Remember fondly this special run


Published: Friday, January 1, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 2, 2010 at 1:15 a.m.

NEW ORLEANS — For a week, he had been in an unfamiliar place, especially for such a milestone game. The spotlight shined elsewhere, in the general direction of his ailing coach, while he prepared to play his final game as a Gator.

On Friday night, the Tim Tebow Show closed.

Talk about going out with a bang.

Tebow delivered a final tribute to his coach with his best performance as a Gator. He was the star but had plenty of support from a team wanting to end this crazy season on a sane note.

Florida did what Alabama could not a year ago — shake off the disappointment of a loss in the SEC Championship Game and stay focused. With the distractions coming at them like dodge balls all week, the Gators regrouped and put a spanking on Urban Meyer's alma mater.

(There is no truth to the rumor that Cincinnati has asked for Meyer's letter-jacket back).

Remember after the Capital One Bowl loss to Michigan when outgoing Wolverine coach Lloyd Carr told Meyer, "Maybe one day your team will play as hard for you as mine did for me"?

That was Friday night.

The game four weeks ago is now easier to stomach for all Gators. Or is it? Because when Florida plays like it did Friday night it is America's best team.

In New Orleans, the Gators showed what they truly are and that the game against Alabama was an aberration.

It's difficult to ascertain Cincinnati, on the other hand. You don't go 12-0 if you're not a quality team, but it was pretty clear the Bearcats need not apply to the SEC. Their fans, who outnumbered Florida's by a large margin in the Superdome, were throaty early. But the volume decreased with every big Florida play. It was almost like Otis Day and the Knights were performing "Shout."

"A little bit softer now ... a little bit softer now."

Of course, in the northwest corner of the Superdome where the Gator fans were seated, it got a little bit louder now. After all they had been through with this team and this week, it was nice to stretch out without having to worry about anyone sitting next to you (lot of empty seats, peeps) and not talk about Urban Meyer's health.

Instead, the Gator Nation just enjoyed.

Enjoyed their team showing up to play with their tradition uniforms. Enjoyed an offense that looked like last year's, finally. Enjoyed the thought that when the last poll comes out Florida will be in the top three or four.

Enjoyed seeing Steve Addazio loosen up the offense. Maybe this interim-in-waiting thing agreed with him this week.

And for those who made the trip, enjoyed more than anything being here to see the last show.

You have to give these Gators a ton of credit for showing up, playing hard and getting the big win. So many distractions, so much garbage floating around and yet they stayed the course. They kept dodging the bullets, the injuries kept quiet during the week and the ones that unfolded before our eyes Friday night.

They finished the way these seniors had to finish and the way the rest of the players insisted they finish. They couldn't end it all up with a two-game losing streak. Just couldn't. So they brushed the nonsense away and went to work one last time as Gators.

Now the legacy is complete even if this season was unfinished because it wasn't supposed to end in the decadence of New Orleans but under the sun in Pasadena.

The last five years have produced 57 wins, two national titles and some of the most memorable games in Gator history. That's the legacy. The times you screamed and the times you hugged. The times you got chill-bumps and the times you felt a tear rolling down your cheek. There were a lot of all of those things Friday night.

(Among the records set Friday night by Florida — earliest "S-E-C! S-E-C!" chant. It came in the second quarter).

The Gator Nation never thought it could be touched the way it was by those seniors who won the first national title in 1996. And then it happened in a way we couldn't imagine.

That's what should be remembered.

Florida football now heads into a new era. In a lot of ways, UF is starting over. Gator Nation will always have its memories of a special run that placed the program back among the elites.

Everybody take a deep breath. It's time to move on.

But be thankful for the memories.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at dooleyp@gvillesun.com and follow at http://Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

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