Originally created 09/17/99

Winning in Gainesville next major hurdle for Volunteers



KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- One by one, Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer's teams have toppled their demons.

First they overcame the Alabama Jinx, ending a decade of Tide dominance with four straight victories. In 1997 they won the Southeastern Conference title for the first time since 1990, then won it again last year.

Last year they finally beat Florida and won the national championship for the first time in 47 years.

The challenges never stop, though. On Saturday, the No. 2 Volunteers can do something no Tennessee team has done in the players' lifetimes.

They can beat No. 4 Florida in Gainesville.

It's a tall order. Since Steve Spurrier returned to his alma mater in 1990, the Gators have lost at home exactly twice in 57 games. The last time was Oct. 15, 1994, a stretch of 29 home games, the longest home winning streak in the nation.

The two losses were to an Auburn team that won nine games, and to eventual national champion Florida State in 1993.

"There's always going to be something else to do. I've learned that," Fulmer said when asked if winning in Gainesville was the last major hurdle for his program. "You're never completely finished. Obviously, that's our short-term goal."

Tennessee has been to Gainesville only six times since its last win there in 1971; the teams played only sporadically until 1990.

"We've been fortunate around here to be successful the last five or six years, since coach Fulmer became the head coach, but winning in Gainesville is one thing he hasn't done," quarterback Tee Martin said. "We look forward to the opportunity and feel like we're prepared to meet the challenge."

Actually, Fulmer is the only guy in the Tennessee camp who has won in Gainesville; he was a player on the '71 team.

Since this became a seriously heated rivalry with the expansion of the SEC, which put Tennessee and Florida into the same division, The Swamp has been a graveyard for the Vols.

In 1993 Tennessee had more yards but also more turnovers and lost 41-34.

In 1995 the Vols led 30-14 in the first half before the Gators roared back with 48 straight points in a 62-37 victory. It was Tennessee's only loss that season, and it cost them a shot at the league title and a place in the bowl alliance.

In 1997 Florida again gave up more yards than it gained, but won the turnover battle and the game, 33-20.

"Their players are what makes it a tough place to play, mostly," Fulmer said.

The Tennessee players don't necessarily see winning in Gainesville as an end in itself.

"Gainesville is a big deal," said wide receiver Cedrick Wilson. " It's a big deal for coach Fulmer and coach (Randy) Sanders and people who have been at Tennessee a long time. For me it's just another game. I want to line up and beat my man on every play. I want to win every football game I play."

Said punter David Leaverton: "After winning the national championship you've jumped over most hurdles. We haven't won at Florida in a long time, but it's just another away game. You've got another hurdle every week."

Senior defensive tackle Darwin Walker summed up how the Vols look at interim goals when he said:

"We want to win every game. We've got to play Georgia just as hard as we play Florida, and South Carolina just as hard as we play Georgia. If we win the national championship again, that's when I'll say we've accomplished something."