With Tennessee coming off seven consecutive losses to Florida, no one can relate to the Vols' frustration more so than their first-year running backs coach.
Jay Graham was the starting tailback on a Big Orange squad that entered the 1995 Alabama game with an 0-8-1 record in the previous nine meetings. Tennessee's players were acutely aware of the streak as they prepared for the '95 game in Birmingham.
"We were aware of it," Graham conceded, "but we knew it came down to one game. We knew we had to take it one play at a time. At least, that's the way I remember it. It's been a long time."
Just as Florida (No. 18) and Tennessee (No. 23) are ranked heading into their 2012 meeting, Alabama (No. 12) and Tennessee (No. 6) were ranked heading into their 1995 showdown.
Knowing Bama players felt they owned Tennessee, the '95 Vols hoped to shake the Tide's confidence by landing a big punch early. An 80-yard touchdown hookup between Peyton Manning and Joey Kent on the game's opening scrimmage play did the trick, spurring the Vols to a 21-0 first-quarter lead that eventually produced a 41-14 romp.
"It was a great game, and that first play did a lot to set the tempo and the tone for that game," Graham recalled, smiling at the recollection.
Although he is too humble to admit it, Graham played a pivotal role in that dramatic victory. On the first snap after a Tide touchdown narrowed the gap to 28-14 late in the third quarter, he took a handoff and raced 75 yards around right end for a backbreaking TD that emphatically ended nine years of Bama domination.
A few hundred Tennessee fans who showed up for the game marked the occasion by storming Legion Field's playing surface at the final gun. Several paid for their exuberance when Alabama security personnel began whacking them with billy clubs. Still, the ugly post-game scene failed to nullify the magnitude of that Tide-turning triumph. The Vols went on to beat Bama in 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2001, building a seven-game winning streak of their own in the series.
As much as coaches like to talk about each opponent being "just another game," beating Bama for the first time in nearly a decade was a defining moment for Tennessee's program back in '95.
"Oh, it meant a lot — just to see the (visiting Vol) fans in the corner of the end zone and the feeling we had after that game," Graham said, nodding emphatically. "I guess you could say it lifted a weight off our shoulders."
Perhaps the 2012 Vols will lift a weight off their shoulders by beating Florida Saturday night at Neyland Stadium. Maybe they'll even do it as emphatically as the '95 Vols did against Alabama.
No doubt that would give Jay Graham a pleasant feeling of deja vu.
Have a look at Graham's memorable run against the Crimson Tide in this highlight video courtesy UTSports.com (at the 42-second mark):