More than smack: Beating Tennessee has become part of Gators’ identity
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Through good times and bad times, one big rivalry game has been a guaranteed W on Florida’s schedule: Tennessee.
While the term “swag” has been overused in sports in recent years, the Gators’ 11-game winning streak over the Volunteers gives the team an undeniable swagger. It’s not just smack talk or social media barbs, it’s a big part of Florida’s identity.
Take Marcus Maye. The Florida safety is hardly known as a big talker. When fall camp was winding down, he was asked what games he was looking the most forward to this season.
“Definitely the LSU and Florida State games for me,” Maye said in August. “Just because we’ve haven’t beaten those guys in a while. Those games mean the most, to play against a great team.”
It had to be asked: What about Tennessee?
Maye chuckled, knowing he had set himself up to address the streak.
“I mean, Tennessee is Tennessee,” Maye said. “Obviously we’re going to be excited to go there. Everybody’s been on the hype train for them. We know what we’re going to do.”
Until the final score says otherwise, the Gators know they’re going to win. It happens every year. It’s guaranteed like the sun rising in the east or Kanye West throwing a tantrum at an awards show.
The Gators can’t say the same about many other opponents. As Maye stated, it’s been awhile – 2012 to be exact – since the Gators beat LSU or FSU. As a member of the 4-8 squad from 2013, he remembers losing to Georgia, Missouri, South Carolina and Vanderbilt – but not Tennessee.
No matter the circumstance, Florida beats Tennessee – at least it’s been that way the past 11 years. Twice in the past three years backup quarterbacks have come off the bench (Tyler Murphy in 2013, Treon Harris in 2014) to keep the streak alive for the Gators. Two years ago, unreliable kicker Austin Hardin (a career 16-of-36 field goals made) made a 49-yard field goal that helped lift UF to a 10-9 victory.
The combination of Florida’s streak over Tennessee along with the media’s offseason hype of the Volunteers gives the Gators a chip-on-their-shoulder mentality that complements their confidence. They’re well aware that the media picked the Vols to win the SEC East this season, and it serves as the perfect source of motivation.
At the top of Luke Del Rio’s Twitter page, there’s a pinned tweet from July 12. It’s a photo of an ESPNU broadcast that shows Florida, Georgia and Tennessee’s chance to win the SEC East based on ESPN’s Football Power Index. The Vols are No. 1 with 57 percent, Georgia No. 2 with 30 percent and Florida No. 3 with 10 percent.
— Luke Del Rio (@Ldelrio12) July 12, 2016
Del Rio tweeted the photo without adding any of his own words. Nothing needed to be said. As long as Tennessee gets the media hype, the Gators will feel disrespected.
In Gainesville, Florida fans will tell you it feels like Tennessee is the media darling every year, seemingly in defiance of the 11-year streak. It’s an attitude that can be felt around campus, and certainly picked up on when listening to Gators players.
But when game week comes around, all the offseason talk takes a backseat for those who will actually play the game.
“I mean all summer, you’ve been hearing about Tennessee and stuff like that. You know, social media wars and all that kind of stuff,” Maye said Monday. “You know, it’s here. All the talk is pretty much over with now. You have to go out and play the game. There’s going to be excitement and stuff like that. We’re all excited to go out to Knoxville.”
Maye’s teammate, Jarrad Davis, said he stands by his SEC Media Days comments that Florida-Tennessee is “always one of the funnest games of the year” because it’s a Gator victory, but he doesn’t plan to fuel the Vols’ fire during game week.
“I said it at SEC Media Days and if I say it, I’m standing by it,” Davis said. “I’m not really going to go out and try to stir up any more drama or say anything else that can probably be spun in a different way. I’m just going to tell you that when we go to work, this week with my teammates, and we’re going to try to put something together that’s going to be very special on Saturday.”
The past 11 meetings between Florida and Tennessee have certainly been special – for the Gators. And they’ll remind everyone of it until they wind up on the other side of the final score.