On Sunday, the SEC Network’s two-week late-summer “Takeover” series of blocking out the channel with one SEC team’s triumphs finally got to the Florida Gators. And then the game aired at midnight was a three-hour version of Florida-Kentucky from last fall.
So I watched 11 straight hours of the Gators on SEC Network yesterday, basically.
And while I have several thoughts I want to expand on at length from that, which I’ll do either later today or tomorrow, I wanted to single this one out because it’s good for a weekly post: It’s really okay to have and celebrate a good memory from the past, so long as you keep it in perspective.
The tail end of the marathon of Dari Nowkhah telling me that due to time constraints, we’ve jumped ahead in our action was a twin-bill of Florida national championships in football: The last, from January 2009, and the first, from January 1997.
Time turns the pages of scrapbooks yellow and makes the memories seared into our brains get fuzzy on the edges, but I don’t think it’s wrong to call those wins among the sweetest possible ones for Florida fans.
In that BCS National Championship Game in Miami, Florida held Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford-led attack, popularly thought of as the most explosive offense in college football history, to 14 points, and survived Tim Tebow throwing two awful interceptions with a second consecutive game of incredible resilience in the fourth-quarter and a legendary-as-it-was-happening performance by a clearly limited Percy Harvin. Florida won a third national championship in that game, and its second in three years, in front of what sounds like 80,000 Florida fans on the broadcast.
In that Sugar Bowl, Steve Spurrier put Danny Wuerffel in the shotgun to counteract a Mickey Andrews defense that played
dirty as hell to the “echo of the whistle,” Florida State had no response at all, and Florida scored the final 28 points and sapped the Seminoles’ will to win en route to a 52-20 win over an archrival that won the Gators their first national championship — and avenged the only loss that team took.
There are, of course, things that have tarnished the glory of those wins in the years since.
Aaron Hernandez’s presence and role on that 2008 team makes celebrating its successes without reservation impossible, even though I happen to think that unsolved 2007 shooting that gets brought up by idiots as “proof” that a future murderer was murdering people as a Gator is not — shocker — what the idiots think it is. Regardless of that, watching a player make plays while knowing that, just under 10 years removed from the game, he’s no longer on this Earth — and, more importantly and tragically, removed other souls from it in cold blood — is both spooky and deeply sad.
Urban Meyer, meanwhile, has had his legacy clouded by more than a few things since then.
The 1996 Florida team, meanwhile, was led by players who, almost to a man, failed to do anything special in professional football. Wuerffel was never a starter-caliber NFL QB as a pro even though a) he was not expected to light the NFL on fire, b) did have a fairly lengthy career and c) did ultimately start for Spurrier in Washington. The best future NFL defender on that roster was probably Jevon Kearse, who was not a major part of that 1996 team; only Mike Peterson stands out among the others, and his was the kind of long-running and solid career that got him named a second-team All-Pro once ... and a Pro Bowler never.
And while the best NFL career of any player from that 1996 team obviously belongs to Fred Taylor, he’s also obviously one of the NFL’s truly underrated players: He had one of the greatest careers of any running back around in the 2000s, and really ought to be in the Hall of Fame, but has been largely forgotten in recent years because he toiled in the semi-obscurity of Jacksonville and was overshadowed by peers who happened to be fellow greats, like LaDainian Tomlinson.
But Taylor was good when he finally got going on that night in New Orleans, and Hernandez helped Florida win that 2008 title. And the memories forged by those specific moments need not be ones that you feel guilty about 10 or 20 years later — nor are they things you can or should be shamed for enjoying in the proper context. (A few of the worst FSU fans continued their years-long misuse of Twitter by trying to shame me yesterday. It’s weird, the need some FSU fans have to air their every thought about Florida.)
Florida winning a national title in the state of Florida is, I promise you, no less sweet for the thousands of Gators who saw it in person because last year’s team needed Kentucky to have multiple full-system meltdowns to beat the Wildcats by a point, or because an emaciated Gators team lost to Georgia Southern once. Florida destroying a hated rival to win its first national championship has not lost its luster because the Gators later employed Ron Zook and Jim McElwain as head coaches.
And while Hernandez being part of that 2008 team gives it a complicated legacy, no one seriously argued at the time that what we know Hernandez actually did at Florida — which amounts to failing drug tests, punching a bouncer, and generally being an entitled jerk — ought to have wholly prevented him from having his collegiate career. And, frankly, even if he was the person who shot into that car in 2007, it’s sadly not a stretch to say that Hernandez would arguably not have been the person who committed the most heinous crime before then helped a college football team win a national title in my lifetime, not in a sport that has featured stars like Lawrence Phillips.
I would like Florida to win national championships fairly and without selling its soul in the process, of course. But college football’s soul is and will forever be impure based on so many things, and it’s impossible to say, at the sport’s highest level, that any one glass house is without its streaky panes.
Flags fly forever, and the moments that were made en route to those flags being planted and/or hoisted become memories that last. I got to relive some of those moments and some of those memories on Sunday.
And they served as potent reminders of part of why it’s great to be a Florida Gator — and has been, for so, so long.
Would you like to help me document some of the future great moments for the Gators? Consider dropping me a line about contributing to Alligator Army. We’re still looking for writers, especially those who can and want to write about football and recruiting, and for people with social media expertise — and, to reiterate, I have a (small) budget that I can and want to use to pay regular contributors for their labor.
We’re running out of time before football season begins in earnest, and I’d much rather teach someone the ropes around here now than with football just days away, so the sooner you apply, the better.