The Picks: Florida could use some love


Published: Friday, November 22, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, November 21, 2013 at 11:42 p.m.

Everyone has a story. Where they were when it happened. Where they were when they heard. Whether or not they watched the alleged assassin get gunned down on live TV.

It was 50 years ago today that John Fitzgerald Kennedy was struck down and a 9-year-old kid in Gainesville tried to make sense of it the way 9-year-old boys do.

And so I listened to a football game and tried to escape. Florida played Miami the following night, 50 years ago Saturday. Except they almost didn’t play.

There was a lot of concern in both college and the NFL whether or not to play the games. They seemed so unimportant with our nation grieving. Florida and Miami were set to play in the Orange Bowl in front of a sellout crowd, but just before kickoff, the mayor of Miami — Robert King High — made the decision that football could not be played on this night.

As he walked across the top row of the Orange Bowl and headed for the booth where the public address system was located, he was followed by Tom McEwen of the Tampa Tribune and Morris McLemore of the Miami News. Trailing this threesome was Norm Carlson, then the sports information director at the University of Florida.

“Tom and Morris talked him out of it,” he said. “They convinced him that it wouldn’t be a good idea to turn all of these emotional people out into the streets and that it would be good therapy for the people at the game.”

Kennedy had hardly been a stranger to South Florida, flipping the coin at the Orange Bowl (Alabama vs. Oklahoma) on Jan. 1 of that year and giving a rousing speech to 35,000 Cuban exiles the previous year. Four days before his death, he spoke to a crowd of 4,000 at the Miami Airport and promised to return for a longer visit that would never come.

And so, the night after Lyndon Baines Johnson was sworn in as our emergency president, the Gators and Hurricanes took the field the way athletic teams took their fields in the days after 9/11, not to trivialize the tragedy but to help people heal.

“It was the strangest game,” Carlson said. “People didn’t know whether to cheer or not. It was so quiet that it was eerie.

“But then (Florida’s) Hagood Clarke took a punt and ran it back for a touchdown and the stadium exploded. After that, it was like a regular game.”

Florida would win the game 27-21. The Gators beat FSU the following week 7-0 to finish the season 6-3-1.

Sorry for the downer of a history lesson, but when I told this story on the way back from South Carolina, everyone was looking at me like I had six ears. I remember it like it was yesterday. Fortunately, so does Uncle Norm.

On to The Picks after a 7-3 week (96-24 for the year). That wouldn’t be bad for some, but I am still getting some criticism for picking Miami, Stanford and Georgia. Some of you readers need to get a grip.

Georgia Southern at Florida: A reader asked me to do something, and I am always willing to take intelligent ideas and execute them. He asked me to compare the starting lineups of the Florida team that took the field for the Sugar Bowl and the one that took the field against South Carolina. Sure enough, there were all of five players who started both games. That’s attrition like I have never seen. Florida obviously needs a win Saturday. More than that, Florida could use some unconditional love Saturday. Florida, 34-16.

Texas A&M at LSU: Is this the game where Johnny Manziel wins the Heisman Trophy? Or are the character issues too much for him to overcome no matter what he does? Or does LSU’s defense show that it has some fight left in it and does to Johnny Sharpie what it did to him last year? And why do I ask more questions than a Jeopardy contestant? A&M, 42-35.

Vanderbilt at Tennessee: Who would have thought the Commodores would have so much to say about SEC bowl games? Vandy basically eliminated Florida and could do the same with Tennessee. Tennessee, 26-21.

Mississippi State at Arkansas: Remember when Arkansas was 3-0? That seems like years ago. Mississippi State, 34-21.

Wisconsin at Minnesota: I’m not sure there is a better story in college football this year than Minnesota. Minnesota, 23-20.

Kentucky at Georgia: No matter how many times Mark Richt wakes up screaming, “Bat it down!” in the middle of the night, his team has enough to win this week. Georgia, 35-13.

Brigham Young at Notre Dame: It’s not the Independence Bowl, but it is the Independents Bowl. Does that make any sense? Notre Dame, 23-21.

Missouri at Ole Miss: Steve Spurrier said he hasn’t given any advice to Hugh Freeze even though this is the biggest game of the season for the Gamecocks. Missouri, 34-24.

Baylor at Oklahoma State: OK, Bryce Petty. You want to be on my Heisman ballot. Show me what you got. Oklahoma State, 42-41.

Harvard at Yale: You know who is having a big year? Princeton. Beat both of these teams. Only team to beat Harvard this season. And that concludes our Ivy League report. Harvard, 34-12.

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

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