Let me start with one simple statement: I hate that song Rocky Top! I hate it with every fiber in my body. I hate it for what it represents today and the past frequency which it was played. If you are a Gator and you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it one too many times. You can’t stop the Tennessee band from playing that song before games and at halftime, but every Gator defense should strive never to hear that song after a touchdown or a field goal…EVER!
Of course, you know what that means – shutouts! I can’t think of anyone worth shutting out more than the Tennessee Vols.
My hate for that song starts with a miserable rainy night in Neyland Stadium back in 1990. The day began with a rotten note – we were banned for a bowl because of stuff that happened before any of us on the 1990 team were even at Florida. So, yeah, someone tell me that the NCAA is all about student-athletes, fairness and all that crap.
The day ended with Tennessee sticking it to us, 45-7, on the field and Dale Carter and Alvin Harper queuing up that damn song. Let’s just say I had no reason to hate Tennessee before that day but I had plenty of reason to hate them after it was over. The plane ride back to Gainesville was miserable.
Needless to say, I have a long memory. So does Steve Spurrier. You know he had Tennessee circled on his calendar in 1991. The week of the Tennessee game the Ole’ Ball Coach was more intense than ever and so were the practices. I felt bad for Shane Matthews. Coach Spurrier reminded him every day during the week about every single thing he had done wrong in 1.3 years of being our starting quarterback. Coach wanted this one bad and he made sure we wanted it as bad as he did.
Paybacks are hell.
Over on defense, we probably got the simplest game plan we’d ever gotten from The Zooker (defensive coordinator Ron Zook). It was all about paying attention to where (Tennessee All-American wide receiver) Carl Pickens was. Zooker wanted us to be in his head and in his jock the second he broke the huddle.
Other than the three face mask penalties that I had to run for that week, I remember the two freshmen lined up on my side of the defensive huddle. I expected #3 (Larry Kennedy) and #57 (Kevin Carter) to be in awe of the big stage but that ain’t what happened. I can still hear #3 talking trash starting from the moment we took the field for warmups. There was #57, smiling like he just won the lottery. They weren’t the least bit intimidated and they both played like they had been there before.
I got to admit, at one point I had to ask Kennedy to hush. Didn’t work. He was running his mouth again next series.
As for #57, he was a stud that night. One of the best things about lining up deep at linebacker is that you get to see your defensive line at work. This wasn’t just any defensive line. This was probably the best one UF ever had. Nearly the entire group – both starters and backups – played in the NFL. Harvey Thomas, Brad Culpeper, Tony McCoy, Ellis Johnson, Darren Mickle, Kevin Carter, William Gaines, Michael Brandon … and if I’m missing someone, forgive the slight. Those were men.
That night against Tennessee, they couldn’t run inside or outside because the D-line just kept stuffing them and making sure they didn’t have anywhere to go. They made the ball bounce and it was simply clean up time for the linebackers. All I could think about the whole game when I was filling the alley behind Carter was, “Dayum … that freshman’s pretty good!” He just dish-ragged that Tennessee tackle. And he was so nice and so well spoken. Still is.
By the time the second half started, Tennessee was totally frustrated. They started throwing these swing passes in the flats to slow down the rush and get ball to their backs hoping to break a tackle or two. That didn’t work either. Lawrence Hatch and I had some very good shots on them. Their offensive design sucked and you could see everything coming.
They got behind and had to try to throw intermediate and deep routes and we shut them down. Our guys in the back were ready. I think Del Speery and Will White had interceptions but the one that was the squirrel killer was Larry’s pick six.
We won that game, 35-18, to go 4-0 in the SEC. We beat FSU in The Swamp, 14-9, that year and we won the first SEC championship that actually counted. It was a great year but the game that really put us on the map was beating Tennessee.
Funny, I didn’t hear them play Rocky Top too much that night.