”The Vols don’t stare the Gators in the eye like they once did.”
Mike Strange said that in his most recent GoVolsXtra.com piece. Hokey? Absolutely. But that doesn’t change the fact that the idea Strange was trying to convey is an accurate one. There was once a time when the Gators and Volunteers were rivals; that time is gone. But even when Tennessee could accurately be called a rival of the Gators, they were never public enemy number one in Gainesville. They were never THE rival; that title belonged to Florida State*. And it has always irked me that no matter how much I hate the Gators, they will never hate me back as much. Having a rival is exciting. Being able to focus all your negative energy, team-related frustrations, and passion into one bad guy is exhilarating. It also creates a sense of unity amongst the fan base.It can even be as simple as, ”You hate Florida? I hate Florida. We now friends.” It also makes game week more exciting, especially with the advent of the interweb. Now I don’t have to be standing next to a Florida fan to talk noise, I can give them the business from the comfort of my own couch. A good, solid rivalry is essential to having a successful college football program; and we don’t have one.
Tennessee needs a rival. Seriously, who hates us as much as we hate them? Georgia? Nope, they hate Florida much more than they hate us. And even back in the late nineties when their hatred of us was at its peak, we beat them like nine straight times, why do we care about Georgia? They were a Jim-Donnan-coached-yearly-guaranteed ass beating. Regardless, it was against Florida that Georgia got that personal foul for excessive celebration, and there is a reason for that. South Carolina? Please. I had hope for this when Spurrier got there but they’ve not been very good in the last several years, and really neither have we. Rivalries are not born from mutual mediocrity. Alabama may be the obvious choice if you want to remain second fiddle to Auburn, and regardless of how terrible Auburn is the Iron Bowl will always be the Iron Bowl. Vanderbilt? Kentucky? C’mon.
Yesterday I’m riding around the Fort I happen to have whatever they’re calling that show with Josh Ward and Chip Kane. Chip had taken a break from ranting about how mediocre a NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. is and they were discussing the possibility of Florida fans singing Rocky Top every time they scored on Tennessee. At first, the thought made me cringe. But the more I got to thinking about it, the less it bothered me. At least they care. Would Florida be talking about a 1-1 Tennessee team if coach Kiffin hadn’t gotten everyone all riled up? No. But you cannot convince me that Urban Meyer is going to beat Tennessee any worse than he already would have because of something Kiffin said in his firstpress conference. Seriously, they’ve scored a combined 89 points against us in the last two years, you think he was holding something back just in case he really got pissed off? So if it doesn’t make Florida beat us worse, what did Kiffin accomplish? He made Florida care again. And that, ladies and gentleman, is where a rivalry is born.
We don’t have to beat Florida Saturday for it to be a succesful weekend. We need to be in the game, we need it to be close; at least for a little while. Florida State is not very good right now. Georgia, in my opinion, is on their way down. We have brash young coach who is recruiting a lot of talent and loves to shoot his mouth off when given the chance. Tennessee/Florida has a real chance to become one of the premier rivalries in college football right now; right up there with Texas/Oklahoma, Michigan/Ohio State and the Iron Bowl. Two brash, young coaches that plainly don’t like the opposing program. They are recruiting some of the best talent in the country and play in the most conference that has produced more national champions than anyone in the past five years. Who wouldn’t want to watch that? Combine that with the fact that Florida’s main rival, Florida State*, is without a real head coach and currently struggling to fight there way out of a Nebraska-type fall from national attention.
If worst comes to worst and Florida hangs fifty on us, and Florida is singing Rocky Top all night long after beating us, remember this Tennessee fans: Southern Cal wasn’t built in a day. We’re probably going to take it on the chin this Saturday, and it could very well be ugly. But we’re going to beat Florida again; hopefully sometime in the next few years. And when we do, it’s going to burn them up. Because Florida cares again.
*Florida State- Seriously, not related to the post but could it be any more obvious that Bobby Bowden needs to go at FSU? Anyone else see the abomination that was his clock management at the end of the Miami game? Yes, I realize they finished in the top five for like fifteen consecutive years in the nineties or whatever, but seriously, it couldn’t be more obvious that the game has blown his doors off as it passed him by. I have no idea how they are still recruiting good athletes.