Gators bring the motivation for SEC Showdown at Missouri

Florida wide receiver Josh Hammond runs with the ball after making a catch during last year's game against Missouri at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. [Brad McClenny/ The Gainesville Sun]

COLUMBIA, Mo. — After last season’s devastating Homecoming loss to Missouri, Florida coach Dan Mullen stood at the postseason podium to deliver his version of “The Promise” that his former quarterback, Tim Tebow, made after a home loss to Ole Miss in 2008.

 Let’s just call it “The Thumb Wrestling Challenge.”

 Mullen’s challenge was directed at his players. He was calling them out, questioning what kind of competitors they really are. He said a true competitor wants to win, to always win — no matter what the sport, no matter what the circumstances.

 “Don’t care what we’re doing,” Mullen said at the time. “You want to thumb wrestle me right now? I’m going to kick your ass. Know what I mean. If you want to come on up, I’ve got you.

 “If you want to go run stadiums, I’ll kick your ass. If you’re going to keep score and someone is going to win and someone is going to lose, I want to beat your ass.”

 Like Tebow’s “Promise”, which led to a national championship, Mullen’s challenge has achieved the desired result. The Gators have been competing, competing hard, and winning ever since. Florida is 12-2 in the aftermath of Mullen’s inspired talk about thumb wrestling and running stadiums.

 The Gators are still buying in. They’re driven to compete and win.

 That’s the way it’s going to be today, they say, regardless of circumstances — past and present.

 And there are circumstances. The Gators have lost the last two meetings with the Tigers by a combined score of 83-33 and fallen to their new East rival four times in the past six seasons. And this could be a cold-weather game, UF’s first in quite a while, and it’s against a team that’s red-hot in its own stadium, a perfect 5-0.

 But that doesn’t matter. What matters is the Gators are coming into this game to compete.

“You know, we go out there Saturday and they keep score,” senior center Nick Buchanan said. “This is a team full of competitors, so as long as there’s light’s on, there’s lines on the field, the score’s being kept, we’re going to go out there and do our best.”

 Mullen will love to hear that. He’s been stressing throughout the week that’s this is a game, a matchup, where the Gators need to be fierce competitors and focused on doing whatever they have to do to come away with a victory that would move No. 11 UF to 9-2 on the season.

 Be a competitor. Compete to win. That’s the motivation, Mullen said.

 “It’s guys learning about just making sure they understand what it means to be a competitor and how to handle it and how to focus on what’s important,” he said. “The motivation is they turned the scoreboard on and somebody keeps the score. That’s the only motivation, you don’t need any more. If you need more motivation than that, you’re not much of a competitor. 

 “They’re going to keep score and we want to win. We’ve got to do everything in our power to make that happen. How we practice and how we prepare and all of that stuff. That’s what’s important, and if you lose focus on that, that’s when you start to not play well.”

 The Gators say they’re locked in, ready to compete at the highest level today.

 “We’re excited for the game and we’re pumped up,” senior middle linebacker David Reese said. “We don’t care about the weather or anything like that. We just want to win. Coach Mullen has done a great job just letting us know that if you’re a competitor then that’s what you want to do. You expect to win every game, and no matter what happened last week, no matter what happened in the past. We’re trying to win right now.”