Late in my seventh grade year, my school welcomed a new student from the state of Indiana. I had just attended the Final Four in Indianapolis, where the Florida Gators had triumphed over the North Carolina Tar Heels and succumbed to the dirty trickery of Tom Izzo and the Michigan State Spartans in the NCAA Tournament final. Much like George Costanza and George Peppard having the same first name, this trip gave us a commonality to talk about. As we discussed the beauty of Indiana — read: Rex Grossman — I realized that this new friend was also the only person in the school that liked sports as much as I did.
We quickly became friends, and I had to show him the ropes and teach him a little bit about the Palmetto dialect. One of the most important lessons that I taught him centered around the word “pop.” Initially, I thought he was just a big fan of the 1960s Batman television series and was yelling out an onomatopoeia for effect. As it turns out, he was actually referring to a refreshing carbonated beverage.
I informed him that these were known as Coke.
“Well, what if I want a regular pop?” “That’s a Coke”. “What if I want an orange pop?” “That’s an orange coke.” “What about Dr. Pepper?” “That’s just Coke that thinks he’s better than us.” It took a while, but he finally understood that in the South, Coke is king.
What my young friend Zechariah learned way back then seems to be a lesson that the University of Florida has forgotten. I believe that this hypomnesia regarding the official soft drink of the Florida Gators has led to the downfall of the Florida football program.
In 2005, Florida signed an exclusive agreement with Pepsi for 10 years. This agreement would extend to the entire campus, all of Shands properties, P.K. Yonge, and the various stadia. Sure, the deal was for $27 million, but at what cost?
College football, much like Coke, was perfected in the South. In 2005, the University of Florida decided to turn its back on tradition and serve their fans Yankee swill water every week.
You may be saying to yourself: “Yankee? Pepsi originated in the Carolinas.” Yeah, North Carolina. How many SEC championships have schools in that state won? Hint: It’s the same number of Pepsis I have enjoyed in my life.
Now, maybe you’re thinking that Pepsi was the official drink for two national championships in football and basketball, so how can that be a bad thing? Sadly, you are misinformed, because the foundation for those championships was established before the Tyrannical Reign of Pepsi (TROP). In basketball, the foundation of the back-to-back championship teams were a group of recruits known as the “Oh-Fours,” whose enrollment predated TROP.
In fact, while I don’t believe he would admit it publicly, I believe the exclusive Pepsi agreement is likely what led Joakim Noah to ask Billy Donovan if he should transfer after his freshman season. And who can prove me wrong, or argue definitively against the idea that TROP could have unraveled one of the greatest college basketball teams of all time?
On the football side of things, Urban Meyer was hired pre-TROP and the foundation of the 2006 national championship team was recruited before TROP. Luckily for Florida, Tim Tebow grew up a Gators fan when the Coca-Cola was flowing like wine, and other star players flocked to him like the salmon of Capistrano.
Regardless, national championships aren’t the best way to judge overall success. Florida has finished in the top five of the AP Poll just times during the TROP (2005-2022), and has only won two SEC championships. During the booming Coca-Cola days (1987-2004), Florida had six top-five finishes and seven — 1990 counts — SEC championships. Imagine there being a four-team playoff back then! We may be having a different conversation about the national championship figures, and maybe also Powerade baths.
Additionally, Florida only missed a bowl game due to probation during the Coke days, while the Gators have missed a bowl game twice in the last decade
The solution, dear reader, is simple. We rise up and take all the Pepsi on campus and pour it into Lake Alice as our forefathers did with that disgusting tea in Boston Harbor all those years ago, except there were no literal alligators in Boston Harbor, so we might need to be more careful. Instead of sneaking an adult beverage into the stadium this year, fill your flask with some Coca-Cola. Your wallet, your body, and the Gators will thank you.
And If you think I’m crazy, check the date on this article.