Dooley: Defining a great game

GAINESVILLE, FL 9-18-99 -- Florida's Alex Brown gets by Tennessee's Josh Tucker during the second half of the game Saturday September 18, 1999 at Florida Field. Brown sacked Tennessee quarterback Tee Martin five times in the game. (Alan Campbell/The Gainesville Sun)

A column, in three acts.

Florida vs. Tennessee

ACT 1 — What is a Great Game?

We all know what happened last year when Feleipe Franks connected on a last-second touchdown with Tyrie Cleveland.

But was it a great game?

You had a great feeling walking out of the stadium if you were a Gator fan. But it was hardly a great game.

It was a great ending. Not a great game.

Two years ago was a much better game. Antonio Callaway’s catch and run came with plenty of time left for Tennessee to get a field goal try. The drama of the first kick missing and Florida calling timeout right before the snap because it had 12 men on the field just added to the tension.

There was so much more substance to that game. And to be a really great game you need a great atmosphere, a great finish, some back-and-forth scoring, excellent coaching on both sides and butterflies hatching in your stomach the whole day.

Like, 1996 wasn’t a great game. Florida was up 35-0 in what felt like 10 minutes. The crowd left at halftime. And the 1998 game wasn’t a great game, because Florida kept coughing the ball up and Tennessee won without a lot of offense.

It was field-storming great for Tennessee, which had lost five straight to UF.

That 1998 team will be honored at the game tonight and it should be for winning a national title. But that wasn’t a great game.

The top 5:

1. 1991 — You can still hear Larry Kennedy’s interception return.

2. 1999 — Defending national champs, meet Alex Brown.

3. 2001 — With what was on the line and the backstory of when it was played and how it went down, man, what a game.

4. 1993 — Florida gave Danny Wuerffel his first start. Nobody in either secondary had a chance.

5. 2004 — The game that eventually sent Ron Zook packing was a doozy. Feel free to disagree.

ACT 2 — The War of Attrition

I’ve written, and others have as well, about why Florida and Tennessee are in this place. They play today with some arguing they are the worst two teams in the SEC, which may be stretching it but not that much.

Of course, the winner will come out of this game proclaiming itself in the middle of the race for Atlanta. But we know better. Just next week, Tennessee goes to Georgia and Florida to Mississippi State.

Heck, both teams may be looking ahead.

But I digress.

If you want to look at reasons why both teams have new coaches and new outlooks, but the same subpar rosters, go back to the 2015 recruiting classes for both teams.

These are the guys who should be — with some JUCO exceptions — seniors or fourth-year juniors, the backbone of any college team.

Tennessee signed 30 players that year and had the No. 4 class. There are 11 players still with the Vols and some of them are still underachieving. Only a handful are starting tonight.

Two of them — UF’s Tommy Townsend and Colorado State’s Preston Williams — were on display in The Swamp last week.

Florida’s class that year, Jim McElwain’s first, was smaller with 21 players. There are 11 of them still around, but that class was the core of last year’s credit card scandal that derailed the season.

There are big names like Cece Jefferson (suspended for the first two games this year), Martez Ivey (who has yet to have a big season) and Jordan Scarlett (suspended all of last season).

But the lack of productivity of that class is one reason Florida is trying to climb out of a hole.

There’s attrition everywhere. But for these two schools, it has been a ruiner of rosters. They are a big part of the reason why you want things to move fast, but it feels like progress is about as fast as the last 10 cents at the pump on a $20 gas purchase.

Intermission — Music by Kenny G.

ACT 3 — The Rivalry Games

Florida must be really good at hating opponents and getting opponents to hate them. Because when the Gators add Miami next season, you could make the argument Florida will have five rivalry games on the schedule.

(I consider LSU to be a rivalry game. We can discuss it over IPAs one day).

The question tonight is where the Tennessee game ranks as a rivalry game. One day, I asked Tim Tebow about it. And he said it probably depends on when you were born.

I say it depends on where you are right now.

If this was 1988, your rivalry list would look like this:

1. FSU.

2. Miami.

3. Georgia.

In 1998, it looked like this:

1. Tennessee.

2. FSU.

3. Georgia.

In 2008:

1. Georgia.

2. Tennessee.

3. FSU.

And today:

1. Georgia.

2. FSU.

3. LSU.

4. Tennessee.

And next year, Miami can slide in the middle.

The point is that rivalries change at a place like Florida. The Gators are good at creating them. And your list is probably different than mine for every decade.

Thank you for coming. Drive home safely.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at And follow at


  1. Much better, Pat. Thank you! Too much history in this rivalry game for us, ”50 and up,” to write up about ratty dogs. And I agree that Florida’s rivalry games change, but many teams HATE FLORIDA. Tennessee is prime example. And my fear is these U.F. players, today, get taken down by sheer emotions passed on by the other team’s fan bases. So…

  2. Great article. My personal rivalry list has always been: 1) FSU 2) UGA 3) Tenn 4) LSU (I guess within the last 15 years). The only thing that’s changed to me is the importance of each game each season. That’s a different ranking though. To me the rivalry list only changes if we stop playing a team every year (ie Miami or Auburn)

  3. Great article, Pat. My idea about the hatred is we live in the fastest growing state, which produces more colleges and universities. Then, its easy to hate “Big Brother”. I’ve been around this program a long time and there was a time when we didn’t hate FSU but they always hated us and wanted to beat us. Remember the drum thay used to beat around the clock before our game? I always wanted their success but not anymore. Miami has never been a rivalry–not really! Even when we played them annually! At least the hatred wasn’t there. That leaves Georgia. We have always hated them and they gladly returned the favor. It is a true rivalry game, played at a neutral site which is always the best. When I used to go to Jax, their fans were not violent but obnoxious–always loud and cheering for the Dawgs. We always seemed to get along at tailgating, though. Now, concerning Tenn. They have none of that. Vandy is not a rivalry—sorta like Miami to us. Alabama is a true rivalry I guess, but I don’t see the ugliness with it. Then that leaves us. It only started when we played them every year. Before that, no rivalry at all. 2 rivalries is enough for any team and I say that’s all we have. That LSU thing is hurricane related.

  4. The biggest rivalries to me come when a team is standing in the way of what I want. Miami doesn’t amount to much for me because we don’t play them enough. Tennessee is no longer standing in the way or trying to stand in the way of SEC titles. We are standing in our own way. I also feel the ever changing coaches has taken away some of the mojo. It was spurrier versus Fulmer. Pell versus Dooley (anyone versus Dooley). Spurrier versus Bowden.

    I am surprised more hasn’t been made of the coaches this year as we have a Saban disciple versus an Urban disciple. Hopefully we can all keep some coaches so it can start being about culture versus culture and style versus style, which adds a lot for me. Right now for us I would say our biggest rival is the man in the mirror. Or maybe our own cheerleaders who bring 5 times the passion and commitment as most of our players these days.

  5. As one of those “Over 50” guys, my list from the pre Spurrier days was 1. Georgia 2. FSU 3. Miami and/or Auburn. Times and rivals change and evolve (LSU), but the one thing all long time Gators can agree on, is that the Gators have more different rivalries (Ie: fan bases that hate us) than any school in the SEC, maybe even the country.

  6. Disagree on 1996 game, one of many Knoxville games I’ve attended. If you recall, the Tennessee Media had declared it the “most important sporting event in the history of the State of Tennessee”, Payton “Little god Manning” verses Danny Wuerfull and the OHBC and +107K attendance. Pregame, it couldn’t have been bigger. It started on the first drive, 3rd & 15, the OHBC called time out and finally told Danny “lets just see if they’re in the right coverage”. They sort of were, but Danny lobbed it to the center of the end zone to Redeil…the TD flood gates had once again opened. If, Danny hadn’t thrown an interception during the 6th straight drive, there would have been 10K Gators watching the game by themselves. ALL the UT people were in total disbelieve, ready to leave after just 20 minutes. OHBC took the air out of the ball in the second half, only throwing 5 passes. It was glorious to Gator Fans. Too bad you and Robbie count yourselves neutral, LOL. It was a great game, full of nerves both ways.

    (1) Always UGA
    (2) Holes
    (3) UT

  7. I was Born in 88′. Realize, that football awareness kicks in around 6 or 7 years old, in the right household. 9 or 10, in some cases. That said:

    1a .FSU
    1b. Tenn
    3. Miami
    4. UGA

    Bowden got the best of Spurrier, while FSU was the best program in the country, with the exception of Nebraska. Every other friend you had growing up near Gainesville, was a Nole, on the 90’s. Trash talk, constantly, back and forth.

    Phil Fulmer and the UT faithful, were just plain annoying. Not to mention, the 9/11, reschedule loss in the swamp without Earnest Graham, the year Rex should have won the heisman. The game winning field goals, misses, and Hail Clausen. Bit to mention the game meant basically everything in the SEC, for a decade.

    Miami fans are just annoying. They only care when their team is good, and there are plenty of folks from Miami in the Gainesville area. Worst fans.

    Georgia has only been relevant twice, prior to recent history, and since Spurrier became HBC. Even Ron Zook, owned UGA. Urban reinvigorated that rivalry.

    Some people my age hate LSU and Bama, but I personally respect those two schools and their football traditions.

    My two cents.