Friday was not a day of celebration around the Gator Nation. Heck, for Florida fans, just getting a first down Saturday would be reason to throw your hands in the air and look for a party “Gif” to tweet out.
But there hasn’t been a whole lot to get fired up about since September passed with its wild and crazy wins. Since then, four straight losses, two close and two not at all close. One head coach fired and it wasn’t that close.
So while we wait for the white smoke to come out of Scott Stricklin’s chimney and Gator fans try not to let another numbing loss ruin their football season, here’s a reason to bake a cake and throw one back.
Friday was the 10th anniversary of Tim Tebow winning the Heisman Trophy at the same stadium where Florida will play Saturday.
Feeling all warm and fuzzy yet?
You remember Tebow. Back when Florida had a quarterback and a player who would put a team on his back?
Back when nine wins was fine because it was entertaining, but just don’t make a habit of it?
Technically, Tebow didn’t win the Heisman that night in Columbia, S.C., but he kinda did. He was the dominant player in a 51-31 Florida win, too much for the Gamecocks and their coach Steve Spurrier.
“Tim was a lot like Danny Wuerffel,” said Spurrier and with that sentence I got all three statues in this column. “Tebow was a winner. And he got better throwing the ball as the game went along. Danny was that way.”
Danny. Tim. Steve.
Makes you nostalgic, no?
What really makes you frustrated was that this game of which we are speaking was only a decade ago. So much has changed and yet it was only 10 years.
That means we’re all 10 years older except our dogs who are wondering how they got so ancient and what time is dinner. Spurrier is back in Gainesville, Tebow is a baseball player and Florida has already been through three coaches since then and is seeking a fourth.
Let me take you back to that night because it sure beats analyzing what could happen today.
It was weird. That’s the only way to put it. We had two trucks full of tailgate material and planned on a big bash in the shadow of Williams-Brice Stadium with TVs and lights and all of the trimmings. I would hang out and watch people drink for awhile before heading up to the press box.
Then, my phone started to blow up. What’s the deal to Percy Harvin? Friends and fans and even members of the South Carolina support staff were calling me.
Back in Gainesville, the story was that the plane had waited on the tarmac for two hours on Friday, unusual for a head coach who believed in scheduling to the minute. Urban Meyer might not have waited for the third-team punter, but he was holding the plane for his most dangerous player.
Florida was 6-3 with all three losses coming in the conference. But there was still a chance to return to Atlanta because Tennessee and Georgia each had two losses in SEC play.
Harvin never made it to the plane. The official word was that he had migraine headaches. Pleas were made to his family to drive him to Columbia later and even the Highway Patrol was asked to be involved for a Saturday trip, but he wanted none of it.
Why he didn’t make the trip is debatable and when I say debatable I’m talking about people on the plane that day who still have their own theories. Why the plane waited for a player who either couldn’t go or was being petulant is another story. But it doesn’t matter. He didn’t make the trip.
And Tebow won the Heisman.
“He put the team on his shoulders that night,” said Dan Mullen, the Mississippi State coach who was then Florida’s offensive coordinator. “It was one of those Tim games.”
He scored from five yards out just 2:14 into the game. Florida put Jarred Fayson into the Harvin role and Tebow found him for another touchdown. Still, Florida trailed at the end of the first quarter 14-13 in what was an important game.
Second quarter — two more Tebow touchdown runs.
Third quarter — another one.
Fourth quarter — one touchdown rushing, another passing.
“It wasn’t like we were trying to get him seven touchdowns,” Mullen said. “He just took them. There was one play late and the play was designed to be a pass to the flat and we’d get the first down and run out the clock. He found a guy in the end zone instead.”
Florida needed everything Tebow had because a young defense that was shredded all season felt no need to show up on this night either. Blake Mitchell threw for 316 yards and South Carolina made it interesting.
But check out Tebow’s numbers:
Passing: 22-of-32 for 304 yards.
Rushing: 26 carries for 120 yards.
“Wow, that was fun,” Tebow said Friday from Auburn where he is working for the SEC Network. “I knew we weren’t going to have Percy for the game so I felt like I had to step up big. My shoulder was still aggravated from the Georgia and Kentucky games, and then I hurt my hand so I felt like everything was against us.”
But South Carolina made one huge mistake during the week.
They ticked Tebow off.
“They had been talking trash all week,” he said. “They were good and they made us mad. They made me mad. I took the Spurrier thing personally, too, growing up a Florida fan so that game was huge for me.”
Seven touchdowns huge.
“I remember there was a third-down play,” Spurrier said. “We were expecting him to run it. He just ran over two or three of our linebackers. He was like a big fullback.”
It was his Heisman moment. Some people will tell you that came a couple of weeks later when he ducked an FSU pass rusher and sprinted 22 yards for a score.
That was icing.
South Carolina was the cake.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.