Black delivers Meyer a perfect ending


Published: Saturday, January 1, 2011 at 8:14 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 1, 2011 at 8:14 p.m.

TAMPA — It was the perfect ending.

Really, how else could it have ended?

Ahmad Black, the kid whom Urban Meyer took a chance on, making the play that delivered a win in Meyer's last game as Florida's coach.

Perfect.

"Rather appropriate," Meyer said. "He's one of my closest friends. I can call him a friend now because he's not one of my players anymore. He's family."

Black, tough as nails, was injured twice during the game. Of course, he came back in. Always did.

The personification of a player Meyer wanted to coach makes the last big play of Meyer's Florida career.

Perfect.

It allowed Urban and his wife, Shelley, to stand in the northeast corner of Raymond James Stadium and listen to the band play the alma mater and fight song, the latter song he made the Gator Nation learn the words to.

During the first song, John Brantley handed Meyer the game ball.

During the second, Meyer's eyes leaked a little.

"My wife started crying," he said. "So she choked me up a little bit. We gave six years to Florida which equals about 40 years of your life."

They emerged from the media room a few minutes later, both with the tears in their eyes that were part joy/part sadness. You could see the six years on their faces, all of the ups and downs, all of those big games, all of those players whose lives had been touched.

All in the rear view.

But one last, happy memory.

And one emotional bus ride back to Gainesville.

Saturday's game was hardly flawless. The offense was still hard on the eyes.

But no matter how you choose to remember this team, I'm going to remember it as the team that sent Meyer out a winner.

The way he deserved to go out.

So for all of the sniping and grousing about this five-loss team this season, how about a "Thank you?"

As I said before, Meyer's Gator legacy would not be defined by the Outback Bowl. But winning in his last try certainly was better than the alternative.

Saturday was a day for both happiness and sorrow. No matter how you feel about Will Muschamp, this was the end of an era. It was the end of an incredible six-year run for Gator football. Meyer taught the Gator Nation a new way to do things, a new way to look at the game. He introduced new traditions that will forever be a part of the University of Florida.

He won a lot of football games. He brought in Tim Tebow. He introduced us to Percy Harvin and Brandon Spikes. He won a national title with Chris Leak. If nothing else, the Gator Nation now understands how important special teams are to the game.

It was a tough last couple of days for the Meyer family because they know what comes next. While Meyer is at "full peace" with his decision, there will be an emptiness that can only be filled with coaching football.

In the days leading up to his finale, Meyer's thoughts would drift to the end of his Gator career.

"Every time they did, I'd go watch some film because I didn't want to think about it," he told me Friday.

And while this day was about his families — football and immediate — he brought in a special friend to make this day that much more special.

Ian Lockwood recently had his second surgery for brain cancer at Shands Hospital. He has become close to Meyer during his battles over the past two years and close to Black, the game's Most Valuable Player. Lockwood came into the news conference with a right eye swollen close to shut from the surgery and a Gator wool hat hiding the scars.

Meyer brought Lockwood to the podium and had Black hand him a game ball, the one Black used to run 80 yards for the clinching touchdown.

"We told you we were going to do everything we could to try to win this game for you and get you a game ball," Meyer said.

Lockwood spent time with the Gators this week. His career at Navarre High was cut short by the cancer.

"He stood up in front of us at a film session and told us he wished he could play one more play on the football field," Mike Pouncey said. "He inspired us."

Those are the kinds of things I will remember about Urban Meyer's Florida coaching career.

It's a shame it had to end. But if you saw the smile on his face after Black's pick-six, a smile his face could barely contain, you know how it ended.

Perfectly.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at dooleyp@gvillesun.com. You can listen to The Pat Dooley Show weekdays from 4-6 p.m. on 104.9 FM. And follow at http://Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

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