It’s that week again.
You know the one.
The one that we dread each and every year. The one that comes seemingly out of nowhere. The one that has caused endless amounts of despair, frustration and contemplation of why we even invest so much into this stupid sport to begin with for at least 12 of the previous 13 years.
Yeah, Florida is coming to town Saturday.
For Tennessee fans, it’s been a rule of thumb in this series for over a decade now that you absolutely should expect the worst to happen. And “the worst” usually manifests itself in the form of new and exciting ways to make us want to lay ourselves down in the middle of the interstate! *Tweet below was from 2015 and it still rings true today!*
For those of you watching from home this weekend, here's your playing card for Vols vs. Gators. pic.twitter.com/UZT9T59O8R
— Lone Nut (@LoneNutVolFan) September 24, 2015
If you clicked on this article AND you are a Tennessee fan, you probably weren’t expecting a recap of the recent history of the Florida series to make you feel positive in any way. So let’s get the main bullet points of just how hilarious the past decade-plus of this game has been out of the way (not even going to mention five-straight losses in the ’90s or the Jabar Gaffney “catch”):
- 2005 – Dropping from No. 3 to No. 5 in the AP Poll one week after an unimpressive 17-10 opening-season win over UAB, the Vols’ two-game winning streak over Florida is snapped in The Swamp 16-7 to the Gators who are led by first-year head coach and great human being Urban Meyer. Tennessee would finish 5-6 for its first losing season since 1988 and Florida finishes at 9-3.
- 2006 – Despite having a 17-7 lead in the third quarter and a 20-14 lead with 10:43 remaining in the game, Chris Leak drives the eventual BCS Champion Gators down the field for the go-ahead score to lead 21-20. With 2:16 left, Reggie Nelson picks off Erik Ainge’s pass on fourth down to seal the game. Florida held Tennessee to -11 yards rushing. This game had the questionable roughing the passer call on J.T. Mapu that negated a Marvin Mitchell pick-six.
- 2012 – 20-13 third quarter lead blown LOL. Trey Burton LOL. Derek Dooley LOL.
- 2013 – First-year coach Butch Jones elects to start redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman who proceeds to set the quarterback position back approximately 75 years in a 4-for-11, five (5!) yard, two interception performance in a 31-17 loss. Peterman somehow has started multiple games in the NFL.
- 2014 – Even Lil Jon couldn’t save us. Not to be outdone by Peterman the year prior, this time both teams proceeded to set the game of football back to the 1800s in a 10-9 affair in which of course Tennessee led 9-0 entering the final quarter.
- 2015 – Yeah.
- 2016 – Wait? Good things can happen?!
- 2017 – Actually, pain is inescapable.
Ugh, look, the point is that a lot of us are terrified of this game every season. Whether you are the woolliest sheep who thinks we will kick their asses each year (bless you) or the most tortured negative soul like me because you’ve simply been through more pain than a game played between 18-22 year old college kids should ever produce, the fear and anxiety always lingers. A LOT of fans determine the success of a season off the outcome of this one game. A loss will ruin their weekend, the next week, the next month and the rest of the year via memes and the inevitable highlights in the “Best of CFB this year” reels.
You would think that for a rivalry that brings out so much emotion, it would matter more, nationally. The intensity of this series never dies down in Knoxville and while some Florida fans will say that this isn’t a “rivalry” anymore, the majority of their fanbase knows and appreciates the history. But, that has become the problem with this series recently: it’s mostly history.
Sure, the moments from this game the past three season have their share of memorable highlights. But, the reality outside of Knoxville and Gainesville is that this game just doesn’t matter much anymore.
Think about the other SEC East matchups going on Saturday: Georgia vs. Missouri, South Carolina vs. Vanderbilt and Kentucky vs. Mississippi State. All of those – at least as of writing this – have, arguably, more divisional implications than Tennessee/Florida.
This prospect would’ve been laughable just over a decade ago and completely sacrilegious during the ’90s where this game was, literally, the only one that really mattered in the East. We know it’s a fact but it bears repeating: both programs aren’t what they used to be.
In fact, they’ve been complete garbage for a while now. Albeit, with Florida being slightly less garbage than Tennessee.
Since 2010, Florida is 62-42 (.596) and Tennessee is 52-51 (.504). For comparison, in the ’90s, Florida went 102-22-1 (.952) and the Vols went 98-22-3 (.929). I know, times change, but neither program has lived up the standards that each fanbase was accustomed to for years.
So, not only has it been a miserable time for Tennessee in this series, it has been compounded by the fact that neither team has been playing consistently good football for years now.
Where am I going with this? I don’t know, honestly. I’m just hoping that fellow Vol fans will relate to the same anxiety that always creeps up on me when this game draws closer. All while we hope and wish for our collegiate football team to beat another collegiate football team to give us more positive feelings than negative ones that are related to sports. I also want this series to really matter again. For that, it will be up to both Jeremy Pruitt and Dan Mullen to get their programs to rise above the Vanderbilts and Kentuckys of the world before they can get up to the level of the Georgias and Alabamas.
I think it will get back there and I want it to get back there. Because I am tired of going through the same emotional roller-coaster for something that ends up not mattering in the grand scheme of things. Don’t get me wrong, I want a win over them because I detest them. But, it will feel weird looking back at it if both Tennessee and Florida finish at the bottom of their division.
TL;DR – We all hate this game because of awful memories and stuff. Both programs need to stop being trash. Make this quit being so bad.
Go to Hell, Florida.