Ferris wheels and funnel cakes have made their way into Warren County. For most folk, that means it’s time for the fair. But for those who bleed orange, it usually means it’s Florida week for the Vols.
Indeed, the Vols and Gators will once again be tangling in an early season matchup that usually has year-long ramifications in the SEC East. This coming Saturday, if hurricanes don’t postpone the contest, Tennessee will travel to Gainesville in search of its first win in The Swamp since 2003.
The rivalry between the Gators and Vols has been a roller coaster, but only one of those where you crawl up a steep incline for what feels like hours of anticipation, only to plummet 200 feet down in an instant. That’s what playing in The Swamp is like for the Vols -- a slow, steady build of hope which seems to vanish in an instant.
For many of the losses, dreams of winning last about as long as a cheeseburger from a Midway booth lasts around me. The Gators won five home games from 2005 to 2013 by a combined 82 points.
Florida has been the pageant queen and the Tennessee was left as first runner-up. Sometimes it seemed like it couldn’t get worse for the Vols. Then 2015 happened.
Two years ago, the Vols needed only to survive a 4th and 14 to taste victory. Instead, Antonio Calloway caught a 62-yard TD pass to clinch a sixth straight home win, and the 11th consecutive victory overall. It was like biting into a caramel apple, only if it was actually an onion.
Fueled by their home crowd, the Gators are the Himalaya. They always want to go faster. They want to make the Vols scream. In Gainesville, Tennessee feels like a merry-go-round. The Vols get up, they go down, get turned round-and-round and end up in the same spot. Even worse, there’s no goldfish to take home for the effort. Just another loss.
Last year, Tennessee may have finally flipped things. The Vols fell behind 21-3, but Joshua Dobbs wouldn’t let his team lose. Dobbs found the checkerboards five times in the second half, four by air and one by ground, to power the Vols to a 38-28 win.
Perhaps this is the year Tennessee ends its futility in The Swamp. The Gators, coming off a 33-17 loss to Michigan, look like a broken bumper car waiting to be plowed over. The Vols only need to spin the wheel in the right direction.
Maybe this is year the Vols are ready to be the Himalaya. If not, the merry-go-round is always waiting.