I hate the Tennessee Volunteers.
Is it the eye-scorching insult that is their burnt orange logo? It's the visual equivalent of fingernails on a chalk board.
Is it the general use of foul language they welcome our players with when they come to Neyland Stadium?
I'm not really sure where it started. It's not like the Vols were particularly successful against Alabama earlier in my life when Bear Bryant was the coach.
Later on, when I was in school, it seemed every season the Tennessee program would be riding high until they met the Tide, then after a Crimson thumping they would return to whatever dog house they came from.
Seemingly forgettable players would rise up to hammer the Vols. In 1987, Jeff Dunn had one of his best days in his unremarkable Alabama career, completing 10 of 17 passes for 229 yards to trounce the Vols 41-22.
Later, Dunn gave way to Gary Hollingsworth, who lit up the unbeaten Vols for 379 yards on route to a 47-30 victory.
Things began to change in the mid 1990s.
Alabama, reeling from NCAA sanctions, lost to Tennessee 41-14. It was the first loss in almost a decade.
Alabama would go on to lose to the Volunteers 10 out of the next 12 seasons.
The only respites from the pain were in 2002, when Dennis Franchione's squad handled the Vols in Knoxville to break the seven-game streak.
Then in 2005, Roman Harper jarred the ball loose from a UT running back just as he was about to stick the last nail in the coffin. Brody Croyle marched the Tide down the field to take the win. The victory marked one of only two significant wins for coach Mike Shula.
The troubles between the Tide and Volunteers were not limited to the field. Then-Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer was a central figure in the investigation that led to Alabama's second and most damaging NCAA sanctions.
Depending on what you read, the conspiracy to take down Alabama could have even involved FBI field offices in Tennessee.
Alabama apparently had problems, and it is unlikely they were completely innocent. But the NCAA hammered the Tide with a voracity they have displayed with no other program to date.
Alabama spent the 2004 through the 2007 seasons taking it on the chin week in and week out thanks to the damage caused by the NCAA and by association the Tennessee program.
In 2007 things were changing however.
I was so used to losing to the ugly orange that I went on a motorcycle ride that day instead. My cousin called me to tell me the Tide were delivering a beat-down to Tennessee. I didn't believe him. This was prior to my first DVR, so until I received a commemorative CD of the game that Christmas I could hardly believe it.
Nick Saban's arrival at Alabama would mark the end of Tennessee's dominance of the series and the end of Phil Fulmer in Knoxville.
Alabama has dominated the game with the exception of the 2009 contest.
In that contest, Alabama controlled the game until the final quarter. Then Mark Ingram—who never fumbled—fumbled. Tennessee marched down field and scored.
Alabama failed to do anything with the ball and, after punting, Tennessee marched down field again to get into scoring position.
I was at the game and my legs grew weak and I sat down. Alabama had national championship aspirations—how could they all end to this Tennessee team?
It took all my strength to pull myself back up for the final play, hoping beyond hope that the field goal would be bad. In fact, it never had a chance. Alabama's Mount Cody crushed the kick for the second time that day. Alabama went on to win their 13th national title.
Saturday, Alabama and Tennessee meet for the 94th time. Alabama is a heavy favorite. None of that will matter once the helmets strap on.
There is no score high enough, no humiliation public enough, no embarrassing beat down hard enough, no victory complete enough to quench my thirst for hating Tennessee.
In fact, the only limit to my hatred is that no matter how much I hate Tennessee, I hate Auburn just a little bit more.
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