Florida Gators: SEC Champs!

I’m still getting used to the idea that we’re playing for the National Championship in a few weeks. It seems as though we’ve been struggling since the second half at Auburn, and yet we’ve done nothing but win since that game. Here are my thoughts on our win over Arkansas in Atlanta last weekend:

  • We had our best offensive showing since LSU. Hopefully we’ve turned a corner and we can take advantage of OSU’s soft defense.
  • The final score didn’t really demonstrate how much we dominated Arkansas. We had four pass interference calls on our defense; two of them kept an Arkansas drive rolling and both of those were terrible calls. Both of those bad calls led to an Arkansas touchdown on the subsequent play. Half of their points were on plays that never should’ve happened.
  • Leak threw two interceptions, but I think both of those were due to Arkansas calling tricky coverage as opposed to Leak making bad decisions. All in all, he played a great game and made good decisions all night.
  • Our freshmen had a really big night, which is good news for us in the Championship game. If they show up in Glendale like they did in Atlanta, we’re going to be a very dangerous team
  • Meyer’s fake punt call was probably a “bad” play call, but I love it from a psychological perspective. Our team had lost momentum and we needed something to happen to change the tone of the game. That play was exactly what we needed and it was a very well designed play.
  • Wilbur is a fantastic punter and he had another good game on Saturday. It was nice to see him make some big plays to win the SEC Championship, help get us into the National Title game and start erasing the memory of the blocked punt at Auburn. It was also hilarious to see him mock Arkansas’ punter at the end of the game.

Now, I just have to see about getting tickets (game and plane) for Glendale. So far, it looks like the trip will cost about $2000 and I’m not sure I want to spend that much money. I’m also not sure I’ll forgive myself if I pass on the game and we win.


My 2006 Final Four experience: Remembering 2000

After the Gators won the National Title a few weeks ago, I talked a lot about the team, but not much about my actual experience this time around. I’ve said many times that some of my fondest college memories were collected during March 2000, when Florida made an improbable run to the National Title game. I was nearing the end of my sophomore year and had tons of friends who, like me, were rabid Gator football fans. Billy Donovan hadn’t been at UF but a few seasons and his first couple seasons weren’t very memorable. Nobody remembered very much from the 1998-1999 season, but we all remembered losing to Gonzaga in the Sweet 16. During the 1999-2000 basketball season, I think we started to appreciate winning and we began coining terms like “Billy Ball”, which was a reference to Donovan’s up-tempo style of basketball. Admittedly, I didn’t watch many basketball games in 1999, and when March rolled around in 2000, I don’t even think I filled out a bracket. I thought it was silly and didn’t see any reason to drop money to “compete” against sports gurus and girls who chose the winner based on school colors or mascots.

I didn’t see the Butler game because it was on a Friday afternoon and I was probably too busy skipping class to even care. But I heard about the end of the game and, like many other Gators, suddenly had an interest in Gator basketball. That Sunday afternoon, I was one of several students who gathered at some friends’ apartment to watch us play Illinois in the second round. I don’t think any of us had high expectations, but we all had high hopes. When your team hangs on because of a miraculous buzzer-beater, you have no choice but to start believing, and that’s what we all did. We soundly beat Illinois and we were back in the Sweet 16 for the second straight year. We didn’t expect much because we had to play Duke next, but we knew it was no fluke that Billy D. had taken us to the Sweet 16 twice in a row. He had taken a losing basketball program and turned us into a contender. Still, our expectations were low as we geared up to face the perennial powerhouse Blue Devils.

That was a long week, but the game itself went by quickly. “We just beat DUKE!” We all said that at some point that weekend. We couldn’t believe it and we really didn’t know what to do about it. By this time, the crowd of students watching the game in my friends’ apartment was growing pretty quickly. There were several of us for the Illinois game, but we all watched comfortably on a couch, or a chair. For the Duke game, there were more bodies and less room; people were sitting on the arms of the couches, piled on the chairs, seated on the floor. By the time we played Oklahoma State, we were packed in as tight as we could be, the windows were all open and we were still sweating like pigs. We were used to that from football season, but we typically didn’t bunch like this in the Spring.

Changes had to be made for our Final Four game against North Carolina–another TV was brought in along with some couches, a makeshift bench was made on a rail between the dining and living rooms, every window and door was opened and the fans were all on full-blast to keep the air moving through the place. This was by far my biggest sporting event as a Gator and I think most of my friends felt the same. None of us were around in 1996 when we won the National Title in football, and most of our football seasons thus far had been anticlimactic because we had come to expect nothing but perfection from The Ol’ Ball Coach. SEC titles were nice, but we didn’t really get up for them like we would’ve if we hadn’t won the National Title a few years earlier. Basketball was different, though, because we didn’t expect to win. We didn’t even really think we had much of a chance, but we wanted to make sure we saw it if we pulled off an upset. After the game, we all ran out onto 34th Street and screamed, jumped, waived at cars and generally acted like idiots. It was awesome. “We beat North Carolina!” We all said it, but we could hardly believe it: we were playing for the National Title… in basketball!

The Michigan State game is kind of a blur to me. I think that’s partially because we lost, but partially because the game was pretty boring in general. Tom Izzo basically put together the perfect game plan to beat us: don’t allow the Gators to play Billy Ball. Michigan State took 30 seconds to shoot on every possession, slowed us way down in transition, played good defense and hit most of their shots. From the highest of highs comes the lowest of lows, and we felt it. This was the first time most of us had experienced a National Title game, and it was also the first time most of us had experienced losing a National Title game. There were about 70 of us there to watch, and no one said a word after the final buzzer. We just sat there, quietly wondering if we could make another run next year.


It’s still great to be a Florida Gator…

But it’s a bummer losing like that. I’m still not sure what happened but, if I had to guess, I’d probably use the words “meltdown” and “unprepared”. Our defense stunk up the stadium and our offense was a one-trick pony with little resembling anything “spread” or “option”. ‘Bama played well, but they beat a team that was only a shell of the team I’ve seen the past few weeks. I don’t know where the Gators were on Saturday, but they weren’t in Tuscaloosa.

Hopefully we’ll play well and run Meyer’s offense this weekend against Mississippi State. I hope we’re able to get a win and gain some confidence in our schemes so that we’re prepared when we go to LSU in a couple weeks. I think the most important thing to remember right now is that we’re still in control of the SEC East. We do have a loss, but it was to West team, so it did the least amount of damage possible. If we get back on track and run the table in the East, we’ll go to the SEC Championship game and hopefully get a rematch against the tide.

Anti-Gator fans?

Since our loss to Alabama, I’ve had a few people–none of whom are Alabama students, fans or alumni–say to me or e-mail me a big “Rolll Tiiiide!!” I don’t get it. I don’t understand why people dislike Florida so much. My only guess is that Spurrier was so dominant and cocky that people just decided to hate the Gators. One of the people who said that to me is an Auburn grad. When they lost to GaTech earlier this year, I didn’t say a word to him. When they got snubbed out of the National Title game last year, I told him I thought that was stupid and the BCS was flawed. The only jawing I’ve ever done is to say, “We’ll see you in the SEC Championship.” That’s it. But when we lose to a tough football team, this guy starts giving me lip. Seriously?

Another person, an FSU fan, e-mailed me with nothing but “Rooolll Tiiiide!” I guess she may’ve been irked because, after she tried to tell me how we’re going to lose this year and UGA has our number, I called Doak “Ron Zook Field”. I never e-mailed her last year (or any of multiple opportunities) to say “Go ‘Canes!!!!” or “Go Terps!!” I didn’t e-mail her to talk smack after we beat FSU on their field last year. But we get a road loss to a Top 15 team that she doesn’t even root for and I immediately get an e-mail? Seriously? Nevermind that an astute FSU fan would realize that Florida’s record come November 26 could have a huge impact on FSU’s potential to play for the National Title, and a Florida loss doesn’t help their cause.

After UGA beat us last year, I was at Radio Shack buying some batteries or something. Some random dude saw my hat and came up to say, “You a Gator fan? Man, them Bulldogs beat y’all today, huh?” He was obviously trying to get a rise out of me and also obviously not a Georgia fan. I said, “Well, we have to give them one every 15 years or so. We figured this’d be a good year to do it since we don’t have a coach and all.” He just kinda’ sheepishly put his head down and walked away. I guess he hadn’t really thought his chiding through. But why say anything to begin with? I’m surrounded by Sooners fans. I haven’t said a word to any of them about their season so far. I work with several Aggies. I haven’t made a peep. It’s one thing to root for a football team, but it’s another thing entirely to root against a team just to spite its fans.

Yes, I know what a rivalry is. No, I don’t like FSU or Tennessee. But, no, I wouldn’t e-mail anyone from those schools if their team lost a football game to some team I don’t even root for. That just seems silly and sort of mean-spirited.