2006: What a year it was


Published: Thursday, January 4, 2007 at 11:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 4, 2007 at 11:30 a.m.
There are some years when coming up with 10 top stories is a difficult task. In 2006, it was difficult to limit it to just 10.
It's been a special sports year in Gainesville.
After much thought and debate, the Sun staff came up with these 10 for a fabulous 2006:
  • 1. Gators win national title: Heading into the 2005-06 basketball season, many were wondering how an inexperienced Florida team would come up with enough wins to make it to the NCAA Tournament. But the Gators, starting four sophomores and a junior, reeled off 17 consecutive wins to start the season and take away any doubt about postseason play. Once in the postseason, the Gator boys went on a memorable run that concluded with UF whipping traditional hoops power UCLA 73-57 in the national championship game in Indianapolis, triggering a huge street celebration back home in Gainesville.
  • 2. Ticket to Arizona: After a long wait on a quiet Sunday following the SEC Championship Game, the Gators received the word they were hoping for - they'd vaulted Michigan in the final BCS Standings to earn a spot opposite Ohio State in the Jan. 8 national championship game in Glendale, Ariz. UF moved up to No. 2 thanks to UCLA's upset of Southern Cal the day before and the Gators' victory in Atlanta.
  • 3. Finally, SEC champions again: Florida's six-year championship drought came to an end with a 38-28 comeback victory over Arkansas in the SEC title game in Atlanta. The UF defense shut down Arkansas tailback Darren McFadden, while UF true freshman wide receiver Percy Harvin earned MVP honors with a 37-yard TD reception and a 67-yard touchdown run. The Gators turned the game around late in the third quarter when true freshman Wondy Pierre-Louis recovered a muffed punt in the end zone for a touchdown.
  • 4. Return of the Gator boys: In a moment choreographed by the players themselves, UF's big three - center Al Horford and forwards Corey Brewer and Joakim Noah - announced at a victory celebration in the packed O'Connell Center that they would be returning for their junior seasons.
  • 5. Gators win SEC Tournament: After sputtering some near the end of the season, the UF basketball team picked up considerable momentum with a 79-64 victory against Kentucky in Lexington in the final regular-season game. The Gators rode that momentum to Nashville, where they swept Arkansas, LSU and South Carolina to win the SEC Tournament.
  • 6. Eastside captures state title: Led by tournament MVP Dante Anderson's 21 points, Eastside High School did Gainesville proud, defeating Tampa Chamberlain 58-47 to win the Class 5A state championship in Lakeland.
  • 7. Ring of honor: They kept it a secret until the night before at the gala, then Florida revealed the names to the entire Gator Nation in a ceremony at Florida Field before the Sept. 30 Alabama game. Their names earning a permanent place on the north end zone wall, Steve Spurrier, Jack Youngblood, Emmitt Smith and Danny Wuerffel entered UF's Ring of Honor.
  • 8. MVP award for Eckstein: David Eckstein was the little walk-on who could at UF, putting together a sterling baseball career. He took all that hustle and desire to the major leagues and has made it work there, too. Especially in October's World Series. After going 0-for-11 for the St. Louis Cardinals, he hit three doubles and a single to beat Detroit in Game 4, then he singled twice and drove in two runs in Game 5 to lead St. Louis to the title. Eckstein was named the Series MVP.
  • 9. Surviving the gauntlet: Heading into the season, UF's consecutive games against SEC rivals Alabama, LSU, Auburn and Georgia was being called one of the toughest stretches in school history. The gauntlet. The Gators survived it, winning three of the four to take command of the Eastern Division and give UF a shot at reaching Arizona.
  • 10. Baseball team goes from first to worst: After advancing to the national championship game the year before, expectations were soaring for the UF baseball team, which returned most of its position players. But that good feeling created by advancing to the title game in Omaha in 2005 quickly vanished in 2006. The Gators struggled in all phases -pitching, hitting and fielding - and the result was a disastrous 28-28 season and an 11th-place finish in the SEC.
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