Florida–Tennessee football rivalry
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|Florida–Tennessee football rivalry|
|Series record||Florida leads, 24–19|
|First meeting||October 28, 1916|
|Last meeting||September 21, 2013|
|Next meeting||October 4, 2014 (Knoxville, Tenn.)|
The Florida–Tennessee football rivalry is an American college football rivalry between the Florida Gators football team of the University of Florida and the Tennessee Volunteers football team of the University of Tennessee. The Gators and Vols first met on the gridiron in 1916, and have competed in the same conference since Florida and UT joined the now-defunct Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association in 1910 and 1895, respectively. However, a true rivalry developed only during the last two decades due to infrequent match-ups previously; in the first seventy-six years (1916–91) of the series, the two teams met just twenty-one times.
In 1992, when the Southeastern Conference (SEC) expanded to twelve universities and split into two divisions, Florida and Tennessee were both placed in the SEC's Eastern Division, and have met annually on the football field since then. The rivalry quickly blossomed in intensity and importance, as both squads were perennial SEC and national championship contenders throughout the 1990s and early 2000s.
- 1 Schedule
- 2 Series history
- 3 Notable games
- 3.1 1928: Unbeatens in the mud
- 3.2 1969–1970: Coaching carousel
- 3.3 1990: Homecoming
- 3.4 1991: "Faxgate"
- 3.5 1995: Tale of two halves, Part I: Gainesville
- 3.6 1996: Tale of two halves, Part II: Knoxville
- 3.7 1997: Spelling "Citrus"
- 3.8 1998: Fulmer breaks through
- 3.9 2000: The "Catch?"
- 3.10 2001: Season finale
- 3.11 2004: Unsportsmanlike conduct
- 3.12 2012: Tale of Two Halves, Part III
- 4 Game results
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 Bibliography
- 8 External links
Florida and Tennessee have faced off in September every season since 1992, except 2001, when the game was rescheduled to December 1 due to the September 11th terrorist attacks. The teams have met every year since 1990, however, in 1990 and 1991, the games were played in October. Prior to conference expansion, the game had never occurred during September (usually played during October or later), but SEC scheduling forced this game up to September. Under the 10 team SEC (after Georgia Tech left), the teams played sporadically (a rotation of 2 years on, then 5 or 7 years off), meeting just 7 times in 21 seasons. With the SEC splitting into two divisions in 1992, the teams now play each season. Both are members of the SEC's Eastern Division, and until 2002, were the only teams to represent that division in the SEC Championship Game. This game continues to have a huge effect on who will represent the Eastern Division in Atlanta for the SEC championship.
The two teams first met in 1916, but a rivalry did not develop at the time because they played so sparingly. Although both schools were founding members of the SEC, the conference's irregular scheduling made contests infrequent until 1969, when they met in the Gator Bowl, having not played since 1955. Still, the Gators and Vols had only squared off on a total of 19 occasions before 1990, when the game (eventually) became an annual event.
UT dominated the series early, winning their first 10 meetings with UF over a span of 37 years (1916–53). Florida won four in a row beginning in 1976, with those four games taking place over 9 years.
Spurrier vs. Fulmer
The result of the SEC split into two divisions in 1992 was an annual match-up between Florida and Tennessee at a time when both programs were on the rise under new head coaches (Steve Spurrier, who grew up in Tennessee, had taken over the Florida job in 1990, coming from Duke, while Phillip Fulmer became coach at Tennessee during the 1992 season). Indeed, their first match-up as permanent opponents in 1992 helped sow the seeds of rivalry as the underdog Vols beat the defending SEC champion Gators in Neyland Stadium. That game, along with an upset the previous week at Georgia helped launch Phillip Fulmer into the position of head coach at Tennessee. Fulmer led UT to an upset win over the Gators as an interim head coach, while Johnny Majors recovered from heart problems.
The 1993 match-up featured the Volunteers entering the game with quarterback Heath Shuler as a possible Heisman trophy favorite. True freshman Danny Wuerffel, who replaced Terry Dean the previous week in a memorable comeback against Kentucky, made his first career start against the Vols. The Gators jumped out to a 21-0 lead, and held on to win 41-34. The loss was Phil Fulmer's first loss as the head coach of the Vols.
The Vols hoped to avenge the previous year's game in 1994 by beating the Gators back home in Neyland Stadium. Florida entered the game ranked first in the polls with an offense led by senior quarterback Terry Dean. The Volunteers were ranked No. 15 at 1–1 on the year. The Gator defense managed to stifle the UT offense all game in a 31–0 Gator win. One bright spot for the Vols was that Peyton Manning, who started the season fourth on the depth chart at quarterback, took over for the ineffective starter, Todd Helton late in the game, and then he became the Vols' starter two weeks later (after Helton started and was injured in a 24–21 loss at Mississippi State).
Manning was supposed to be the lead story going into the 1995 match-up. The heralded sophomore led the Vols into the game as a media darling. Sports Illustrated was set to put Manning on the cover of their magazine the week following the game regardless of the outcome. Early in the game the Volunteers looked poised to thump the Gators, as they were up by 16 points during parts of the first half. As the game wore on and rain deluged the fans and players, momentum shifted into the Gators' favor. The Gators scored 48 straight points to turn a 30–14 deficit into a 62–37 win. Danny Wuerffel, who had come into the previous year's game off the bench in mop-up duty, threw for six touchdowns and found himself on the cover of Sports Illustrated instead of Manning.
Many Vol fans were irritated by Wuerffel playing deep into the 4th quarter with a lead. Wuerffel remained in the game even after the Vols had replaced Peyton Manning with Jermaine Copeland. The lopsided score also increased pressure on John Chavis, the Tennessee defensive coordinator in his second game. Many fans called for Fulmer to fire Chavis following the game. The Gators ended the regular season undefeated and in the Fiesta Bowl, where they were obliterated (62-24) by Nebraska, while this loss was the only blemish on the 1995 UT schedule, who finished No. 2 in the polls (ahead of UF).
The Gators entered the 1996 game at No. 4 in the polls and the Volunteers entered at No. 2, almost assuring an instant classic. The game looked more like a blowout early, as the Gators scored 5 touchdowns in the first 25 minutes to take a 35–0 lead. Peyton Manning rallied the Vols to their first score just before the half. The second half was one-sided score-wise toward UT. In a rare show of clock management, Steve Spurrier reverted to a more possession-oriented offense and ran several short-yardage trick plays (including on fourth downs) to run down the clock as Tennessee cut the Florida lead to 6 in the final minutes. One formation, dubbed "Emory & Henry" after the school Spurrier first saw it at, kept the Gators in possession of the ball on several occasions as the Gators won 35–29. Even though they had a late-season loss to FSU, the Gators, led by Heisman-trophy winning quarterback Danny Wuerffel, would win the school's first national championship in the 1997 Sugar Bowl by rematching with Florida State several months later.
By 1997, the story had once again focused on Manning, as he had yet to beat the Gators in his senior season. The game, held at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, was another match-up of highly ranked teams with national title implications. The Gators entered the game ranked No. 2 and the Vols entered ranked No. 4. Gator quarterback Doug Johnson and Manning each threw for three touchdowns, but the Gator defense and running back Fred Taylor made the difference in to a 33–20 Gator victory. The Gators took the No. 1 ranking in the polls after the game. Florida later lost the No. 1 ranking (losing at No. 14 LSU, 28–21), and then the lead in the SEC East that season (losing to No. 14 Georgia, 37–17), as they slipped up twice during the months of October and November, allowing Tennessee to earn its first trip to the SEC Championship Game, which it won 30-29 over Auburn.
The press coverage of the 1998 match-up had shifted from Manning's inability to beat the Gators to Volunteers coach Phil Fulmer's inability to do so since taking over the head coaching job full-time at Tennessee. UT had lost 10 of its last 12 meetings with the Gators at that point, and by hosting the Gators in Neyland Stadium, it was the Vols' best chance to beat the Gators despite the departure of Manning. With a big run by Shawn Bryson in the first quarter and a Peerless Price touchdown catch from Tee Martin in the third, the Volunteers led until a Travis McGriff touchdown catch from Jesse Palmer tied it up. The fourth quarter was scoreless, and the game headed to overtime. Jeff Hall made a field goal during the Vol possession. Florida was unable to score a touchdown during their first possession, forcing a Collins Cooper field goal that sailed wide left and clinched a 20–17 UT victory, getting the "monkey off the back" of Fulmer. The Vols would end the season undefeated, and would win the first BCS National Championship Game over Florida State.
Having suffered their first loss to UT after five straight wins, the Gators looked to dethrone the defending national champion in 1999 in the Swamp. Florida defensive end Alex Brown made a name for himself in the game by sacking Tee Martin a team-record five times. Florida took a 23–7 lead in the third quarter before the Vols scored two touchdowns to cut the Florida lead to two points. On a 4th down and 3, the Gator defense stuffed Jamal Lewis to force a turnover on downs and seal the Gator victory, 23–21, ending UT's 14-game winning streak.
The next match-up, in 2000, was yet another close finish in the series. At home in front of a record 108,768 fans, the Vols rushed for more than 200 yards on the Gator defense but couldn’t pull ahead in the game. With 14 seconds to go in the game and the Gators at the Vol 3-yard line, a controversial Jesse Palmer pass to Jabar Gaffney that was ruled a completion put the Gators up by 3. Gaffney then taunted the UT crowd with a throat-slash gesture. The referees conferred and upheld that Gaffney, who appeared to have control of the ball for only fractions of a second, if at all, had indeed caught the game-winning touchdown. The extra point made it a 27–23 Gator victory. Florida's victory put them victorious at Neyland Stadium 3 of their last 4 trips (1994, 1996, 2000), after having lost their previous 2 visits (1990, 1992).
Because of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, all NCAA Division-I football games scheduled to be played on Sept 15, 2001, were postponed to a later date. Florida and Tennessee would end up meeting the first weekend of December because of this, and that only made the match-up even more important. Because the two teams were tied at 6–1 in conference play before the game, the winner of it was assured the SEC Eastern Division championship and a chance to play in the SEC Championship Game a week later. With the Gators entering the game ranked No. 2 in the Bowl Championship Series and UT ranked No. 5, the winner of the game also essentially controlled their own destiny to play for the BCS National Championship in the Rose Bowl against No. 1 Miami. Tennessee was even a 17-point underdog. Travis Stephens rushed for 226 yards on just 19 carries and scored 2 touchdowns as the Vols broke a 30-year winless drought against the Gators in Gainesville with a 34–32 victory (there had only been 8 games played in Gainesville between the teams from 1971-2001: 1977, 1985, 1991, 1993, 1995, 1997, 1999). The Gators scored a touchdown with mere moments remaining in the 4th quarter to bring the score within 2 points, but tried the same pass on the 2-point conversion try and had it knocked away. The game, as painful as it was for the Gators, would later cause more heartache as it served as Steve Spurrier's last home game as Gator football coach. Spurrier quickly resigned his job as HBC at Florida for greener pastures in the NFL after Florida's blowout win over Maryland in the Orange Bowl. Meanwhile, Fulmer sauntered on at Tennessee.
Zook vs. Fulmer
No. 4 Tennessee hosted the 2002 game against the No. 10 Gators squad under new head coach Ron Zook. The Gators had been thoroughly beaten two weeks earlier by No. 1 Miami. The Gators, seemingly accustomed to playing in rain, handled the ball far better once the rain began. During the second quarter, the Gators would capitalize on the numerous Vol turnovers (four fumbles on four consecutive offensive plays at one point) and scored 24 points in the last 4:55 remaining of the half. The Gators won handily, 30–13. The Vols’ 8 fumbles matched a school record. The Vols and Gators later suffered embarrassing losses to SEC and non-conference opponents, leading both fanbases to think about "next year" during October. For the first time ever, neither the Vols nor the Gators would appear in the SEC Championship Game (Georgia represented the East, and would win to become SEC champion).
For the first time since the rivalry began 11 years earlier, the 2003 match-up featured both teams ranked out of the top 10 (UT at No. 12, UF at No. 17), and the game was relegated to a noon kickoff on CBS. CBS had a double-header scheduled that day, also broadcasting No. 7 Georgia at No. 11 LSU. With three total points in the game with minutes to go in the first half, both teams played for field position to prevent the other from scoring. UT coach Phil Fulmer called a timeout as the Gators had to punt with seconds left in the half. Quarterback Casey Clausen heaved the ball from midfield as time expired, and receiver James Banks hauled it in to put the Volunteers ahead going into the locker room. Florida coach Ron Zook continued the Spurrier tradition of shuffling quarterbacks Chris Leak and Ingle Martin, letting neither find a rhythm as UT pulled away in a 24–10 victory.
The teams met in 2004 to have another classic finish. The Gators led 28–21 late in the fourth quarter when Tennessee quarterback Eric Ainge rallied the Vols with a touchdown pass with 4:17 left. James Wilhoit missed the game-tying extra point, the first PAT miss of his career. The Gators took possession and attempted to run the clock out. After Florida gained one first down, they were stopped on the subsequent third down and were about to be forced to punt. After the play, however Florida receiver Dallas Baker got involved in an altercation with Vol DB Jonathan Wade and the two exchanged head-slaps. Baker was flagged for retaliating, backing the Gators up 15 yards before their punt. After Tennessee received the punt and subsequently drove to the Florida 33-yard-line, Wilhoit got a chance at redemption with the game-winning 50-yard field goal with six seconds left, which he made. The Vols won 30–28. Zook was later let go at the end of the season after the Gators lost to three other SEC opponents (LSU, Mississippi State, and Georgia), finishing 4–4 in SEC play.
Meyer vs. Fulmer
The Volunteers entered the 2005 game with a two-game winning streak on Florida’s home field. New Gator coach Urban Meyer made an emphasis on regaining home superiority. +In what was a defensive struggle, Florida scored in the first quarter on an Andre Caldwell reverse run. Tennessee’s Erik Ainge threw a touchdown to tie the game up at the half. Chris Hetland kicked three field goals for Florida in the second half to put the Gators up 16–7, a two-score lead that the offensively-inept Vols were never able to challenge. Florida later lost two SEC games as it missed the SEC championship game for the fifth straight season, but headed for a win in the Outback Bowl. Tennessee finished with a losing record that season, 5–6, including losses to South Carolina and Vanderbilt.
The following season the Gators traveled to Knoxville for the 2006 game. The 2–0 Vols and week 1 winners over highly ranked Cal and looking to continue to prove they were back after a disappointing 5–6 2005 season, took a 17–7 lead on the Gators in the first half. The game once again wasn’t without controversy, as UT linebacker Marvin Mitchell intercepted a Chris Leak pass and returned it for a touchdown. The play was nullified by a roughing penalty on J.T. Mapu for a clear hit to Leak’s helmet. Dallas Baker, who had been the Gators’ goat for the 2004 loss in Knoxville, scored two touchdowns in the second half, including the go-ahead score with 6:30 left in the game to help secure a 21–20 Gator victory. They would only lose one game (upset at No. 11 Auburn, 27–17) the rest of the year, win their reappearance in the SEC championship game, and then go on to win the school's second national championship, defeating Ohio State, 41–14.
On September 15, 2007, the two teams met for the 37th time. The match-up was predicted to be the No. 9 game to watch in 2007 by SI.com's "Top 20 Games To Watch In 2007" list. Florida defeated Tennessee 59–20 in a rout and offensively outgained them 554 yards to 298. The Gators stumbled as the calendar turned to October, as they have been known to do, as they were upset by Auburn and Georgia, also losing to No. 1 LSU, 28–24, on their way to a Citrus Bowl loss. The Vols regrouped and finished 10–4, winning the SEC Eastern division but losing the SEC Championship Game to eventual national champion No. 1 LSU, 21–14, on their way to an Outback Bowl win.
The 2008 match-up in Knoxville resulted in a lopsided Gator win, 30–6, as Tennessee had no clue on offense nor defense. The Gators, despite dropping a home game to unranked Ole Miss, 31–30, ran the table and won the school's third national championship (second under Meyer). The Vols' Fulmer was encouraged to resign as head football coach during November by UT administrators, and the school recorded its second losing season within a four-year span.
Meyer vs. Kiffin
Before playing a game in the SEC, Lane Kiffin already started brewing controversy. During his speech after he became head coach he made a controversial comment that he would sing Rocky Top all night after they beat Florida the next year. On National Signing Day in 2009, he publicly called Urban Meyer a cheater in regards to recruit Nu'Keese Richardson. Kiffin told a booster club that Meyer had called Richardson as he was on his Official Visit to UT, a violation of NCAA Recruiting Rules. However, Kiffin actually ended up breaking the rules, as no such rule about calling recruits on Official Visits exists, and he violated SEC Bylaw 10.5.1 which states that "coaches and administrators shall refrain from directed public criticism of other member institutions, their staffs, or players" and was publicly reprimanded by SEC Commissioner Mike Slive. Kiffin later issued an apology to Urban Meyer and the University of Florida. Florida won the 2009 game 23–13, to extend their winning streak in the series to 5 games. 30-point favorites, the Gators were expected to run up the score. However, Meyer said his team scaled back on offense in the fourth quarter as it seemed the Vols' offense wasn't playing to win. Meyer later expressed some concern with several players contracting swine flu. Kiffin took exception to his coaching staff being accused of coaching not to win, arguing it was a violation of the same SEC bylaw he broke in the off-season. When asked if he was also concerned about swine flu infecting members of his team, Kiffin responded, "I don't know. I guess we'll wait and after we're not excited about a performance, we'll tell you everybody was sick."  Slive stepped in once again and told both coaches to cease with the war of words.
Meyer vs. Dooley
Under the cover of darkness, Kiffin unexpectedly left UT to coach Southern California after the 2009 season. Derek Dooley, son of legendary Georgia coach Vince Dooley, was hired from Louisiana Tech to coach the Vols.
The Gators won 31–17 in Knoxville in 2010, extending their winning streak in the series to 6 games. The contest turned out to the only meeting between Dooley and Meyer, as Meyer, citing health problems unexpectedly retired after the 2010 season and Will Muschamp took over as Florida's head coach.
Muschamp vs. Dooley
Under Muschamp, Florida won its 7th and 8th consecutive contests over Tennessee: 33–23 in Gainesville during the 2011 season and 37–20 in Knoxville in 2012. After the Vols' blowout loss to hated in-state rival Vanderbilt, Dooley was fired and later replaced with Butch Jones, the former head coach of the University of Cincinnati.
Muschamp vs. Jones
First-year head coach Butch Jones took his team to Gainesville to take on the Gators for his first ever SEC conference game September 21, 2013. Both teams were coming off high-profile losses to out-of-conference opponents (UF lost at Miami, Fla., 21–16, and UT lost at Oregon, 59–14, in the previous weeks). The game immediately became a sloppy, penalty filled turnover fest, and true to form for the recent history of this rivalry, the unranked Vols got the worst of it. UT turned the ball over six times due to intense Florida defensive pressure on the Tennessee quarterback duo, while Florida committed three turnovers, and held the Volunteers to less than 20 points for the first time since 2010 for a 31–17 win. This was the Gators' ninth straight victory over the Vols, but it cost the Gators their starting quarterback (among other injured players) for the season.
In 2013 both Tennessee and Florida failed to qualify for a bowl.
1928: Unbeatens in the mud
Coming into their 1928 regular season finale, the Gators under head coach Charlie Bachman held an 8–0 record and had outscored their opponents by a nation-leading margin of 324–31. Coach Robert Neyland's Vols had been dominant as well; they were quarterbacked by Bobby Dodd and had outscored their opponents 236–39 and held an 8–0–1 record—the only blemish being a scoreless tie with Kentucky. Still, the Gators were favorites when the teams met in early December, and rumor had it that they would be in line for a Rose Bowl invitation had they prevailed in Knoxville.
They did not. Stymied by a stingy Vol defense and two failed point after touchdown attempts, the Gators fell, 13–12.
In what would become a trend in the series, controversy swirled around the contest. By all accounts, the playing surface had been a muddy mess. Some Gators claimed that the home team had watered down the field in an effort to slow down the speedy Gator stars, including halfbacks Leroy "Red" Bethea, Carl Brumbaugh, and Royce Goodbread; fullback Rainey Cawthon, quarterback Clyde Crabtree, end Dutch Stanley, and Florida's first-ever first-team All-American, end Dale Van Sickel The Vols protested that the sloppy conditions were simply the result of heavy rain the night before the game.
The teams would not become regular opponents for decades, and the Gators would not earn its first victory over the Vols for nearly a quarter century.
1969–1970: Coaching carousel
The 9–1 SEC champion Vols and the 8–1–1 Gators were not on each other's schedule in 1969. However, they were invited to play in the 1969 Gator Bowl, setting up a rare all-SEC bowl matchup and the only time the squads have faced off outside of the regular season.
The expected high-scoring battle featuring UF's "Super Sophs" passing attack against UT's powerful ground game led by quarterback Bobby Scott never materialized, as both defenses were superb in the Gators' 14-13 win. Quarterback John Reaves connected with wide receiver Carlos Alvarez for the Gators' only offensive touchdown, and the Gator defense stopped the Vols at Florida's one-yard line late in the game to preserve the victory. Fittingly, the game's MVP was Florida linebacker Mike Kelley, who had an interception, a fumble recovery, a blocked punt recovered for a TD, a sack, and 17 tackles.
However, the 1969 Gator Bowl is much more memorable for the coaching changes and rumors of coaching changes that surrounded the contest. Throughout December 1969, rumors had been circulating that Florida's head coach and athletic director Ray Graves, who had been the captain of Tennessee's 1941 football squad under interim coach John Barnhill (coach General Robert Neyland was called back to military service from 1941-1945), would retire from coaching at the conclusion of the season to become UF's full-time AD. Though both Graves and university officials denied the rumor, speculation among fans, players, and media was that Graves would leave the sideline and popular defensive coordinator Gene Ellenson would be promoted to head coach.
The situation intensified in the days preceding the game when word leaked out that Vol head coach Doug Dickey, who had been Florida's starting quarterback in the early 1950s and was from Vermillon, S.D., planned to leave UT and replace Graves at UF after their respective teams met in the Gator Bowl. Dickey admitted to reporters that he had been offered the position at Florida, but Graves and UF president Stephen C. O'Connell continued to deny that personnel changes were imminent, with Graves stating that "there is utterly no truth to the rumor."
Despite these denials, Dickey was introduced as the Gators' new head football coach five days after the Gator Bowl contest by Florida's new full-time AD, Ray Graves. Players on both the Florida and Tennessee squads were upset by the move and the NCAA conducted an investigation to determine whether ethics policies were violated. However, no wrongdoing was discovered and Dickey was the Gator head coach for 1970.
The teams did not meet very often in the SEC schedule, but following Georgia Tech's departure, the regular season rotation coincidentally had them facing off in Knoxville the following October. UT fans, who denounced Dickey as a "traitor", eagerly anticipated the match-up and were not disappointed, as the Vols beat his new Florida squad 38–7 behind quarterback Bobby Scott's then-school record 385 passing yards. The Gators assisted the rout by committing four turnovers, including two John Reaves Interceptions returned for touchdowns.
Both Dickey and Graves remained in their respective positions at UF until the late 1970s, with Dickey fired after the 1978 season and Graves retiring in 1979. Later, in yet another twist, Dickey returned to Knoxville in 1985 to serve as UT's athletic director, replacing Bob Woodruff. Woodruff had played football at Tennessee, but he had been Dickey's head football coach at Florida and had also served as UF's athletic director immediately preceding Ray Graves.
Dickey was the head of UT's athletic department during the intense UF/UT Spurrier/Fulmer rivalry of the 1990s and retired in 2002, after which he moved to Jacksonville, Florida.
Steve Spurrier returned to his alma mater in 1990 to become the Gators’ new football coach. In yet another link between the programs, Spurrier had been a star QB at Science Hill High School in Johnson City, Tennessee, in the early 1960s. Although Knoxville is nearby, he had not seriously considered attending UT because he was an excellent passer and the Vols ran a single wing offense at the time which featured a running quarterback. Instead, he choose to return to the state of his birth (Spurrier was born in Miami Beach), eventually becoming the Gators’ first Heisman Trophy winner in 1966.
Spurrier's first Gator squad was 5–0 and ranked No. 9 coming into the matchup with Johnny Majors' 3–0–2 and No. 5 Vols, marking the first time in series history that both rivals were ranked in the AP top-10 when they faced off. (It was not Spurrier’s first visit to Knoxville as an opposing coach; his 1988 Duke Blue Devils had upset the Vols 31–26.)
The 1990 game began as a defensive struggle, with UT holding a slim 7–3 lead at the half. However, the Vols’ Dale Carter returned the second half kickoff 91 yards for a touchdown, igniting the home crowd at Neyland Stadium.
On their ensuing possession, the Gators fumbled for what would be the first of six UF turnovers in the second half. The opportunistic Vols took full advantage, turning Spurrier’s homecoming (and, coincidentally, UT’s homecoming game) into a dominating 45–3 rout, the largest margin of victory for either team in this series.
In the week before the 1991 game, media reports began circulating that former UT assistant coach Jack Sells, who had been fired before that season for his role in recruiting violations, had allegedly faxed UF defensive coordinator Ron Zook, himself a former Tennessee assistant, the Vols' offensive gameplan. At first, both Zook and head coach Steve Spurrier denied receiving any information, though Zook soon clarified his statement and said that Sells had sent him a fax of newspaper clippings about the upcoming game, which he had immediately destroyed.
Florida won the contest 35–18 behind 245 yards and 3 TD's from Gator QB Shane Matthews and 5 Vol turnovers, but the "faxgate" controversy continued after the final whistle. A follow-up newspaper investigation in Knoxville located an employee of a local Kinko's copy center who said that he had noticed Sells faxing copies of a UT "playbook" and insisted that Sells stop the transmission after 10–15 pages had been sent. The employee had saved the fax cover sheet, which detailed a transmission sent 3 days before the UF-UT game by a "Jack Sells" to a "Ron Zook" at a Gainesville telephone number.
While Vol athletic director (and former Gator quarterback and head football coach) Doug Dickey was not happy about the incident, both Phil Fulmer and Steve Spurrier downplayed its importance, Spurrier pointing out that UT gained over 400 yards of offense (including 392 passing yards) in the game and joked that it certainly didn't seem like his defensive staff had any inside information. For his part, Fulmer later admitted that the UT staff had copies of the Gators' offensive playbooks at the time. An SEC investigation concluded without punishment.
Jack Sells, the person at the center of the incident, left the coaching profession and successfully sued Kinko's for privacy violations, though he moved out of the state of Tennessee after being assaulted by an angry Vols fan in Chattanooga. After a stint as an assistant coach in the NFL, Zook succeeded Spurrier as the Gators' head coach in 2002. He was reluctant to talk about "Faxgate" during his tenure at UF (2002–2004), though he did disclose that Sells' infamous transmission had actually been a set of hand-drawn Volunteer offensive plays, but insisted that they "were so immaterial, and it made no difference and had no relevance, it was nothing."
1995: Tale of two halves, Part I: Gainesville
For the third time in five seasons, the No. 8 Vols and No. 4 Gators were both undefeated and ranked in the top ten coming into their annual contest. The squads featured talented young quarterbacks in UT sophomore Peyton Manning and UF junior Danny Wuerffel, and many pregame prognosticators accurately predicted an offense shootout.
The Vols struck quickly. On the first play from scrimmage, Manning connected with receiver Joey Kent for a 72-yard gain. On the next play, Manning threw a touchdown pass to Marcus Nash, giving UT a 7–0 lead only 15 seconds into the game. After another Manning touchdown pass and two Gator turnovers, the Vols held a 30–14 advantage late in the second quarter in front of a stunned Florida Field crowd. Wuerffel led the Gators to an answering score, cutting the lead to 30–21 with a touchdown pass in the last minute of the first half. That would be the beginning of a historic run, as Florida scored 48 straight points despite a torrential second half downpour and won in a 62–37 rout. Many records were broken in the game: Wuerffel threw an SEC record six touchdown passes; Tennessee set school records for most points scored in a loss and most points given up in the modern era.
Florida would go 12–0 through the regular season and the SEC Championship Game and played for the national championship, pounded by the rushing of Tommie Frazier and Nebraska in the Fiesta Bowl, 62–24. Tennessee would not lose another game all season, finishing 11–1 after a Citrus Bowl victory over Ohio State. The schools finished No. 2 and No. 3 in the final polls, with the AP Poll placing the Gators ahead and the Coaches' Poll reversing the order.
1996: Tale of two halves, Part II: Knoxville
Once again, UT and UF met while undefeated and highly ranked, with the Vols ranked No. 2 and Gators ranked No. 4.
The tone for the game was set on Florida's first drive, as Spurrier spurned the punt team on a 4th and 10 from the UT 35, and Wuerffel connected with Reidel Anthony for a touchdown to put the Gators up 7–0. Teako Brown intercepted Manning on the Vols' first drive, and it took Wuerffel only one play to find the end zone again, hitting Terry Jackson from 10 yards out to extend the lead to 14–0. UF doubled its lead in a 52-second stretch early in the 2nd quarter, as Ike Hilliard and Jacquez Green became the third and fourth different receivers with touchdown receptions on the afternoon, sandwiched around a James Bates interception of Manning. Antone Lott's 27-yard fumble return stretched the lead to 35–0, before Manning finally got UT on the scoreboard before halftime on a 72-yard strike to Peerless Price.
With the Gators switching to a more conservative offensive game plan in the second half, Manning cut the lead to 35–22 with 8 minutes left with 2 more touchdown tosses, including a second to Price. Andy McCellough's 14-yard reception brought the Vols within 35–29 with 10 seconds left, but UF recovered the ensuing onsides kick to hang on for a six-point win.
Florida went on to win its 4th straight SEC championship and first ever national championship.
1997: Spelling "Citrus"
During the mid-1990s, the second highest ranked SEC squad was usually invited to play in the Citrus Bowl after the season. Florida won four consecutive SEC titles from 1993 to 1996, beating Tennessee each time and twice sending them to the Citrus Bowl. Spurrier, who was known to poke fun at rivals, made jokes at Tennessee's expense during off-season Gator Booster dinners in the spring of 1997, pointing out that "you can't spell Citrus without UT" and suggesting Peyton Manning had returned for his senior season at UT because "he wants to be a three-time Citrus Bowl MVP".
Ironically, even after UF beat a Manning-led Vols squad in September 1997 for their fifth straight victory in the series, upset losses to LSU and Georgia put the Gators in the Citrus Bowl while UT won its first SEC Championship Game. During Florida's Citrus Bowl appearance (which was televised on CBS), Spurrier was taunted with signs that read "How was the Citrus Bowl, Spurrier?"
1998: Fulmer breaks through
After Peyton Manning and several other star players moved on to the NFL after the 1997 season, most preseason prognosticators saw Tennessee's 1998 squad as taking a step backward from championship contention. However, they were still ranked No. 6 when the No. 2 Gators rolled into Knoxville looking to beat their rivals for the sixth consecutive year.
It was not to be. Led by junior quarterback Tee Martin and a stout defense, the Vols recovered four Gators fumbles, held their opponent to -30 yards rushing, and slowed UF's two-QB passing attack, which featured Doug Johnson and Jesse Palmer alternating plays. The game was close throughout, with the score knotted at 10 at halftime and 17 at the end of regulation. Tennessee was held to a Jeff Hall field goal during their first possession of overtime. When it was UF's turn, placekicker Collins Cooper missed an answering field goal, giving UT a 20–17 win and inspiring the jubilant home fans to rush the turf of Neyland Stadium and tear down the goalposts.
It was not the first last-minute win for the Vols that season, and it would not be the last, either. UT survived several close calls to complete their first perfect season (12–0) since 1938 and claimed their first national championship since 1952 with a 23–16 victory over Florida State in the Fiesta Bowl
2000: The "Catch?"
In front of a record crowd in Neyland Stadium, the Vols had dominated the 2000 UF/UT contest on the strength of stifling defense and 175 rushing yards from RB Travis Henry. However, an inability to finish drives led to a school record five field goals from kicker Alex Walls and a slim 23–20 lead.
Down by that score late in the 4th quarter, UF took possession of the ball at their own 9-yard line. Gator QB Jesse Palmer steadily led his team down the field, and with 14 seconds left in the game, they found themselves with a first and goal at the Vols' 3.
After a touchdown pass was called back on an illegal man downfield penalty, Palmer's next pass was to WR Jabar Gaffney in the endzone. The ball made it to Gaffney's hands and was almost instantly slapped away by Vol cornerback Willie Miles. The official in the area signaled a touchdown, ruling that Gaffney had had possession of the ball long enough to be considered a catch. After a brief conference with the referee, the call was confirmed despite strident protests from the UT coaching staff and loud boos from the crowd. The extra point gave Florida a controversial 27–23 victory.
The Volunteer squad and fans were incensed by the call, as they believed Gaffney never gained possession of the ball and that the pass should have been ruled incomplete. Vanderbilt alumnus Al Matthews, the referee who made the initial call, received death threats after the game and was not assigned to officiate any games in Knoxville until after Fulmer left.
As usual, the Gators and Vols were slated to meet on the 3rd Saturday of September during the 2001 season. However, the SEC canceled all games on the weekend following the September 11 attacks, and all contests were rescheduled for December 1, 2001, requiring the SEC Championship Game to be pushed back a week as well.
As the season progressed, the postponed game took on greater and greater importance. Each squad suffered only one close loss and entered the contest with Tennessee ranked No. 6 and Florida ranked No. 2. The winner would represent the SEC East and face LSU in the SEC Championship. With a win in that game, the Gators or Vols were likely to receive an invitation to the Rose Bowl to face the undefeated Miami Hurricanes with a national title on the line.
But in 2001, despite the teams' identical records and much to the chagrin of the Vols, the Gators were 17½ point favorites at kickoff.
Gators starting running back Earnest Graham had been controversially injured in UF's win over rival Florida State the previous week and was unable to play. The star of the game would turn out to be the running back for the other squad, as UT's Travis Stephens rushed for 226 yards and 2 TDs on 19 carries to lead the Vols' attack. Without Graham, Florida managed only 36 total yards on the ground. Gator quarterback Rex Grossman threw 51 times for 362 yards and 2 TDs, but his pass on a potentially game-tying 2-point conversion attempt with just over a minute left in the 4th quarter fell incomplete. The Vols held on for a 34–32 upset victory, ending a 30-year winless drought in Gainesville, although the two squads had only met 8 times in Gainesville from 1971–2001.
Ultimately, neither team would win any championships that season. UT was upset by LSU in the SEC Championship Game the following Saturday and missed their opportunity to play for a second national title in four years. The Vols ended up beating Michigan 45–17 in the Citrus Bowl. Florida was invited to the Orange Bowl, where they beat Maryland 56–23.
The teams' December meeting would become even more historical in early January, when Steve Spurrier announced that he was resigning as Florida's head coach after 12 seasons. The 2001 game was thus the last matchup in the Spurrier/Fulmer chapter of the rivalry (they would meet several additional occasions after Spurrier became South Carolina's head coach in 2005) and Spurrier's last home game at Florida Field.
2004: Unsportsmanlike conduct
Like the game in Knoxville four years previously, the 2004 UF/UT contest on Tennessee's home field also ended in controversy involving an official's call.
Holding on to a slim 28–27 lead, Florida was attempting to run the clock out late in the 4th quarter. Florida gained one first down, then were stopped on the subsequent third down play and began to send in the punt team with under a minute left in the game and the clock running.
After the play, however, Gator receiver Dallas Baker and Vols DB Jonathan Wade got into an altercation, with Wade head-slapping Baker and Baker responding with a head slap of his own. Referee Bobby Moreau appeared to have a clear view of the incident, but only Baker was called with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. The officials had stopped the clock with 55 seconds left in the game to call the penalty and move the Gators back 15 yards, but then incorrectly neglected to restart the clock before the ball was snapped for the punt.
UT received the punt and quickly drove to the Florida 33-yard-line. With 6 seconds left, PK James Wilhoit, who had missed a game-tying extra point earlier in the quarter, earned redemption by hitting a 50-yard field goal, giving his team a 30–28 victory.
The Gator squad and fans were incensed by both the penalty and the subsequent failure to restart the game clock, feeling that the combination of calls had given the Vols an undeserved chance to win the game. Bobby Moreau, the official who called the penalty on Baker, received death threats after the game. SEC Director of Officials Bobby Gaston has subsequently removed Moreau from working games in Gainesville.
2012: Tale of Two Halves, Part III
After seven straight losses to Florida, Tennessee came into the 2012 game in Knoxville looking for revenge. For the first time since 2007, both teams were nationally ranked heading into the game, and it was the first time Neyland Stadium had sold out in four years. In addition, it was the first time the Volunteers were favored in a game against the Gators since 2004.
After an early Florida touchdown run by Trey Burton, Tennessee took control of the game. Tyler Bray led the Volunteers to three touchdown drives, and the Volunteers had a 20–13 lead midway through the third quarter. However, Burton then raced untouched for an 80-yard touchdown to tie the game, and the Volunteers completely collapsed as the Gators ran off 24 unanswered points to win their eight straight over the Volunteers, 37–20.
Florida victories are colored blue ██. Tennessee victories are colored orange ██.
- Auburn–Florida football rivalry
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- Florida–Florida State football rivalry
- Florida Gators
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- Tennessee Volunteers
- Third Saturday in October
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