Bama a heated rivalry

Growing up in Fort Thomas, Ky., Rob Smith had no idea how much the Tennessee-Alabama football meant to the players, coaches and fans of each school.

That changed the first time he took the field as a Vol to face the Tide. The date: Oct. 26, 2002. The site: Neyland Stadium. The mood: Nasty.

"My first year here they beat us, and I remember their players were yelling stuff at our coaches on the sidelines," recalls Smith, who has started at both guard and center for the 2005 Vols. "They were going out of their way to trash-talk the coaches. I was like, ‘Wow!'

"That's the only time I can ever remember seeing that."

Alabama hammered Tennessee 34-14 that day but that was the Tide's only win in the last 10 meetings. The Vols have dominated the series since Phil Fulmer became their head coach in 1993, going 10-2-1 during his tenure.

The Vol-Tide game has taken on a different tone in recent years because of the animosity some Bama fans have toward Fulmer. Many blame him for NCAA penalties that leveled the Tide program, and those fans have directed a lot of hostility toward the Vol coach in recent years. This venom seems to have provided extra motivation for Fulmer. Smith has noticed.

"You can tell by his actions, how much he's been emphasizing specific things," Smith said. "It's definitely a big game for him."

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