There's Always Something There to Remind Me

Rex Grossman led the Chicago Bears to a playoff win over the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, 27-24 in OT.  Despite being constanlty criticized and looked at as a weakness on the Bears team, Rex completed a crucial long pass-play to put his team in position for the game winning FG in the extra frame.

Alex Brown, one of Chicago's DEs, had a sack that aided in the Bears win over the Seahawks. Brown has become one of the better players on the very good Bears defense this season.

On the same day, Reche Caldwell and Jabar Gaffney both caught touchdown passes in the Patriots 24-21 win over the favored San Diego Chargers.  Gaffney has had two very good playoff games, going for over 100 yards in both of the Pats postseason wins.

It's great to see former Gators find success in the NFL, especially when several of the former Florida players under Spurrier have never really made a huge splash in the pros.  Seeing these guys throw and catch touchdowns and win games brings back a lot of memories of the 2001 Gators team that they were all a part of - a team that, while exciting to watch, left a bitter taste in my mouth.

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We as fans always have our favorite teams and favorite players.

While I have nothing but admiration for the 1996 and 2006 National Championship football teams, I must admit that my favorite Gators football team was one that left us all with the feeling of what could have been:  the 2001 squad. My freshman year at Florida.

I remember reading somewhere that the 2001 team was declared by the Ole' Ball Coach as the best team he ever had at Florida.  They featured an explosive offense and a nearly-as-impressive defense, and showed dominance that season.  Unfortunately though, they did not show dominance in every single game.

After only giving up 12.1 pts/game in their first 10 games, compared to scoring on average 45 points, the Gators took on Tennessee in a game that was rescheduled due to the unfortunate events of September 11th...a game that could go down in history as one of the most disappointing in my Gator fan-dom.

They thrashed Mississippi State 52-0 to avenge the loss to the Bulldogs the year earlier.  They made LSU look like a D-1AA opponent in Baton Rouge, beating them 44-15.  They hung 71 on Vandy, and beat the Seminoles by 24.  They had a memorable (although disappointing) game in Auburn in which Damon Duval kicked a game winning FG in gail-force winds.

There were a ton of great and exciting moments that year.  Unfortunately, though, the Tennessee game is what sticks in my memory as the 2001 season in a nutshell.

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All that the Gators needed to do was beat the Volunteers, and a trip to Atlanta would be guaranteed - along with a appearance in the National Title game on the horizon with a conference championship.  Tennessee came in with a 9-1 record, having only lost a close one to Georgia earlier in the season, 26-24.  They were clearly a formidable opponent, but this was a game in The Swamp, and there was just no way the Gators would lose at home with so much on the line.

Earnest Graham, the Gators starting running back that season, would not be appearing in this game because of a knee injury he suffered the week before against Florida State...an injury that stirred an amazing controversy, as it was announced 'Noles DL Darnell Dockett purposely twisted. Whether or not this was true, the Gators had lost their only prior game in which they didn't have Graham, so this was a concern coming in against Tennessee.

As it turned out, the absence of Graham did not really matter in the scheme of things.  Why? Because Earnest Graham did not play defense.

The Gators defense gave up 242 yards on the ground, including 226 to Tennessee RB Travis Stephens in a 34-32 loss at the hands of the Vols.  Rex Grossman was phenomenal, going 33 of 51 for 362 yards, but it just wasn't enough to overcome the Tennessee rushing attack in the game.

Perhaps the loss of Earnest Graham and the absence of a strong running game (UF only had 36 yards rushing) allowed the Volunteers to control the game...however, the Gators dominated the TOP and the total plays as well.  This game came down to a defense that just couldn't keep the Volunteers out of the endzone and resulted in a loss because of it.

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The loss to Tennessee stung.  And it stung bad.  But it got exponentially worse the following week when Tennessee played LSU in the SEC Championship game; losing 31-20 to the Tigers and giving LSU the conference championship.

With that a team that was manhandled by the Florida Gators, at home 44-15, had won the SEC and was headed to a major bowl game.

To this day I believe Florida beats LSU in Atlanta and heads off to Arizona to take on Miami (God help us, that Miami team was good) in the Fiesta Bowl for the National Title.  Instead, they were playing in the Orange Bowl against the ACC Champion Maryland Terrapins, easily beating them 56-23.

In the days following the bowl game Steve Spurrier resigned.  Jabar Gaffney and Reche Caldwell left for the NFL.  And the University of Florida hired Ron Zook as a replacement for the Ole' Ball Coach.  Grossman floundered under Ron Zook and OC Ed Zaunbrecher, and got out of Gainesville as quickly as he could after the 2002 season.

The 2001 team was now an afterthought.  It was now the Zook era in Gainesville, and soon we would all be grasping for anything the resembled the successes of that team.

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Excuse me for rambling.  It's just that I can't think of another Gators team that left me wanting more than the 2001 team.  I still remember watching the offense look flawless and the defense swallowing opposing teams.

Thankfully the 2006 Gators have brought another championship to Gainesville, and the outlook on the future with head coach Urban Meyer is bright.  The program has returned to where it was under the Ole' Ball Coach, and memories of the good teams and great players at Florida are now looked back on as past successes instead of where we are wishing we were.

On that note - Curse you, Travis Stephens.  You got lucky.

Once again, on that note - I had to restrain myself from commenting on Rex losing the Heisman to Eric freakin' Crouch.

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