The Back Nine comes at you after what felt like a week in the press box at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium. And we had air conditioning and ice cream.
10. When Florida did not win the SEC All-Sports Trophy for the first time in 13 years, it was mathematical validation that this was a down year for Gator sports. This is the monster that has been created and nurtured and sometimes leads fans to the ledge in the Gator Nation. But in this “down year” for UF sports, there was only one team in the nation that:
• Won a major bowl game (playoff or New Year’s Six).
• Made it to Oklahoma City and the Women’s College World Series.
• Won a game in the NCAA basketball tourney.
• Made the field for the NCAA baseball tournament.
• Reached the Final Four of the NCAA men’s tennis tournament after winning the regular season SEC title.
• It’s men defended its NCAA Indoor Championships team title.
Yeah, down year. And that doesn’t include all of the other successes by Gator teams. It was not a spectacular year for a program that is so used to excellence, but it still had its moments and plenty to celebrate. From the Peach Bowl to men’s tennis to what we saw Sunday at the softball stadium, there are a lot of places who pine for a year like this. The final game on campus for the academic year is over and that is always kind of sad, but there are still potential highlights to come.
11. It has felt all year like everybody was playing for third in women’s softball because Oklahoma and UCLA seem so dominant and both made it to Oklahoma City. Florida’s almost-annual trip there was borne out of one game, that come-from-behind win over South Carolina in the first game of the SEC tourney. If Florida doesn’t do that, it is not hosting the Super Regional and the crowd played a major factor in winning an intense series over Tennessee. It does feel almost like Florida is playing with house money in Bricktown, but one thing gives the Gators a puncher’s chance. And you can guess who I am talking about. “I know she’s gotten roughed up at times,” said Tennessee co-coach Karen Weekly of Kelly Barnhill. “But experience-wise someone who has thrown a lot of innings on big stages since her freshman year and she takes responsibility for the team when she goes out there. She owns it. When you have someone owning it like that you always have a chance.” Barnhill’s Sunday performance has to go into the weathered pages of Florida athletics history as one of the greatest I’ve witnessed. I was like a lot of people who wondered where she was physically and mentally after the last regular season series. Now we know … She’s in OKC.
12. It would have been interesting if Florida’s baseball team had also been sent to Oklahoma City for its regional (ninth-seeded Okie State is hosting), but Florida getting into the tournament is all that matters. It’s a tough regional because Dallas Baptist has a strong program (making its eighth regional in nine years) and Texas Tech had a great season. But the Gators are in and a couple of weeks ago there weren’t a lot of people who thought they had a chance. Anyway, you could have a doubleheader Friday night if UF softball wins its opener in OKC — baseball at 8 p.m. and softball at 9:30. Be sure to hydrate and get a nap. I know I will.
13. For every positive thing that happened to you as a sports fan this weekend, it certainly was a somber one. We lost three really special people and it stinks. Gerry Fraley was a friend of mine and one of the toughest, most professional writers I ever dealt with. He didn’t suffer fools well, especially guys with mini-cams who thought they owned the interview space. But he had an incredible caring side and treated media members he respected like they were kings. Bart Starr was the first superstar I can remember as a kid. He was the 200th draft pick and is in the argument for best quarterbacks ever. Rod Bramblett was another who had a level of fame but went out of his way to make people feel welcome and special. Sometimes the simplest words are the most powerful for an announcer, like the famous Kick Six when Bramblett screamed into the mike, “AUBURN’S GONNA WIN THE FOOTBALL GAME!” Beautiful. All three will be sadly missed and never replaced.
14. Come on down, Toronto. Come on down to a different world because there is nothing like the NBA Finals. It was nice for LeBron to join a glorified G-League team and let someone else win the East. It could be an interesting series, but it’s hard to believe the Warriors got here again and aren’t going to keep the foot on the gas, even if they could have taken an around-the world cruise in the time between the end of the Western Conference finals and the start of the last series of the year.
15. So I read this big ESPN piece on Jim McElwain and it included “dead fish” quote, the shark and a couple of “pretty cools” and the fact that the McElwains are living in a barn in Central Michigan. But I was struck by this one quote from the former Florida coach that pretty much took the high road to sum up his time in Gainesville: “There were people there to help, and I just didn’t use them,” he said. “I’m one of those guys that’s always tried to figure out how to fix it, whatever it might be. They deserved to win, and I didn’t get that accomplished. That is what it is. I probably wasn’t a very good fit, and in this business, there is a lot to be said about that.” OK, so some of that high road might be because of the financial agreement between him and Florida, but I think he’s being genuine. He was not a good fit in a lot of ways, from the bunker mentality to dealing with the media. But I always liked him and thought he was a genuinely good person. Meanwhile, on the other end of the scale (and you can take that any way you want to), Urban Meyer said this weekend he thinks he’s done coaching, but hasn’t ruled out a return. My, how Ohio State fans will turn on him if he’s at USC or Notre Dame in 2020.
16. Former NCAA champion Nick Gilliam still has some game. The Gainesville resident and Gator grad won the local BMW event at Haile Plantation, won the next round at Pinehurst and went to Cabo, all expenses paid, and won there. As a result, he will be in the BMW FedEx Cup Pro-Am at Medinah in August. Nick will be playing for GiGi’s Playhouse Gainesville, a great organization that was the first Down Syndrome Achievement Center in the state. Hey, Nick, need a caddy?
17. The Tweet of the Week goes to Fox Sports researcher Michael Mulvihill — “With 13.6 million live viewers, the Game Of Thrones finale would have ranked 71st among all NFL games in live viewership last season.” I will leave that there without comment.
18. I’m taking a break today from finding YouTube versions of the playlist because like a lot of people who spent three days at softball, I am spent. Still, these are some dandy tunes:
• “Weird Like Me” by Slingshot Dakota.
• The new version of the great Byrds’ song “Bells of Rhymney” by Jacob Dylan and Beck from the new “Echo in the Canyon” soundtrack.
• “Ain’t This the Life” by Ted Lennon.
• To get your heart started after a long weekend, “Got You” by Amyl and the Sniffers.
• And for an old one in honor of the movie “Rocket Man” coming out, “Tiny Dancer” by Elton John, which is my favorite by Reggie Dwight.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.