Devil's Advocate (Tennessee)

Days after his sixth-ranked Tennessee football team lost 21-17 to an unranked Memphis team in 1996, head coach Phillip Fulmer was asked what he learned from that game.

"I learned that you don't lose to people you're supposed to beat," he replied.

Indeed. Vol fans were outraged that a team with Peyton Manning at quarterback and a 15-0 record in the all-time series should lose to Memphis.

Operating on the George Santayana theme that "Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it," current UT head man Lane Kiffin has reminded his team of that 1996 game this week, even though all of the Vols were in elementary school at the time.

Kiffin doesn't have a Peyton Manning at quarterback and he doesn't have a No. 6 national ranking but he does have a tradition to uphold: Beating the Memphis Tigers. Tennessee stands 20-1 in the all-time series.

Given UT's overwhelming dominance in the rivalry, you'd think the Vols might completely overlook this weekend's game against the 2-6 Tigers. Kiffin is determined that won't happen. He routinely reminds his troops that the series has been a lot more competitive lately than the won-loss record might suggest.

For instance:

- Coming off a national title in 1998, the 1999 Vols were pushed to the limit before subduing Memphis 17-16 in Knoxville.

- The 2000 Vols, fresh from a defeat of No. 17 South Carolina, had to score in the final minute to slip out of Liberty Bowl Stadium with a 19-17 defeat of the Tigers.

- The 2005 Vols were lucky to post a 20-16 home-field defeat of a Memphis team that was without superstar tailback DeAngelo Williams, who went on to be a first-round NFL Draft pick.

"We don't have to look any further than the last time they came in here and almost beat Tennessee," Kiffin said. "Tennessee came out with a four-point win. Then go all the way back to a Peyton Manning-led team that Memphis was able to beat, a really good Tennessee team. Our guys will be well aware of that."

They will be so aware, in fact, that they won't dare make the same mistake in 2009 that their predecessors did in 1996.

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