Title a testament to toughness


Florida quarterback Tim Tebow slaps hands with head coach Urban Meyer during the third quarter of the BCS National Championship Game against the Oklahoma Sooners at Dolphin Stadium.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Sunday, January 11, 2009 at 1:16 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 11, 2009 at 1:16 p.m.

MIAMI You could tell all week that Urban Meyer was being careful.

The master motivator knew he didn't need to do too much to get his team ready to play in the national title game. These Gators were already peeved at the Sooners. They knew what was on the line.

Meyer waited until late in the week to start the process. You don't want to play the game on Tuesday when it's scheduled for Thursday.

And then on game day, he turned to the guy he calls "my right hand man."

Charlie Strong.

"The last couple of days were real intense," Meyer said Friday morning. "I had Coach Strong address the team. I'm very cautious about who I let talk to our team. Those guys were ready to play. The good thing is, guys listen.

"The discussion we had before we got on the bus was this is not good fortune, how the ball bounced your way and the stars aligned. This has been a work in process for many years. You might not get a chance to play with guys like this again. Make it count. And they certainly did."

They listened and they read. They kept hearing about Oklahoma's offense and took it personally.

"SportsCenter got us fired up," cornerback Joe Haden said. "Everybody talking about how many points they were going to score. We like to play teams like this.

"And then, USA Today. They gave the advantage to their offensive and defensive lines. Coach Meyer told us that was a toughness thing."

And in the end, the tougher team won.

It started early, when Major Wright clocked Oklahoma wide receiver Manny Johnson on a deep route just over a minute into the game.

"That set the tone for us," Wright said. "Everybody fed off it."

How did these guys get so tough? Some of it goes back to their quarterback, the toughest player in sports. A lot of it goes to their strength coach Mickey Marotti, who pushed them so hard during the offseason.

But in the end, it's up to every player individually to man up.

Man up, Ahmad Black.

"I saw the ball in the air and when the ball is in the air it's my ball," he said of his huge fourth-quarter interception when he ripped the ball away from Joaquin Inglesias. "I guess he wasn't strong enough."

Man up, Brandon Spikes.

"I felt like we should have held them to three points," he said. "I'm not surprised at all."

Man up, Timmy Tebow.

"They were doing a good job of getting to me and trying to get some licks but I felt my body was able to withstand it," he said.

Nobody manned up more than Percy Harvin. He came back from a hairline fracture in his ankle and a setback Tuesday in practice. Even when Oklahoma defender Nic Harris twisted the ankle after a tackle, Harvin kept coming.

"Everybody wondered about how tough we were," he said. "I think we answered that question. We were the tougher team, and that's why we're national champions."

Motivated, tough teams are tough to beat. When they are well-coached and disciplined and faster than a scared rabbit, they are champions. They get up on that wall.

The way this thing is going, they may run out of room there. Championships are starting to roll in like waves crashing on the beach.

"Every once in awhile, when I'm having a bad day, I'll walk in and stare at that wall," Meyer said. "It's got to be one of the great walls in college football."

It gets a lot better today when another year is unveiled.

This one shouldn't be shiny and new. Put 2008 up there with some dirt and mud and grass and maybe a little of that garnet paint Tebow picked up in Tallahassee. It should be chipped and scuffed and scratched, maybe even spit on.

This one was earned the hard way.

The tough way.

Which in itself is amazing considering the lack of toughness on last year's team.

"We weren't too good," Haden said. "If you told me after the Michigan game we'd be here, I'd have told you we had to come a long way. But we came a long way."

All the way to the wall.

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