Vols. Oh, and he also brought up that 45-3 thumping the Vols put on the Gators the previous October in Knoxville, one of just two Florida losses that season. That's when Spurrier brought up UT's 9-6 home loss to rival Alabama that came the week after the Florida game when everyone in Rocky Top was still riding high. "We were just trying to get you all overconfident for the big game against the Crimson Tide." Majors took a few steps in Spurrier's direction and the two had to be separated by -- get this -- Georgia coach Ray Goff. And their wives.
Despite five touchdown passes for Heath Shuler, the Gators defeated the Vols 41-34 in their 1993 meeting in Gainesville. In the days after the game, a group of Tennessee fans, including Fulmer's wife Vicki, complained to the SEC about the behavior of UF fans during the game, claiming cups of urine were thrown on them. The following offseason, the SEC passed a rule prohibiting student sections from being directly behind the visiting team's bench.
Mere days after getting blown out 31-0 at home against No. 1 Florida in '94 in Knoxville, Fulmer explained the defeat in a news conference by saying the Vols were "playing with a short stick" in the game, citing players missing due to injuries and suspensions. Spurrier got wind of the remarks and at a Gator club called Fullmer's assessment "a good little copout for coaches who aren't winning." That quote made it to Knoxville, of course, and Spurrier (somewhat uncharacteristically) fired off a letter of apology to Fulmer. From then on, Fulmer often referred to Spurrier as "Saint Steve" at Big Orange booster meetings.