It’s Friday morning and that means there’s only one more sleep till the Vols and the Gators kick off the annual rivalry match. This year, the two teams are squaring off for 101,915 screaming fans at Neyland Stadium. And for both teams, the Tennessee-Florida rivalry is an important game.
Florida has bested the Vols in 16 of the last 17 matchups. It is almost an unwritten rule that Florida will win this game. But this year, the Gators have a new coach and the Vols are in a second season groove with Josh Heupel. Both teams have new faces and strategies but the Vols have been giving their all for Tennessee. It will be an interesting game for sure. Rivalry games always are.
So, what is it that makes this a Rivalry game? Why do Vols fans hate the Gators with the fire of a thousand suns? I’ll give you a few facts about the Tennessee-Florida rivalry to know headed into your weekend tailgate, including some names and numbers to never mention on Rocky Top.
Tennessee-Florida Rivalry: Florida Always Wins
Tennessee and Florida have faced off 51 times so far.
Their first matchup was in 1916 and the Vols did win that one. Since then, they’ve met another 50 times and Tennessee hasn’t fared so well. Florida is 31-20 in this series.
If you’re trying to hurt feelings, throwing these numbers at any Vol fan would do the trick. Behave responsibly.
The Pride of the Southland: Steve Spurrier
Steve Spurrier is a Johnson City, TN native and local living legend. He was a standout athlete in high school and fielded scholarship offers for college football.
One school that did not offer Spurrier a spot on the roster? The University of Tennessee. In the 1960s when Spurrier was college bound, Tennessee was still running the Wing T Offense. Spurrier wanted to throw the ball, so the Vols didn’t make him an offer. Enter: the University of Florida.
The Gators landed Steve Spurrier who became a living legend in Florida, too. As a Gator, Spurrier won the Heisman in 1966. When he went on to be the head coach of the Gators, he beat Tennessee in eight of their 12 meetings.
Hindsight is 20/20 but of course, this was a mistake on Tennessee’s part. And it still stings a little.
Tennessee-Florida Rivalry: The Infamous Jack Sells
Perhaps the most hated man in all the land, Mr. Jack sells.
In 1991, a year before Tennessee and Florida would start seeing each other regularly, their game was heavily influenced by the shady dealings of former Vols assistant coach Jack Sells.
Sells had been fired for rules violations. He harbored a grudge against the Vols, and maintained a friendship with Florida’s then-assistant coach Ron Zoon. So, in a move more dramatic than Bravo TV’s entire program lineup, Sells sent Tennessee’s plays to Florida.
They say that a fax is the most secure way to transmit information. So Sells headed to a Knoxville Kinko’s and faxed hand drawn Tennessee plays to his friend Zoon. Right before the Vols were slated to travel to Gainesville. Florida won that game 35-18 but the drama doesn’t stop there.
Tennessee fans are passionate people, and an employee at this Kinko’s was pissed. That employee contacted the University of Tennessee and a few media outlets, and Sells was put on blast. He was also punched in the face by a Vols fan at a bar. On Rocky Top, this man’s name is Mud.
No Instant Replay? Big Problems.
Fast forward to the year 2000. Two years after Tennessee defeated the Gators in overtime and sailed into the National Championship game, line judge Al Matthews added gasoline to the hate fire with a call that remains controversial to this day.
So what happened?
With 14 seconds left in the game, Florida QB Jesse Palmer threw a pass to Jabar Gaffney in the end zone. The pass hit Gaffney’s chest and tumbled to the turf–Gaffney grabbed at the ball sure, but it was a drop all the same.
Line judge Al Matthews determined that Gaffney had control of the ball. Had instant replay existed at the time the call would’ve been overturned but it didn’t, and that call gave Florida a 27-23 win. Al Matthews is still reviled in Knoxville.
Unlucky Number 63
In 2015 and 2017, the Vols lost to the Gators on 63 yard passes at the end of the game.
In the 2015 game, the Vols dominated the game against the Gators. With 10:19 left in the game, Jalen Hurd scored a TD which gave the Vols a 26-14 lead. Then-head coach Butch Jones chose to kick an extra point instead of going for two.
With under two minutes to go in the game, the Gators were down 27-21 facing 4th and 14 from their own 37. The Vols only rushed three defenders and Antonio Callaway ended up racing the entire way for the go-ahead score. That 63 yard pass gave Florida a 28-27 lead, and the Gators won the game.
Then in 2017, Tennessee overcame a number of errors to tie the game at 20. Florida had the ball on their own 37 with nine seconds left and it looked like the game was headed to overtime.
But, Gators QB Feleipe Franks found an out. Franks managed to heave it long to Tyrie Cleveland who secured the ball as he fell into the end zone. Florida won 26-20 at the buzzer and yet again, the Vols lost on a 63 yard pass.
Saturday in the South
If you’re headed to a tailgate or watch party tomorrow, these are five fun facts to know about the Tennessee-Florida rivalry.
For more trivia and rivalry history, check out this article by Mark Nagi over at Saturday Down South.
And, don’t forget to tune in to CBS for the Game of the Week at 3:30 PM EST tomorrow!