Florida vs. Tennessee: Why the Game Is No Longer a Rivalry

Neil ShulmanCorrespondent ISeptember 17, 2012

KNOXVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 15: Jeff Driskel #6 of the Florida Gators breaks free from A.J. Johnson #45 of the Tennessee Volunteers during the second half of play at Neyland Stadium on September 15, 2012 in Knoxville, Tennessee.    (Photo by John Sommers II/Getty Images)
John Sommers II/Getty Images

The Florida Gators had a different quarterback taking snaps and a new offensive coordinator. The Tennessee Volunteers had a new defensive coordinator. A new TV station was broadcasting the game.

The result was still the same.

Boosted by a lights-out second-half performance by the defense, a few big plays by the offense and forcing two turnovers, the Gators sent Volunteers fans slinking off of Rocky Flop. Or maybe the Jeff Foxworthy show was on?

See, that's the problem. Taking shots at Tennessee like that was fun in the 1990's and maybe even the early to middle parts of the last decade.

Now, it's just a formality. Very few of the jokes Florida fans tell each other—or Vols fans—are original because they have had eight years to think of them. Imagine, eight years to create the funniest jokes you can think of.

But that's not even the main reason why this isn't a rivalry anymore. More than enjoying the satisfaction of winning, a rivalry game is one that you want to win because you don't want to hear it from the fans of the opposing team.

Under that definition, Georgia, Florida State, Alabama, LSU, Miami, and even Auburn and South Carolina would all be considered ahead of Tennessee for the title of Florida's rival.

Beating Tennessee no longer carries the joy of rubbing it into their fans because they're so used to it by now. This win was big for the Gators because it was a road win in the SEC. It gave Florida a nice 2-0 start in SEC play and a 1-0 record against the East division.

That was it.

Sure, a solid three or four-game win streak is not unusual for a rivalry. But once you hit five straight for a team, it's not really a rivalry anymore. Instead, it's a one-way series and the only way to reclaim the rivalry is for the other team to rip off three straight wins, or four out of five. Something to prove that they can dominate for a while.



News flash, Tennessee. Your losing streak against the Gators isn't three, four or even five games.

It's eight.

That's a long time in college football. There have been a combined five head coaches for these two teams since the streak began in 2005.

Perhaps that is when you can tell that a rivalry is really over: When a team goes from top of the world with one coach, slowly drops down to mediocrity and then hits rock bottom with a new coach and a new system in place before rising back up again under the new coach. And through it all, they win every single game in the rivalry.

Go back on the old days of Urban Meyer, the spread offense, Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin, Brandon James and letting Tennessee score their 20 points so Florida could triple that total (2007). Everything went right in those days. Tebow could keep the ball and punish defenders on a 12-yard run or he could flip it out to Percy, who would get 15 yards every time. Or he could throw it deep to Riley Cooper, Louis Murphy, Bubba Caldwell or Aaron Hernandez. Remember those days?

2005 to 2009 were the glory years under Urban Meyer, featuring five straight wins over the Vols, ranging from close (21-20) to moral victories for Tennessee (16-7 and 23-13) to embarrassing (30-6) to total domination by Florida (59-20).

Many thought that without Meyer's offensive toys, Florida would struggle. They did, and mightily, but not enough that they would be challenged by Tennessee. One of the most comical misfits in the world (if you're not a Florida fan) was John Brantley in the spread. Yet he went to Knoxville and hung 31 points on the Tennessee defense, one better than Tim Tebow and the 2008 BCS Championship team put on the Vols two years earlier.



Enter Will Muschamp's power offense in 2011, which still wasn't a great fit for Brantley but was certainly better than the spread. Tennessee forgot to watch Chris Rainey, who wound up blocking a punt, zigzagging his way through the UT defense for an 83-yard TD and amassing 212 total yards on just 23 touches. Florida won 33-23.

Then came this year's game. Tennessee started out strong and it looked like they would finally break the streak at home. They led 20-13 late in the third quarter before collapsing and letting Florida rack up 24 unanswered points to crush the Volunteers, 37-20. 

Eight different years, eight different games. The Volunteers have lost each of them in a different way. 

Oh Rocky Flop, you'll always be, the Gators' mid-September feast, good, ole Rocky Flop, bid farewell to the SEC East...

Sing that parody of Rocky Top, Gators fans. Did you notice how it's not as fun now as it was a few years ago?

That's how you know that this game is no longer a rivalry.