UF epicenter of some of biggest college sports stories of ’17

Dan Mullen is challenging UF fans. (Alan Youngblood/Staff photographer]

The older you get, the more you realize a couple of things.

  1. It wasn’t better when you were younger, it’s just that you are struggling with everything new.
  2. Youth is still wasted on the young.
  3. There wasn’t hair growing there yesterday.
  4. Sports memories are an annual excursion.

Every calendar year is going to be filled with moments you will remember the rest of your life, and yet, you know that there will be a bunch of them next year.

Even the most indelible snapshots have an amazingly short shelf life in the present. When Chris Chiozza hit “the shot”, it was all we talked about for weeks, but Florida’s remarkable run in the NCAA Tournament lasted only another 36 hours before it was snuffed out like a campfire in a rainstorm.

The “Heave to Cleve” was one of the best plays of 2017. It was only 43 days later that Florida’s football coach was fired and the Gator season was headed for a landfill.

Alex McMurtry won the national championship in gymnastics on one night, but a day later Florida fell short and left St. Louis disappointed. Mary Wise got to within one win of her first NCAA volleyball title before the bubble of swollen pride was popped.

The point is that these memories fly by like the rabbit being chased by greyhounds and the ones you choose to pull out and place into your mental scrapbook depend on you.

So will the way you remember 2017.

You can remember that Tom Petty left us or that incredible celebration at the end of the third quarter of the LSU game. You can remember the O-Dome rocking or the way you felt walking out after a loss.

Perhaps your most vivid memory is not Florida related. Maybe it’s a Falcons’ collapse in the Super Bowl or the Warriors beating the Cavs or maybe it wasn’t sports related at all.

But this much we know for sure — Gainesville was the place to be if you wanted big sports stories this year.

They came fast and they came furious.

And not all of them were good news.

For me, these were the 10 biggest stories in our little world for 2017.

  1. And yet, here’s the thing

In his first two seasons, Jim McElwain won a pair of Eastern Division titles, 19 games and went 13-3 in SEC play. Just seven games into his third season, he was fired after telling the media about death threats without first reporting them to his bosses. This was the excuse UF needed to get rid of a coach who never connected with his fan base and was often critical of the administration.

  1. Mullen it over

Florida flirted with Chip Kelly, who wanted nothing to do with the SEC and the fishbowl that is Florida football. Reluctantly because of his ties to Mississippi State, Scott Stricklin turned to Dan Mullen and the two needed only two days to work out the deal. Florida had a new coach, new optimism and a new shoe brand.

  1. Use the Schwarz

His sister had done it twice, but JJ Schwarz finally got a chance to have the ball in his glove for the last out of the season. Florida finally won the baseball national title in two incredibly tense games against LSU. Hmm. Florida beat FSU for its first football title, UCLA for its first basketball title and LSU for its first baseball title. That’s how you do it.

  1. Cheese stakes his claim

It has to be considered the best single shot in Florida basketball history, right? Mike Miller’s in 2000 was big, but it was a 7-footer. This was a 3-point floater. Even though Florida missed out on a chance to make another Final Four less than two days later, everyone still remembers where they were when Chris Chiozza’s shot went in.

  1. Two more titles

Men’s track and field and women’s tennis both won national titles and even though some people’s perception of how a year went is based on how the football season finished, most of the Gator Nation takes pride in what all of the sports accomplish. In fact, only two of UF’s 21 sports were not ranked at some point this year.

  1. The Knucklehead Nine

You could make an argument that the season-long suspension of nine Florida football players before the campaign started was the biggest story of the season because of the damage it caused to the program. It’s also the longest-running story of the year because it has not completely been resolved.

  1. Close encounter

The volleyball season was terrific, as Florida lost only once during the regular season, but it really heated up in the postseason. The Gators won a five-setter at home and in the Final Four and owned the Pac-12 beating UCLA, USC and Stanford to get to the final.

  1. Eight days a week

In the span of two Saturdays, Florida’s football team had two of the most unlikely wins of any season. First, it was the touchdown pass from Feleipe Franks to Tyrie Cleveland, who somehow got behind Tennessee’s defense, and then the win over Kentucky when the Gators scored twice because the Wildcats failed to recover UF receivers. It was bizarre and also an indication that Florida would need luck to win games in 2017.

  1. Softball after dark

You had to stay up late for a lot of Gator sports this year and certainly softball was no exception. Florida again made the final where it lost two epic games to Oklahoma.

  1. Mother is angry

It wasn’t enough that Mother Nature caused 10 hours of rain delays in the Gainesville baseball regional. For the second season year in a row, Florida lost a game to a hurricane. The Tennessee game also had fans nervous in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma before it was finally allowed to be played.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at pat.dooley@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

 

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