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Flashback: 20 seasons ago, Steve Spurrier’s Gators upset Tennessee

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Was it ever this sweet? Was it ever this hyped?

Was Florida ever unbeaten, taking on a highly regarded Tennessee team? Was there ever a Vol quarterback like Joshua Dobbs? Could this game be any bigger?

Well, yes. It could.

Florida and Tennessee both have been good in a lot of years of their history. There have been close games, and lopsided games, and games when each got past the other on the way to the national championship. But was Florida-Tennessee ever any sweeter that it was 20 seasons ago, back in 1996?

More people saw that game – 107,608 – than had ever seen a college game before. The Vols were ranked No. 2 in the nation. Steve Spurrier’s Gators were ranked No. 4. Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning was the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy.

And the Gators started the game with a wallop.

Oh, you can point to a lot of Manning’s games against the Gators as signature moments. He never beat Florida. But this one seems particuarly apt. Tennessee was favored, after all.

Instead, Florida scored 35 points in the first 21 minutes of the game. Oh, Manning was huge, throwing 65 times and completing passes for 492 yards. But he also threw four interceptions, two of them at the goal line. Looking back, that game probably cost him his best chance at a Heisman. The Vols had only nine yards net rushing that day.

And Florida? The Gators held off Tennessee’s late comeback to win 35-29, and afterward, kept winning. They beat rival FSU in the Sugar Bowl that year for their first national championship game. Danny Wuerffel threw four touchdown passes that day, although his stats weren’t gaudy.

Tennessee finished that season ranked No. 9.

Gary Shelton is one of the most recognized and honored sportswriters in the history of the state. He has won the APSE's national columnist of the year twice and finished in the top 10 eight times. He was named the Florida Sportswriter of the Year six times. Gary joined SaintPetersBlog in the spring, helping to bring a sports presence to the website. Over his time in sports writing, Gary has covered 29 Super Bowls, 10 Olympics, Final Fours, Masters, Wimbledons and college national championships. He was there when the Bucs won a Super Bowl, when the Lightning won a Stanley Cup and when the Rays went to a World Series. He has seen Florida, FSU and Miami all win national championships, and he covered Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden and Don Shula along the way. He and his wife Janet have four children: Eric, Kevin, K.C. and Tori. To contact, visit

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