Thinkin' of Lincoln

No one understands the hostile nature of Florida Gator fans better than Tennessee's junior place-kicker. Heck, he used to be one of them.

"I grew up a Gators fan. That's all I knew growing up," Ocala native Daniel Lincoln said this week. "I knew how important the game was whenever Tennessee came to town. I knew what hotel they stayed at. Fans would usually go mess with the visiting team at that hotel."

What he wouldn't discover until he signed with UT was how personal the attacks on Florida opponents can become. Fans don't get nearly so personal at the Vols' other road stops.

"I know people aren't chanting my mom's name or girls I've had relationships with or my sister's name when I go to other places," Lincoln said. "I think it's funny that I've got like 60 FaceBook pokes, and my email in-box is full (with insults from Gator fans)."

He knows he'll be showered with boos and insults when the Vols visit The Swamp this Saturday but Lincoln suggests that he finds the abuse more amusing than annoying.

"It's funny," he said. "I don't let it get to me to the point that it makes me mad. My friends do the same thing to them (Gators) when they come here. It's just a little bit of a personal connection."

Although he grew up just 25 minutes from Florida's campus and followed the Gators as a child, Lincoln says that doesn't make this game any more special than it already is.

"It's a big game for us to open up SEC play on the road against the No. 1 team in the country in what everyone says is the most difficult place to play," he said. "It's big for me personally but as a team it far surpasses anything I've got going on."

The raw intensity of the Florida-Tennessee rivalry was driven home emphatically when Lincoln got a scholarship offer from the Vols as a high school senior in 2005.

"I learned pretty quickly when I said I was going to consider coming here," he said.

When he publicly committed to the Vols a short time later, some of his neighbors stopped being so neighborly.

"Obviously, when I decided to come here, I learned how important to those fans Gator football was and how important Tennessee football is to the guys up here," Lincoln recalled. "Those fans are not exactly the most friendly people."

That point was driven home on his first visit to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium as a Vol during the 2007 season.

"I had a 'welcome back' sign when I got off the bus for walk-throughs last time with a not-too-friendly gesture written on it," he said. "I'm ready for that. The fans are what makes college football great. The passion they'll be bringing Saturday is something I'm pretty excited about."

Florida has beaten Tennessee four times in a row, a fact Lincoln is reminded of each time he returns to Ocala during school breaks. When asked how Gator fans behave when he encounters them in his hometown, Lincoln smiled smugly.

"You all know how they are," he said. "You all have been at the games. You all know how they are."

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