Winning out would be heck of year for Gators

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Scenes from the sidelines during the game between Florida and Missouri at Faurot Field in Columbia, Mo., on Oct. 10, 2015. Florida defeated Missouri 21-3. [Matt Stamey/File]

Sometimes, you need history for perspective. Sometimes, you need to ignore it. Sometimes, you need to embrace it.

But it is always there. It was your timeline even before there were timelines. And for those of us with selective memories, sometimes we need reminders.

 Mine came last week, before the Vanderbilt game, when I received a call from the Head Ball Coach. He was talking about Ike Hilliard and the class of receivers they brought in to Florida in 1994.

And then he called back, to remind me of this.

In 1997, Florida lost to LSU and Georgia. The Gators had been No. 1 in the country for three weeks that season, but struggled under the weight of responsibility.

And yet, they finished the season with a win over No. 1 FSU in what many feel was the greatest game ever played in The Swamp, then went and won the Citrus Bowl that Steve Spurrier used to make fun of. 

“And we finished fourth in the country,” he said.

Remember, this was considered a down year at the time. Florida was coming off back-to-back national title games and its fourth straight SEC title. 

To be in the Citrus and to not win any championships was newfound culture shock to the young Gator fans raised on Spurrier.

But now, looking back, that was a heck of a year.

Florida’s football team can still have a great season. That was the point Spurrier was making.

And that reminded me of the time I was playing at TPC Sawgrass in the middle of the fairway on No. 18 with a chance to break 80 there for the first time. As I pulled a club, my dad said to me, “Just don’t pull it into the water.”

You’ll never guess where the ball went.

That’s my message today to a Florida football team that will have to wake up early to play a game against a non-rival in chilly conditions and little atmosphere 1,000 miles from home base in what resembles an SEC city about as much as Champaign, Ill.

Don’t pull it into the water.

Look, I know that when we were all Hoover and everything was nice and cozy and again back in Gainesville as practice was getting ready to start the players were talking about winning a national championship. 

Even in the news conferences right when the Peach Bowl was still fresh in their nostrils, the players were talking about returning to Atlanta the following season for the College Football Playoff semifinals.

And there’s nothing wrong with that.

You don’t reach high goals unless you set them.

But this team wasn’t ready to play for a national championship. Not with the lack of depth that was made thinner weekly with an abundance of injuries. Not with this offensive line.

We know that now and suspected it then.

But this is still a team that can finish strong, just like last year. It’s a team that can take another step toward being great in the near future by keeping the momentum headed in the right direction.

It’s a team than can continue the climb rather than slide back down the mountain a bit.

Florida has a better team than its final two opponents. But that doesn’t mean this is going to be easy. It shouldn’t be. Every coach with a microphone will tell you that winning is hard and winning away from home is even more difficult.

Win and win again and maybe you get another New Year’s Six bowl that comes with plenty of swag and a strong opponent. 

It’s not the goal this team set at the beginning of the year. But it is the goal now.

It starts — this mini-season that will be a big part of its definition — today in Columbia, Mo.

Who knows where it will end?

Depending on what happens the rest of the way around the country, perhaps with a No. 4 ranking just like the 1997 team.

Just don’t pull it into the water.

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

2 COMMENTS

  1. I really like how Mullen has developed the rebuild of the program. Great improvement in 2018, incremental improvement in 2019 if we win out. My expectation for 2020 is to be able to split the LSU and GA games going 11 – 1. Given a more favorable schedule in 2020 I think that would be doable. I don’t think Frost or Kelly would have been able to have this program competing for championships in the third year. Pat, I agree with you about not putting it in the water. Go Gators!!!

  2. I was at the 1997 Semihole game and agree it was the 2nd greatest Swamp game, after the first “legal” SEC Championship win against Kentucky (living through those last 15 minutes of stress was something to behold!). Good story and points Pat! Dan Mullin and company comprise a real big league coaching staff and will not let today turn into a sink hole game. 11-2 would make a big factor for 5/4 star recruits looking to join a program they think is headed to Championship status. Dan’s system is on a parallel path to the OHBC’s early years.