"It gets you fired up, of course," Smiley continued. "I see this stuff Casey Clausen said about Georgia, how he could have beaten them by two touchdowns with one arm. That seems like their attitude up there. It just sets them up for failure. That's what it does."
A veteran of four seasons in the SEC, defensive tackle Jarret Johnson has pretty much heard it all. But he got a chuckle over the Dairy Queen smack. "We did have some breakdowns, so they're allowed to say stuff like that," he commented. "It's kind of a shame that they've got to talk trash like that. We're just going to work hard and prepare for the game and focus on that."
"We're not going to pay too much attention," Smiley added. "We're not going to talk any trash. We're going to let our actions speak for us."
Bama's All-SEC center Alonzo Ephraim has witnessed first-hand Tennessee's last four victories over the Tide. "No, that kind of talk doesn't surprise me at all," Ephraim said. "In recent years they have had a lot to brag about. They've been beating us consistently, so you could say the bragging rights belong to them right now. We just need to go out there and play Alabama football and establish our game."
Ephraim grew up in Birmingham watching his Tide play on television, so he understands all too well the importance of Tennessee week. "It's a big game--a big-time game," he said. "You look at the tradition and the rivalry and all the streaks down through the years."
Like Ephraim, Helena's Lane Bearden grew up surrounded by the pageantry of Crimson Tide football. "I remember watching Alabama/Tennessee on TV," he said. "It was always one of the most important games of the season. Alabama and Auburn was always the most important game to me--until I got here.
"Losing to Tennessee four straight years definitely put them on top of anybody else."
Playing constantly since 1928, the Alabama/Tennessee series is among the most storied (and competitive) in all of college football. But its streaky nature is also legendary.
Since 1955 the series has been characterized by one streak after another. 5-0-1, 11-0, and 8-0-1 were the Tide's contributions to the streaks, but Tennessee can counter with 5-0-1, 4-0, 4-0 and its current seven game run.
"This game is about streaks," Smiley said. "We've won 11 in a row, and now they've won seven. That's just the way this game is set up. That's part of why this game is a huge rivalry."
Taking advantage of some of the toughest seasons in modern Alabama football history, the Volunteers have won every game with the Tide since 1995. "That's all I've been able to think about," Johnson said. "I don't want to leave this place without being able to say I beat Tennessee. It's a big game for us. It's one that we've been waiting on all year."
But as Coach Franchione often reminds his team, revenge is a small thing to play for. "Of course you think about the streak, but it all comes down to Saturday," Smiley said. "When you're in the trenches just execute and take care of your job. All we've got to do is handle our business.
"We don't worry about Tennessee. If we play our game and execute, we'll be fine."
In the past, Tennessee week in Tuscaloosa was unique. Scout team players would don orange jerseys, decorating their helmets with crayon-colored ‘Ts'. And the song "Rocky Top" became as ubiquitous in and around the Bama football complex as it was irritating.
But Franchione prefers a more business-like approach. "Our coaches are doing a good job of playing the hype down," Ephraim explained. "They're saying ‘This is just a game against a good team.' We're going to go out and play our kind of football."
Emotion remains important in sport---especially among relatively younger athletes on the collegiate level. But there's a fine line between being psyched up and psyched out.
Smiley explained, "Emotion will only last a few minutes. For two minutes you'll be hyped, but then you'll be back down. Coach Fran always tells us to go with an even keel. Play level-headed.
"Big talk is fine and well, but it just sets people up for failure. We're just going to go in there and execute, and hopefully we'll come out on top."
This season Alabama and Tennessee share a lot in common. Both squads lost close games to Georgia and are now chasing the Bulldogs for recognition as the SEC's best. Despite having two losses each, both teams are ranked in the Top 20. Both teams have struggled with injuries to their starting quarterback and tailback. And while their motivation is different, both squads believe they have something to prove Saturday.
Which is why the Tide players have been more amused than angry over the Volunteer smack. "It's surprising that they're so cocky," Bearden acknowledged, "but people have their own opinions about things. We'll just have to wait and find out.
"All the talk doesn't do anything until you get there and play the game."
Ephraim summed up his team's attitude. "We want to go out with a win against Tennessee. We want to end the streak.
"But we're focusing on playing this game like every other game."