By Eric L. Taylor
Contributor, Checkerboard Chatter
(Author’s Note: CBC is obviously not a site that focuses on NFL football. There are UT fans who don’t care for the NFL and Titans fans who prefer the NFL over college football. However, this post is targeted at the many whose loyalties overlap the two entities that represent the Volunteer state.)
Merriam-Webster defines the word feud as a mutual enmity or quarrel that is often prolonged or inveterate. When looking at strong feuds through the lens of history, the stories are often enthralling tales that grow in intensity as the years pass by. Examples are plenty, but just to name a few….. Samson vs. the Philistines, Austin Idol vs. Jerry Lawler, and of course the Hatfields vs. the McCoys. Two of the aforementioned feuds led to death and destruction while the other led to a crushed set of balls (Austin Idol and Tommy “Wildfire” Rich racked “The King” on the ring post at the Mid-South Coliseum for all of you non-Memphis rasslin fans). Hate is a strong word that I don’t throw around lightly, but it can be applied in all three of the provided examples.
When football schedules are announced, most teams (college and NFL) can circle multiple “rivalry games” on the schedule. For example, Tennessee has historically strong rivalries with Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky and Vanderbilt. On the NFL side for the Volunteer state, the Titans have forged strong rivalries with current divisional foes Indianapolis, Jacksonville and Houston. All of these match ups for both the Vols and Titans are surely strong rivalry games. While this is the case, there are those games in my opinion that are ratcheted up an extra notch. Those such games are “feud games”. I contend that the Vols and Titans are both matched up in their respective feud games this weekend.
The last twenty years or so of the UT vs. Florida feud has been heavily documented on our site as well as across the spectrum of print media, Internet, radio, TV and fan chatter. Florida has been the victor in the lion’s share of the contests, even winning all four battles during the Peyton Manning years. If you have forgotten that fact, just listen to Steve Spurrier talk for fifteen minutes. He’s bound to bring it up; in fact, I heard him reference “beating Peyton Manning four times” just last week. From a Volunteer fan’s perspective, there have been plenty of villains such as Spurrier, Danny Wuerffel, Tim Tebow, Urban Meyer and Jabar Gaffney. There have also been plenty of heroes such as Al Wilson, Tee Martin and James Wilhoit. The most triumphant moment for the heroes in orange came in ’98 when the Vols defeated #2 Florida 20-17 in OT. The Vols would go onto win the first BCS National Championship. I’ll never forget watching that Florida/UT game.
I have never witnessed a game in “The Swamp”. Even so, I have heard horror stories from UT fans who while wearing Big Orange in Gainesville during UT/Florida weekends have supposedly had urine thrown on them and gotten into fist fights. Tickets at restaurants are “lost” before food arrives at the table 45 minutes later, and cops aren’t exactly “Officer Friendly” types. The same type of shenanigans happen in Knoxville as well. I have seen Florida fans get doused with beer, and I was in Neyland Stadium when whiskey bottles were raining down on the field after the botched Palmer to Gaffney call. The officials had to run for cover to avoid being injured. Do I condone any of this fan behavior? No. Am I calling it like I see it? Yes. Are such stories an example of a rivalry or feud? I say feud.
While the Ravens/Titans feud has probably cooled a bit over the past few years, I would still venture to say that during the short history of the Oilers/Titans franchise in the city of Nashville, that pairing has been the strongest overall feud. (How bout that for a run-on sentence?) There have been villains such as Ray Lewis, Brian Billick and Ed Reed. There have also been heroes such as Eddie George, Frank Wycheck and Jeff Fisher. There have even been those who have lined up on both sides of the feud such as the late, great Steve McNair and Derrick Mason.
Much like the Gators/Vols, the NFL team from the Volunteer state has had its moments in the feud, but the nemesis (Ravens) typically gets the upper hand (in playoffs). You don’t have to look any further than the playoff game in January ’01 to see the Titans’ frustration. The 13-3 Titans had secured home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs but succumbed to “Ray Ray” and his renegade band of Ravens 24-10 in the Divisional Playoffs. Ray Lewis sealed this game with an interception returned for a touchdown after a McNair pass caromed off Eddie George and into the hands of Lewis. Titans fans had to endure a second home playoff loss to the Ravens after the ’08 season. This team, like the ’00 team was 13-3. The final score was 13-10 in favor of the Ravens, and three Titans turnovers were to blame.
The brightest spot for the Titans in this feud came in the “Charm City”, not Nashville. After the ’03 playoffs on January 3, 2004, the Titans gutted out a hard fought 20-17 win in the AFC Wild Card playoffs. The play that summed up the high feud level of this contest was a run by Eddie George where he planted Ray Lewis and then proceeded to get in Ray’s face to tell him all about it after the play was over. Like the final seconds of the Vols’ win over the Gators in ’98, I will never forget where I was when that play happened. That play is one that shows the level of this match up is a feud and not a rivalry.
Just like the UT and Florida fans, fans of the Ravens and Titans have had their share of run-ins. As referenced earlier, there have been three occasions where a team has won a playoff game on the opponent’s home field. These moments have led to some testy fan exchanges. Again, my contention, it’s a feud and not a rivalry.
How will this weekend play out? The Vols play at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday, and the Titans host the Ravens at LP Field on Sunday. Coach Dooley has the Vols on the rise with a potent offense and swagger not seen from a UT bunch in quite some time. This is the best chance the Vols have had vs. the Gators in years. The Titans, on the other hand, are rebuilding with new pieces at head coach, quarterback and both coordinator spots. Also, they have a rusty (not Smith) franchise running back in Chris Johnson. A win is unlikely, but you know the saying in the NFL….. “any given Sunday”. Where will I be this weekend? I’ll be in the stands at LP Field on Sunday. For all the UT fans making the trek to Gainesville, good luck avoiding the alleged urine filled “water balloons”. Only in a feud game…….
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