Maybe I am just naive.
Maybe I am dumb enough to think that time heals wounds and bygones become bygones and every other bad cliche in the book.
But I thought it was over.
I thought it was back to normal.
Intense, but normal.
I guess I was wrong. Or was I?
LSU’s football players peppered the media with mean-spirited comments early this week when talking about Florida.
“It’s just bad blood colliding,” said linebacker K’Lavon Chaisson.
Hmm, maybe it’s just indigestion from that crawfish gumbo.
“I don’t like them very much,” said quarterback Joe Burrow.
Hmm, that wouldn’t be because of the pick-six you threw last year to lose the game, would it Mr. Burrow?
Now on the Florida side it has been pretty mild. Maybe it’s because the Gators are two-touchdown underdogs tonight. Maybe they were too tired from last week to flap their gums.
Likely, it’s because Florida is going to Death Valley.
But as rivalry games go, LSU has supplanted Tennessee. Two reasons — Matthew and McElwain. (Well, three if you count Tennessee’s incompetency).
Hurricane Matthew forced the postponement of the 2016 game and for some reason, the LSU Nation took exception to it. It got pretty heated in negotiations and there was a lot of surprising rhetoric from journalists.
And after Florida won the game (we won’t even get into the shoving match before the game) after it was moved to Baton Rouge, La., Florida coach Jim McElwain brought his salt shaker for the wounds saying, “They got what they deserved.”
That further infuriated the raging Cajuns and when LSU pulled out a one-point win the following year in Gainesville, LSU players celebrated like they had just won the national championship.
And then last year, Florida did the same after an intense victory in The Swamp.
So if you want to know why coach Ed Orgeron would say, “For some reason, this is a heated battle,” the last three years have had a lot to do with it. Throw in that Florida win over LSU for the national title in baseball in 2017 as a little hot sauce to go with it.
But the truth is that this has always been a big rivalry game. It certainly was when Tim Tebow played.
“That 2007 game when Tebow pretended to be calling his cell after a touchdown because LSU students had been bombarding his phone, that was intense,” said veteran sports writer Tony Barnhart of the SEC Network. “(Broadcaster) Verne Lundquist told me it was the loudest outdoor stadium he’s ever been a part of.”
That’s the thing — Florida vs. LSU always mattered once the century turned. That’s what made it great.
Prior to that, Steve Spurrier owned the Tigers so overwhelmingly it took a little edge off of things. Spurrier went 11-1 against LSU and scored 400 points in those 11 wins (to LSU’s 117).
He also went 3-0 as a player.
“(As a player) It wasn’t that they were a big nasty rival like Georgia or anything,” Spurrier said. “Georgia was the biggest, Auburn next, then Miami and FSU. We always just seemed to play well against LSU.
“When I started coaching, in 1990 we beat them 34-8, which was a big win back then. People say why did you beat them by so many points. It helped beat them every time when they know you can beat them good.”
Of course, the one time the Tigers beat a Spurrier team the fans tore down the goalposts. Two years earlier, Florida beat LSU 28-10 and Tigers defensive coaches Carl Reese went around the country giving clinics on how to stop the Fun ‘N’ Gun. (It didn’t work; Florida scored 56 the next season).
“You can’t really have a rivalry with a team when you’re 14-1 against them, can you?” Spurrier said.
The two teams had played memorable games before that, starting in 1937 (I did not cover that game) and became each other’s permanent cross-division opponents in 1992.
Auburn and Georgia were not going to budge. Neither were Alabama and Tennessee. Those two rivalries were considered historic. (Stop laughing. Alabama-Tennessee used to be a big deal).
“So we were presented with LSU because it was the top three in the East vs. the top three in the West,” said then-AD Jeremy Foley. “I liked it because it would draw fans to our place and be a great trip every other year for our fans.”
When there was talk of getting rid of permanent opponents, Foley always pushed for the status quo because of that LSU gate in even-numbered years.
And as LSU began to shake off the malaise that was Curley Hallman and Gerry DiNardo and started competing for championships, everything ramped up.
But it has never been like it is now for pure venom. LSU players and fans are still as ornery as Adam Sandler when he gets ticked off in “Waterboy” (and talk just like him, too).
And after this long history lesson, I’ll tell you that most of what has happened before doesn’t matter.
The Tigers are angry because they lost last year. And they lost the last time they played the game in Red Stick.
Here is the bottom line — these are two programs trying to climb the mountain. And neither one would mind letting go of the rope on the other one.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.