Head coaches Phillip Fulmer
and Steve Spurrier
HAVE history. They collided 10 times while Spurrier was head man at Florida
, with the winner usually going on to win the SEC title and contend for the national title.
Spurrier trumped Fulmer seven times in those 10 meetings but seemed to enjoy taunting the Vol coach even more than beating him. He loved pointing out that Fulmer lost despite higher-ranked recruiting classes. Noting Tennessee's penchant for finishing second to the Gators and settling for Citrus Bowl bids, Spurrier quipped that "You can't spell Citrus without UT." Paired with Lady Vol basketball coach Pat Summitt in a celebrity golf outing one time, Spurrier wisecracked that he was eager to spend time with "a Tennessee coach that wins championships."
Being a proud man, Fulmer surely found these barbs insulting. Other than referring to his long-time foe as "Steve Superior," however, the Vol coach declined to retaliate. He gained some sweet revenge on Dec. 1, 2001, however, when his 18-point underdog Vols shocked a second-ranked Florida team 34-32 in Gainesville, costing the Gators a shot at the national title and handing Spurrier a loss in his final home game.
The Spurrier-Fulmer rivalry cooled while the former endured an ill-fated tenure as head coach of the NFL's Washington Redskins, but it cranked up again last fall. Spurrier's Gamecocks kicked a last-minute field goal to beat Fulmer's homestanding Vols 16-15, prompting UT offensive coordinator Randy Sanders to resign.
Although Spurrier isn't nearly as outspoken at Carolina as he was at Florida, he still has an 8-3 head-to-head record against Fulmer and a reputation as the Vol coach's arch-nemesis. That makes the coaching match-up for Saturday night's UT-SC game in Columbia a story in itself.
Fulmer, however, is reluctant to contribute to that story. He brushes off suggestions that facing Spurrier is anything special.
"He's not going to play any," Fulmer deadpanned.
Since last year's loss to the Gamecocks was a real heart-breaker, Fulmer was asked if that makes Saturday night's rematch a "payback game" for Tennessee. The Vol coach chuckled before responding:
"Last year they did what they needed to do to win. We had some bad luck with fumbling into the end zone and things like that. I don't know about payback games and stuff like that."
He'll never admit it, but Fulmer would love nothing better than to whip the Gamecocks Saturday night and humble "Steve Superior" in front of his home fans. That's the way it works with rivalries such as Ali-Frazier, Russell-Chamberlain, Yankees-Red Sox and Bears-Vikings.
Muhammad Ali had Joe Frazier. Bill Russell had Wilt Chamberlain. The Yankees have the Red Sox. The Bears have the Vikings. The great rivalries always feature two competitors with some history, and that's what makes Saturday night's Tennessee-South Carolina football game special.
Fulmer vs. Spurrier