Each week Tennessee plays an SEC opponent, the sports staff will list some of Tennessee’s best memories against their counterpart. This week, Ben Woody and Sam Forman bring up Tennessee’s greatest moments against the Florida Gators.
1. 1928: Tennessee vs. Florida in Knoxville- The Vols won this one 13-12 over the Gators in a low scoring game to end the season. This game was held before the schools played yearly and helped lay the foundation of the great rivalry. Legendary Tennessee head coach Robert Neyland and quarterback Bobby Dodd lead the undefeated Vols to victory over the also-undefeated Gators. The game is know as the “Mud Game” because the field conditions were sloppy due to heavy rain the night before. However, if you ask Florida, the Vols flooded the field on purpose.
2. 1969: Gator Bowl- In 1969, two schools did not meet on the field in the regular season. Instead, the two met in a rare All-SEC matchup in a bowl game. This game had plenty of intrigue with the Gators high-powered offense against the Vols hard-hitting defense. However, the rumor mill was the real story in this one. Florida’s head coach at that time, Ray Graves, was rumored to be moving on to an athletic director role, and Vols head coach Doug Dickey was the number one name on the Gators’ replacement list. Not only did Florida win 14-12, but three days later they took Dickey from the Vols.
3. 1995 and 1996: The Tales of Two Halves- The 1995 matchup was the third time in five years that the No. 8 Vols and No. 4 Gators clashed as undefeated, top 10 teams. This game featured a quarterback by the name of Peyton Manning, a Tennessee sophomore, and a quarterback named Danny Wuerffel, a Florida junior. The Gators beat the Vols 62-37 after Florida scored 48 unanswered points in the second half. Wuerffel then went on to beat out Manning for the Sports Illustrated cover.
1996 featured the Vols and the soon-to-be National Champion Gators in the rivalry’s second straight shootout. Florida claimed a 35-29 victory. Manning could not quite rally the Vols all the way back from a 35 point deficit, his closest chance at besting the Gators.
4. 1998: Vols win it all- The 1998 Tennessee team did something Peyton Manning never did — beat Florida. The win ended a six year losing streak to the Gators. Tennessee and Florida were tied at 10 at the half and tied again at 17 at the end of regulation. In overtime, Tennessee got the ball first and kicked a field goal. After a potential game-winning touchdown drive stalled, it all came down to Gators kicker Collins Cooper to keep Florida and the Head Ball Coach in the game. Cooper’s attempted game-tying kick went wide left and the Vols lived to fight another day. The Vols would go on the win the national title behind the combination of Tee Martin and Peerless Price.
5. 2000: The “Catch?”- In typical Florida-Tennessee fashion, this game came down to the wire. Tennessee was in control most of the game and held a 23-20 lead late in the fourth quarter when Jesse Palmer and the Gators got the ball back. Palmer lead Florida down to the three yard line with 14 seconds left to play, where receiver Jabar Gaffney made a controversial catch to win the game for Florida. Vols cornerback Willie Miles defended the pass and the ball could have been out before it was a full catch, but it was officially ruled a touchdown that decided the game.
6. 2001: A Saturday marked in tragedy– The Vols and Gators were scheduled to play on their normal week, but the United States was rocked by tragedy on the morning of Sept. 11. With the country mourning the events of that day, all of college football took the week off. This meant the Vols and Gators would meet on Dec. 1, 2001. The Vols took home the win 34-32.
7.2003: The Vols’ last win in “The Swamp”- This game was the last time Tennessee won in Gainesville. Florida took a 3-0 lead into the second quarter before Tennessee quarterback Casey Clausen lead the Vols on a touchdown drive to end the first half. The touchdown, a hail mary catch by James Banks, came with only four seconds left to go before halftime. James Wilhoit added a field goal, then Jabari Davis sealed the win with an emphatic jump over the pile at the goal line for a rushing touchdown. Tennessee won 24-10.
8.2004: Down go the goal posts- This was the last time the Vols beat the Gators, and what a game it was. The Gators had a 28-21 lead in the fourth quarter when Tennessee scored a potential game-tying touchdown, but James Wilhoit would miss the extra point. Tennessee would get the ball back and Eric Ainge put the Vols in a position for a 5o yard field goal try with 6 seconds left. In front of 109,061 fans, Wilholit redeemed himself and as he hit the 5o-yarder to give the Vols a thrilling 30-28 win.
Writers’ Favorite Moments
Woody- Even though I was only a year old, my favorite moment in this rivalry was the 1998 game. I was able to watch the game online, and along with the national championship game, this is my favorite. It was the year after Peyton had left and people had said that Tennessee was not going to be good. However, Tee Martin and Peerless Price proved them wrong.
Forman- My reasoning is a bit outside the box, but I am going with the 2003 game in The Swamp. I actually was not able to watch the game because I was out with my best friend and his family at the time. We had to go the Wal-Mart in Sevierville, Tennessee where his mom worked. The manager came over the intercom and said “Costumers of Wal-Mart, the final score: Tennessee 24, Florida 10” and started playing Rocky Top, and the store went crazy. You know it was a big win when that happens.
Sam Forman is the lead sports staff writer for the Tennessee Journalist and is a senior studying Journalism and Electronic Media with a focus on sports broadcasting and reporting. He has been with TNJN since the fall of 2014. He is also a DJ for WUTK 90.3 fm. and a member of the Rock Solid Sports team. Sam has spent six years marching in the Pride of The Southland Marching Band. When he is not covering or talking sports, you can find him outdoors, playing music or hanging out with friends. You can find him on twitter: @samWforman