Gator Nation…………….Alive and Stoked Around the Globe
In the next couple of days you might see me not talk about baseball for the first time in about a year. I am on a high right now that I have not felt since, well 2006. I am still up after watching one of the closest National Championship game I have ever seen in person. I did not even try and talk to Florida AD Jeremy Foley about field passes to the game, you could see his head about to explode from pressure three days before the game. Yes, I was sitting in the stands for that game, in which the stands did have a nice mixture of blue and orange to combat the crimson and white of Oklahoma’s rabid fans.
So here I am sitting here in a dark hotel room in Fort Lauderdale 3 hours after the game ended anxious still and full of bottled up energy. But I am not thinking of going out to the Candy Store and watch a Wet T-shirt contest, or even stroll down to the Elbow Room to celebrate with the masses out in the parking lot here at 4 am. I am about to head out to the beach with the other vibrant Gator faithful to howl at the moon for a few hours. There is nothing like winning a championship. I have had the honor of winning 2 straight SEC titles, but they got stripped away by some coaching misconduct and player allegations in the middle part of the 1980′s.
But tonight it is all about Gator Nation and its followers all around the world. There are serious fans in the wide reaches of the earth who have come from this small hamlet in Florida to take on the worlds greatest challenges. Now having put on the blue and orange, I can tell you the tradition and the honor that overtakes you before you head out into the stadium. But the combined chemistry and total focus of this Gator team can only rival my other favorite team in 2008, the Tampa Bay Rays. Both squads had small missteps in the year and came out to become champions in their own rights. Florida had a huge misstep in a loss at home against Mississippi that took them out of the Top 5 in the football polls until late in the year.
The Gators were the team to beat before that stumble, and after the loss, they were the team to fear the rest of the year. Florida never trailed at halftime in any game in 2008. And they only came out on the losing side once, that debacle in the Swamp that Florida’s charismatic QB, Tim Tebow took as his own personal downfall and vowed that the team will unite and play like a champion the rest of the year. This is a guy who is above and beyond the scope of the usual college football athlete. He has the faith and the insight to call out his team to adjust and return to greatness after adversity. He has the athletic ability and power to carry this team on his back if need be to achieve that goal.
So here I am sitting near the Atlantic Ocean looking out at ships way off shore and thinking about that fact that I have just seen the promise of Gator quarterback/ positive thinker Tim Tebow take this team upon his back late in the fourth quarter, one more time and lead them to a 24-14 win over the Oklahoma Sooners. But what I find more satisfactory is the fact they did it against ex-Florida defensive Coordinator Bob Stoops, who helped orchestrate their first title in 1996. The game was hyped so big here in Florida to be a showdown of the Heisman winners’ for the past 2 seasons. That part of the game lived up to it’s hype and went into the heavens.
Both quarterbacks, both Tebow and the Sooners accurate rocket thrower Cody Bradford put on a beautiful show behind center tonight. I can tell you that the Sooner offense would have driven me nuts as a player due to the fact that the QB comes out of behind center and gets a second read of the play to be executed by the sideline and upstairs coaches. In my old mentality, I would have jumped the line and tackled him the first time he did that in a game. But that is just me. Both teams were held under their team’s usual destructive ways throughout the first half of play. Only a lone scoring drive by both team kept them from being blanked out in the first half of play. Both squad were pushing, pulling and wrecking havoc the only way they knew how tonight, but came up just short.
So at halftime the nation and the world settled back and listened to a former Sooners coaching great, Barry Switzer talk about what they must do to win the second half and the game. But little did Switzer know that Tebow was holding court in the Gator locker room and pledged to his team the win, and that he wanted them to also rise up and be one to bring another crystal football to the hallowed trophy case in Gainesville. The team responded with gusto playing a more up tempo second half before finally starting to pull away a bit from the Sooners.
It was not like either team was either letting down, or pulling ahead of the other, the game just began to fall into the Gator’s hands. Much like a few interceptions and thrown passes, the game took on a surreal feel for about 5 minutes. After blocking a field goal attempt, it seemed that momentum was shifting fast back and forth between the team with no one taking it reins until Tebow made a huge run up the middle for a first down and then began to trash talk and point at one of the Sooners’ corners. Then a anti-Tebow thing happened, he drew a penalty of 15 yards for his outward display at the opposing player, but you saw no one get upset at Tebow.
That was because if it was not for him, the Gators might not even be in this position. After the play he caught his composure and lead the team to their only field goal attempt of the night. On the sideline after coming off the field you saw former Gator QB, Chris Leak go up to Tebow and pat him on the back and whisper a few things into his helmet ear hole. You might remember that Tebow was a freshman during that last championship run, and was backing up the versatile Leak at QB that season. You know something was whispered to Tebow that this was his team, and even if he made a mistake tonight, the team was behind him 100 percent.
But what this game really showed me was how far the Gator team has come since my 1984 squad won the first ever SEC title in Florida football history. Now everyone knows we had that title taken away from us for a few recruiting violations ( not my me), but by the Head Coach Charlie Pell. In hindsight, the violation were not huge enough to warrant taking that title away, but at the time there was a call for the cleansing of college football. Today’s squad are educated even before the recruits sign on the bottom line on what they can and can not take, use or even associate themselves with to considered eligible for play in games.
The evolution of Gator football has been huge since I last put a set of pads on in 1984. That season we did not get to go to a bowl game because of the violations, but finished by winning 9 straight games to post a 9-1-1 record on the year. After that came the era of “The Old Ball Coach” Steve Spurrier and the school first title in 1996 after defeating our biggest rival Florida State in New Orleans’ Sugar Bowl. Then came the Glendale Arizona moment in 2006 when the “Urban Warfare” Gators took apart Ohio State to claim Urban Myers first title with the team.
So does this mean that the Urban Myers era is considered the best in Florida history, or is this sign of things to come for a few years out of Gainesville. Could this have been Tebow’s swan song as a Gator, or will he come back and try and win a third title in 4 years, or leave for the riches and fame of the NFL. There are a lot of questions being asked less than 12 hours after the team won their second title in three years. But one question that is not being asked is if you believe the Gators are not the best team in college football in 2008. I know there is a team in Utah that will debate this with me for a few months, but the fact is, the best beat the best for the title, and we will have to wait until next year to re-visit this controversy.
So with that let me leave you with 2 Florida Gator classic cheers and songs for the 2009 Fed Ex BCS Champions, the University of Florida Gators!!!
We Are the Boys:
We are the boys from old Florida
F – L – O – R – I – D – A
Where the girls are the fairest,
the boys are the squarest
of any old state down our way. ( Hey!! )
We are all strong for old Florida,
down where the old Gators play. ( Go Gators!! )
In all kinds of weather,
we’ll all stick together. for
F – L – O – R – I – D – A
And I would be committing a major blunder if I did not include another famous Florida Fight Song to my blog.
The Orange and Blue”
So give a cheer for the Orange and Blue
Forever Pride of old Flor-i-da
May she droop nev-er…
We’ll sing a song for the flag to-day
Cheer for the team at play!
On to the goal we’ll fight our way for Flor-i-da.
I have to go rest now. Gator Nation is alive and well in the Everglades regions of South Florida today. And there is a adult somewhere in the far reaches of the world cheering for his Alma Mater and knowing that it is great to be a Gator.