The Back Nine: Ideas to spark up annual spring game

Gator mascots Albert and Alberta greet fans during last year's Orange & Blue Game. [File]

The Back Nine comes at you after an interesting weekend and a very sad Monday, because we had to put down little Stella, a rescue dog who was part of our family for long enough to make an impression in our hearts. And the rugs, carpeting, the bathroom floor and you get the idea.

10. Hey, it’s game week. Well, kind of. The spring game is Saturday and Florida is hoping for a crowd of around 35,000, depending on the weather, maybe more. The University Athletic Association is doing a lot to make it as interesting as possible, but one thing you have to accept is that spring games are what they are. There are places where they will almost fill up the stadium, other places where the stadiums will be half full and some places where you could count the fans in the stands by halftime. I’ve always believed that having games between teams would make for entertaining TV, but there isn’t a coach in America who would be in favor of it. I also have some out of the box ideas that would never be implemented, like beer sales in the entire stadium or skills competitions instead of a game. The bottom line is that we’ll likely never see anything like the 65,000 that showed up for Tim Tebow’s final spring game in 2009. Which is fine. Although when coaches say the one thing they know is that they will win the game, why do they keep score? Doesn’t one team lose?

11. So really, what can you take from a spring game? The key is to get through it injury free. Then, you would like to see your quarterbacks look efficient. And your receivers make some nice catches and show some speed. But you aren’t going to be able to tell a whole lot about the biggest issue Florida has, which is the offensive line. If there is one thing you can expect it is that Florida’s offense will look a lot more fine-tuned than it did at this time a year ago.

12. Well, we know how big a deal the NCAA Tournament is because Bruce Pearl got all gussied up for his first one, even dying his hair a darker color. I think that says a lot about him and I will just leave that there. Of course, the national title game was played Monday night, but people Monday morning were still talking about the final seconds of the first game Saturday night. The official made the right call on the final foul. The refs did miss the double dribble but also missed a grabbing foul on Auburn’s Bryce Brown seconds before Virginia’s Ty Jerome dribbled off his foot. Hey, it’s part of the game. I don’t want to hear how you can’t make that foul call at that point in the game. That’s a load of fertilizer. It was a textbook lower body foul. Whether it altered the shot or not doesn’t matter because you have to allow the player to come down on a jump shot. It was an unbelievable finish to an incredible game. Oh, and Auburn is not allowed to complain about foul calls after the SEC semifinal mugging of Florida guard Andrew Nembhard.

13. The most shocking thing that happened this weekend wasn’t the Florida baseball team giving up 40 runs in getting swept by Ole Miss. It was the Florida gymnastics team not making the NCAA finals for the first time since 2000. All season, the one area where Florida hasn’t been elite was in the vault, but that was far from the problem at the regionals. Instead, Florida had to count a fall in the beam and made enough missteps in the other two events to miss out. I thought Florida had a puncher’s chance to win a national title with a couple of breaks, but instead the Gators will try to win an event title with their four gymnasts who qualified. As we know, sports is unscripted and that’s why you saw so many tears and hugs Saturday night.

14. Now, about those 40 runs. Yikes, this Florida team is not good on the road. How bad is it? The team ERA in conference games is up to 7.14 and on the road in SEC games it’s giving up 12.3 runs a game. Kevin O’Sullivan said all year this team would struggle early, but it’s getting later and later. Florida, at 21-13, might even be in danger of not hosting a regional for the first time since 2013, although you could see the Gators host as a No. 2 seed. Right now, the Gators are tied for 10th in the conference and only two teams have worse SEC records. UF travels to FSU tonight for Mike Martin’s final shot at the Gators (unless they meet up in the postseason) and then has a Thursday-Saturday series at home against South Carolina.

15. On the other hand, softball got it together after losing three straight to sweep the series against Arkansas. And the men’s tennis team won again, which means the Gators have clinched a tie for the SEC title. Those of you in town for the spring game might want to stick around because Florida faces South Carolina at 1 p.m. Sunday at home in the final match of the regular season with a chance to win the title outright. So not everything in the Gator Nation was bad this weekend.

16. Watching the Augusta National Women’s Amateur was certainly a treat and even though I could watch Sunday hackers play the course, the ladies were exceptional. Both Sierra Brooks and Marta Perez of UF made the finals and struggled a bit in the final round, but everybody beat my score there. Hey, I had to throw that in there, you know, the whole having played Augusta thing. While most people are bubbling over Augusta having this event, there have been some who have said that it took too long and that the membership should not be lauded for finally doing something that should have been done long ago and that it doesn’t erase decades of discrimination. I look at it like this — even if you have a child that you couldn’t potty train until he or she was 10 years old, you’d still be happy when it happened. Or is that a bad analogy?

17. The Tweet of the Week comes from the excellent Matt Fortuna of The Athletic and pretty much summed up my feelings after the Virginia-Auburn game — “It’s as if all of the basketball gods looked at the years of UVA heartbreak, the years of Bruce Pearl shadiness, got together in a room and said: ‘How can we rectify this in the most ridiculous, gut-wrenching way humanly possible?’ ”

18. I’ve been trying to get in as many workouts as possible before knee surgery, but today I think I’ll go for the fat man’s workout — Chill massage bed at Gainesville Health and Fitness, steam room, whirlpool. And this playlist:

* “Stella the Artist” by David Gray.

* “The Problem is Me” by The Get Up Kids.

* “This Life” by Vampire Weekend.

* “The One I Love” by Ellen Kraus.

* And for an oldie, “Any Way You Want It” by the underrated Dave Clark Five.



  1. I was with a special group on a Tuesday at Augusta National that had passes to anywhere! We saw and talked to Jack Nicklaus in the player lounge and also saw Arnold Palmer eating breakfast with the his second wife. We then ate fried chicken on the veranda watching Tiger on the practice green. Still can’t believe the experience in the inter chamber of the holy of holies of Gulf Heaven! Everyone needs to visit at least once. Best kept piece of property anywhere. I had a neighbor who works the whole tournament week at Augusta and then gets to play a round with all the workers the last weekend in May for +35 years. It took him 15 years to hit #12 green. It was always fun to hear him give details of every shot.

  2. Virginia outlasted Texas Tech for their first men’s basketball championship, only after becoming the first #1 seed to lose in the tourney last year against UMBC. For those of you who weren’t around, Virginia already held the dubious distinction of suffering the worst upset in history back in 1982. The #1 ranked Cavaliers went to Hawaii and played the Chaminade Silverswords, an NAIA team, and lost 77 – 72, even with Ralph Sampson playing for them. Maybe the NC was worth it, but I wouldn’t ever want to deal with those two losses.

    • Phil, it seemed to me that UVA was destined to redeem themselves based on the amount of incredible luck they had. The Cavs probably should’ve lost all of their last three games. They were dead when Jerome missed the second FT against Purdue, and it became a battle between the two teams’ 7-foot slugs. Neither of those guys can elevate enough to get their toes off the floor when they jump, so they’re both relegated to slapping at rebounds like two seals at Sea World batting a beach ball. The Purdue slug couldn’t box out and get a game winning rebound, which allowed the UVA slug to bat the ball into the back-court, where no Purdue player provided Guy any resistance to the ball. Meanwhile, the Purdue slug became a spectator, allowing Diakite to catch the pass from Guy and hit the game tying jumper uncontested. No need to repeat Pat’s recounting of the Cavs luck against Auburn, but it was even more unbelievable than the Purdue game. Then, last night, with the game tied and still 5 seconds on the clock, Tech puts up a 3 when all they needed was a single point to win the game. Even if you argue that it was a clean look, it was a very long look, and if you were going to take a 3, it should’ve been Mooney shooting it. I realize every champion has to get a lucky bounce somewhere along the way, but UVA had more than a bounce house at a toddler’s birthday party.