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SPIKES: Tennessee "not as tough" as Gators

Thoughts on UF linebacker Brandon Spikes' bulletin-board material ...

GAINESVILLE -- Brandon Spikes has no friends in Knoxville, Tenn., -- not after his comments earlier this week about the Tennessee Volunteers.

Spikes told reporters on Monday that Tennessee "quit playing" during last season's rivalry game against Florida. Florida won 59-20.

"They kind of gave up," Spikes said. "Our whole program is about, backed up against the wall, you've got to keep fighting. We saw them give up. ... They quit playing."

Want to add a little spice to a local pick-up basketball game? Call your opponents quitters. Want to set off a raging firestorm of hate before one of the biggest Southeastern Conference college football games of the season? Call Tennessee a bunch of sorry quitters.

And you thought LSU's Tigers Stadium was a hostile crowd last season. Ha! In all my years, I've learned two certainties of life.

1. Women.
2. Call a redneck a redneck and he takes it as a compliment. Call a redneck a quitter, and you might as well have spit on his momma.

Spikes ended his brilliance with this: "I know they are going to be pretty jacked up."

What Spikes meant to say: "I know they are going to try and jack me up."

OK, to put this whole controversy into some kind of perspective, you've got to know the context of Spikes' remarks. The story begins with a dude by the name of Derek Baldry.

Derek Baldry was pretty much the toughest son of a gun to ever play football in the SEC. How can I possibly write such a statement about a walk-on? Well, Baldry was a journalism major and ... OK, that Baldry majored in journalism has nothing to do with this story.

Baldry didn't know much about football before he walked on the team in 2006. Here's what Baldry did before he walked on the team: Fought in the mountains of Afghanistan as an Army Ranger. (I wrote a story about this last year.) Quitting really isn't an option for those guys.

Now, knowing Baldry's background, you can fully appreciate the surprise he felt last year when a Tennessee lineman told Baldry not to bother blocking him on an extra point attempt late in the game. The Tennessee lineman told Baldry he had no intention of trying to block the kick.

Baldry relayed this message to his teammates and reporters last year and reporters brought the story up again on Monday. (As good reporters are prone to do.) Spikes obliged by talking about Baldry's story. (Tennessee, by the way, denied that this happened.)

"That kind of surprised me, for him saying I don't want to rush," Spikes said. "But I know they are not really as tough as us."

That a Tennessee player would actually quit trying was a big topic among the Gators last season, according to Spikes. Especially since the story came from Baldry, who is pretty much the essence of toughness and integrity.

Spikes said he had never experienced anything like that, especially "at this level." Of course, Spikes also told reporters that he has observed Tennessee quitting before and he really wasn't that surprised. (No clue what Spikes meant by that statement other than to inflame this rivalry.)

OK, now for some real talk. I don't really think it matters much that a Tennessee player told Baldry last year that he wasn't going to try and block an extra point. Not a big deal, as far as I'm concerned. Tennessee was losing badly and the extra point didn't matter.

And if you try and tell me some cliche like, "Goody, all plays matter and Florida Gators never quit on any play," I'll just have to remind you that Tennessee won the SEC East last year and nearly beat LSU in the SEC championship game.

What is interesting about all this? For the second game in a row, a Florida "team leader" talked some major smack before playing a rival. (I have nothing against this but I don't think UF coach Urban Meyer likes it much.) Receiver Louis Murphy called out Miami in similar fashion two weeks ago.

Murphy got the muzzle but his teammates apparently didn't get the message.

-jo-   

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