It was my first time in Neyland Stadium and after James Wilhoit kicked that 50 yard field goal, it was the loudest I've ever heard a stadium up to that point. And, truth be told, it remains so.
I still don't think the Gators should have lost that game. A questionable penalty, to say the least, on Dallas Baker led to the officiating crew not starting the clock, which allowed the Volunteers more time for their game-winning drive. But I chalked that up as karma for Jabar Gaffney's "catch" a few years earlier, and moved on.
But beginning the very next year, something amazing happened: A win over the Vols turned into a winning streak that has now gone on for ten straight meetings.
Over the course of my last five trips to Neyland Stadium, I keep hearing the same things:
"This is the year."
"We'll get you this time."
"It ends today."
Upon entering the stadium yesterday, I thought they had a very good chance of finally being right. I'll admit it. I just had that feeling: Despite their youth, and the fact that they're still looking for a signature win in the Butch Jones era, the Vols had a very good chance of winning.
I didn't spend as much time as I'd have liked to in the tailgate scene this year. Most of that was due to the noon kickoff, but as a quick side note: if you ever get the opportunity to tailgate with the Vol Navy on the Tennessee River, do it. You will not be disappointed.
As for the actual game, well, defense wins, baby.
I remember sitting there at the beginning thinking that things might be okay because we were slowly winning the field position game thanks to Kyle Christy. But the offense, led by Jeff Driskel at the time, was unable to muster anything despite, chance after chance in Vols territory.
Things started to turn, however, when Driskel was hit late while attempting to slide. The natives got restless. They got angry. They got loud. They calmed down when the call of targeting was overturned, but was somehow ruled a legal play. I'm not too sure on the how part, but whatever.
I couldn't even tell that Vernon Hargreaves III intercepted that ball because everyone around me was screaming about pass interference. It looked to me like incidental contact and their feet just got tangled up.
The Vols would eventually take a 9-0 lead as the third quarter wound down, and Driskel's play just got worse and worse. I still think that choosing Driskel over Jacoby Brissett was the correct call, but I think that Driskel's time as the starting quarterback for the Gators should be over.
In that time, I would look over to the Gators' sideline and just stare at Will Muschamp. I was thinking to myself, among other things: "Is this how it's supposed to end?" or "Just fuck it, put in Treon and call it a day. See what happens."
But I really wasn't all that nervous. The defense was playing great, and despite the fact that we were losing, it was still close. You don't win games by kicking field goals, and if we could somehow get a touchdown, then we might just be all right.
The Gators' front seven got decent pressure all game, but it was Jalen Tabor coming in on a cornerback blitz that changed the game. He sacked Worley, forced a fumble and recovered it himself. It was at that point that mood of the fans changed. I could see it in the entire section that I was sitting in. The wind was out of their sails.
And to their credit, they were right.
Treon Harris came in and all was well for the Gators. Despite the Vols defense blitzing on nearly every play that he was in at quarterback, Harris led the Gators to 10 quick points and a victory from the jaws of defeat.
The best part about this trip to Neyland, though, was this:
I, and the rest of the Gators fans in attendance, must have spent five good minutes pumping up the crowd, daring them to continue to sing it. It was like music to our ears. They chanted this occasionally during the game, here and there, but aside from a brief moment of panic when Driskel came back in to take a knee but instead fumbled the snap, it was business as usual.
After leaving the stadium, while heading to my car, someone said that Muschamp had run his mouth after the game, that he had said something about "enjoying seeing the fans leave disappointed." I just laughed: Everybody was talking about it, like he had kicked their dog or something.
They said he had no class. Which makes no sense.
The same people that thought Muschamp showed no class had just spent five solid minutes chanting "Fuck you Florida," with young children all around.
The hypocrisy of it all still makes me chuckle.
In 2014, when Florida ran its winning streak over Tennessee to 10 years, 10 games, a full decade, I was there.
It was better than it was 10 years ago.
Better luck next year, Vols.