Friday, January 9, 2009

The Florida Gators: 2009 BCS National Champions, Part I

The masthead of this website promises “deep thoughts about football” and to date those oh-so-deep football thoughts have only concerned the professional variety. While Past Interference’s obsession with the National Football League continues unabated, allow the humble author of this post to finally reveal himself to be an alumnus of the University of Florida and therefore a proud member of a Gator Nation currently celebrating its third national championship in the sport of college football. As one who attended UF just prior to Steve Spurrier’s resuscitation of the program I admit it’s still a little hard to believe the Gators are the most dominant football program in the country right now. While I attended we just prayed for the end of the school’s 50-plus year streak of not winning a Southeastern Conference Championship. (And even when the football gods answered our prayers in 1984, more powerful deities, the NCAA and the SEC, stepped in to place UF on probation and yank that title away from us.) The talent to compete was there--Emmitt Smith, Wilbur Marshall, Lomas Brown, John L. Williams, Louis Oliver, Jarvis Williams, Neal Anderson, Ricky Nattiel, Brad Culpepper—but competent coaching was not. Not cheating would have helped too.

The Ol’ Ballcoach finally ended UF’s rep as a program that produced great athletes but couldn’t win. Not only did Spurrier repeatedly lead the Gators to SEC titles year after year but incredibly he made that quest secondary to yearly dreams of a National Championship, something he actually brought home in 1996. Gator Nation had finally arrived. And I don’t know that Spurrier’s teams actually featured as much football talent as some of those 80’s teams. Spurrier’s strength is game planning not recruiting but, when it comes to football, brilliant coaching counts for a lot and don’t let anybody tell you differently. However, a great offensive design won’t always prevail against tremendous athletes as demonstrated by the hated Seminoles more often than not getting the better of the Gators during the Spurrier era (and how that worm has turned).

It was sad to see Spurrier leave for what proved to be (for him) the bitter pasture of FedEx Field, especially when UF tapped the overmatched Ron Zook to replace him. Once Zook inevitably exhausted the patience of Gator Nation and had done its holy work, Urban Meyer took over the reigns of the football program. And after four seasons as the head man Meyer has revealed himself to be both a bit of a genius coach in his own right and a recruiter of football talent like no Gator’s ever seen. And now, for the second time in three seasons, Florida reaps the ultimate rewards of that happy combination. For generations every UF student at his or her first Gator game quickly learns the chant “It’s Great To Be A Florida Gator” but now, when it comes to football, it’s at last a simple statement of fact.

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