Opener is always exciting, but is rarely memorable


Florida got off to a slow start in last year's opener against Bowling Green, leading 17-14 after three quarters before scoring 10 unanswered in the fourth for a 27-14 win.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Friday, August 30, 2013 at 7:39 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, August 30, 2013 at 7:39 p.m.

Other sports have their opening days, but there is nothing like college football's. It's a chance to gather with friends you only see this time of year and eat food you would never eat at home.

The best part (I think) is that you get to see the team you have been talking about all summer play a real live football game. The unveiling will be hot and sweaty and that's just the tailgate parties.

In some ways, today is my favorite day of the year because we have no real idea what is about to happen over the next three months. We think we know, but we don't know. We have an idea, but it will be cast aside at some point this season.

Today, we have the most anticipated game of the season. I say this because you wait for it for so long. Maybe you've been thinking about opening day since halftime of the Sugar Bowl. Maybe you started thinking about it the first day of summer, which in Gainesville is sometime in March. Maybe you started getting mentally prepared for the start of the season at the start of SEC Media Days or the start of practice or the start of the Summer of George.

The point is that the first game of the season is the one that you pine for the longest.

And it ends up being the most forgettable.

Think about it. When is the last time an opener was a game to remember?

Quick, name the Gators' first game in their three national championship seasons.

(Crickets. The smell of toast burning.)

I'm sure I will receive emails from fans who nailed this question. But they are the exception.

Florida opened its 1996 national title season with a 55-21 win over Southwestern Louisiana. I remember the game because the two stars for the Ragin' Cajuns were future NFL players Jake Delhomme and Brandon Stokley, who were so effective that Florida led 35-0 at the half and a lot of people never made it back from the Purple Porpoise for the second half.

The 2006 team opened with a 34-7 win over Southern Miss. I know this because I have a media guide.

The 2008 team opened with a 56-10 win over Hawaii. Now you're starting to remember.

Will Muschamp's first game was against Florida Atlantic. Urban Meyer's was against Wyoming. Ron Zook's was against Alabama-Birmingham.

Now that you have all of this information, feel free to stump your buddies at your tailgate.

The truth is that Florida openers get you a lot more pumped up before they are kicked off than after they're over. And that's a good thing.

When you win your opening game for 23 straight years (and the closest game was last year's 13-point win over Bowling Green), they are going to tend to become as forgettable as Hulk Hogan's acting career.

You want to see your team make it 24 straight today so that you enjoy a night of watching big games and eating big sandwiches without getting indigestion. Certainly, the quality of the opposition has a lot to do with the streak.

Remember the old days when the Gators would open with Miami? You can't forget those games. Of course, Florida went 6-4 in the 1980s in opening games. That, you'd like to forget.

The last of those losses was the last time Florida lost an opener. That's a game I haven't forgotten. Florida lost to Ole Miss thanks to a bunch of turnovers and quarterback Kyle Morris was booed throughout the second half, and the Gators lost despite allowing only nine first downs and everybody was grumpy for a week.

Now that's an opening game with something for everybody. Especially if you were on talk radio or writing a column.

Try to just enjoy today, everything about it. If the Gators cooperate, you'll have a good time. And don't take too much from it.

First games rarely are an indication of how your team will be. If they throw it deep a lot, it doesn't mean they will at LSU or the two Columbias. If the defense struggles against the run, it doesn't mean it will in Jacksonville.

Today is about shaking off the rust and, yes, I'm talking about your livers.

For Gator fans, you're hoping this won't be a game to remember. If it is, this could be a long season.

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

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