Back Nine: Fan disconnect may have led to empty Sugar Bowl seats

Scenes from the sidelines during the Florida Gators' 33-23 loss against the Louisville Cardinals in the Sugar Bowl Wednesday January 2, 2013 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, La.

Rob C. Witzel/ Staff photographer
Published: Tuesday, January 8, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 7, 2013 at 11:47 p.m.

The Back Nine comes at you and this will be the last column I write with this arthritic hip that is killing me. Surgery on Thursday. Maybe I should keep the bad hip and put it in a shadow box like Will Muschamp did with the steel rod they put in his leg. Naw.

10. There have been plenty of reasons offered for the low attendance at this year's Sugar Bowl (the smallest crowd for the game since 1939). The economy, the matchup, the HD tvs at home, etc. They are all legit. One thing that needs to be pointed out is that it wasn't all Florida's fault that the stadium was embarrassingly half-full. Florida was only responsible for 10,000 of the empty seats. Certainly the Gator apathy was a part of it, but as we have pointed out, college football is at a crossroads in terms of attendance. Still, as we go back over all of the reasons so many Gator fans decided to stay home, might the school need to point a reflective finger back at itself? Maybe this has nothing to do with it, but the Florida football program has pulled further and further away from the everyday fans. It started with Urban Meyer and it was no coincidence that the first game coached by Will Muschamp saw UF's home sellout streak stopped. Gator fans aren't just turning down bowl games, they are turning down home games that don't have major implications. Meanwhile, over the last few years, Florida has pulled back on the players who can be interviewed (freshmen can play in front of 90,000 fans but are forbidden to speak to the media except by the in-house website), how often the coach speaks to the media, access to practice for fans, what you can bring to Fan Day (which would be nothing) and how often coaches speak to Gator Clubs around the state. Is there a chance that the disconnect between the football program and its fans is contributing to the attendance issues? I just think it's worth a look.

11. Who would have thought that the player who would get the most attention in the days after the Sugar Bowl would be a guy who didn't play? But fan websites and my email account have been jammed with praise for linebacker Darrin Kitchens, who went over to the corner of the Superdome after the game and sang the alma mater with the band. Florida players have been criticized in the past for only engaging in this tradition after wins and Kitchens certainly earned a lot of fan support for his gesture. It's still the alma mater, even if you lose.

12. And, one more time, when you are playing a big game you put on the blue tops and the white pants and you go play big-boy football. Sorry, but those uniforms looked ridiculous with the orange pants and blue tops. Hey guys, you want to wear something different. Try the unis from the 1946 team. They were really sharp. They also went 0-9 that year.

13. Thing that surprised me over the weekend — the NHL ended its 113-day lockout or strike or whatever it was. I really thought they'd go dormant all season. Things that didn't surprise me this weekend — Chip Kelly stayed at Oregon and Jacoby Brissett transferred. Kelly will eventually go to the NFL, but I think he's smart in waiting for the right job when he has another top-five Oregon team coming back. And Brissett wasn't just passed over for Jeff Driskel, the offense was adapted to Driskel's strengths. Well, Jacoby, you'll always have Louisiana-Lafayette. And let's face it — Florida isn't in a BCS bowl game if Brissett doesn't drive them to the tying touchdown late in that game.

14. Of course, in some ways, Florida might have been better not going to the Sugar Bowl and instead playing in the Outback. You wouldn't have the embarrassment over tickets sales and possibly not over the quality of play. When Northern Illinois snuck into the BCS, I thought it was a huge break for Florida to get Louisville instead of Oklahoma. But one thing about Charlie Strong, he knows what buttons to push. I remember the day of the 2008 BCS National Championship Game when Strong kept telling Tim Tebow in a loud voice during the pre-game meal, “You better be ready, Tebow, because we can't stop 'em.” He was getting the defense fired up. His strategy in New Orleans was more along the lines of, “All of these people came to see you play. Don't let them down.” That's not a battle cry that Muschamp could have used.

15. Maybe it's me, but I found myself only occasionally watching the first round of the NFL playoffs. It felt more like NCAA play-in games to me. I know that wild cards have won the Super Bowl before, but I didn't see anything in what I watched to think that's happening again. Anyway, if you have to be recovering from surgery, this is a good week for it because I think we'll see some high drama Saturday and Sunday.

16. The Florida basketball team now heads into conference play at 10-2 with an RPI right around 16. It should have been better, but it's still not bad. The league is down, but I have seen some signs of life in the last week or so. It helps Florida RPI-wise that the Gators get Missouri for a home-and-home, but even Kentucky at 61 doesn't help a team's RPI very much. The SEC is ninth in RPI and that's not good.

17. The Tweet of the Week comes from future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones — “Never seen a more undisciplined football team in my life. As a lifelong UF fan, that was embarrassing.” Chipper wasn't happy with all of the personal foul penalties on the Gators against Louisville. His tweet resulted in a response form Florida's Loucheiz Purifoy— “Chipper Jones stick to baseball bro football isn't your job straight up! Keep your comments to yourself or come put on some pads!!” Now play nice, boys.

18. The iPhone has been getting a workout this week as I get ready for surgery. I want to at least pretend to be in shape. Try these downloads — “Sleep Alone” by Two Door Cinema Club, “Simply Simple” by Mother Mother and for the old school in you “It's Only Love” by The Beatles. Heard it the other day on the way home from visiting my mom in the hospital. Thanks to everyone for all the prayers.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at And follow at

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