The Back Nine comes at you after spending some time in St. Augustine and if you think it’s crowded now they may be getting spillover into Putnam Hall after the next expansion to the east.
10. Sigh. Do you feel kind of lost? There’s nothing orange and blue to cheer for. No more baseball. Softball feels like it ended a month ago. Football is still so far away you can’t even make it out in the distance. What are we supposed to do, read a book? Build something? That’s the thing about Gator sports, for close to 10 months out of the year, there is always something and usually it is played at a high level. For Gator fans, you enter most journeys — whether it be hoops or baseball or track or volleyball — with the hopes of a national title. Sometimes, they might not be realistic, but that’s what fans are for. The great Mary Howard over at the athletic department offers up this stat on the previous athletic year — 12 of the 21 sports finished in the top five nationally. Which means that more than half of the programs had a shot. That’s amazing. Now if UF can only get this football thing straightened out, the Gators might really have something.
11. Because, as we all know, it’s still the straw that stirs the athletic drink. It’s what receives the most clicks and make you buy a Sunday paper. And 4-7 is one reason that this didn’t feel like a great year for Gator athletics, even if the numbers tell you otherwise. As I wrote Sunday, we get so spoiled with championships that SEC titles are met with a shrug. Even SEC East football titles in 2015 and ’16 were greeted with the enthusiasm of a trip to the store to get milk and bread. Gator fans NEED football to be exciting and successful to really enjoy the entire athletic year. Bragging rights are an imaginary thing that are rarely brought up … except in one sport. The thing that I think is different about the fan base and its level of excitement is that this is the first time since Steve Spurrier was the coach that they feel like they are in it together with their coach and staff. Coaches can get so into their daily grind that they forget that the people who care about the program more than anybody — including the coaches and their players — are the hardcore fans. I mean, have you ever heard of a fan transferring allegiance to another school? Or a fan learning the fight song and silly cheers at a rival school because he switched sides. I get it — fans care more than anyone. That can be both a good and a bad thing. Mostly, it’s what makes college football so great.
12. And now we enter the sultry days and nights of the sports vacuum that is late June, all of July and most of August. What do we have? Baseball? While the Braves have pulled me back in, it’s 162 games and almost none of them are on TV. We have two golf majors remaining, but if they are as boring as the first two, I’ll pass. What we really need is for the SEC Network to do a better job of showing old games. They show some, but nowhere near enough. Instead, we get the SEC baseball championship game 43 times. And I’m not exaggerating. I sound like someone who is aggravated by a little sunburn and the thought that I have to spend some time outside. Where’s my floppy hat? But seriously, how many days until football season?
13. Or I could say how many days until SEC Media Days? Because that is now only three weeks away and will get our blood pumping again. We get to interpret what Ed Orgeron is saying and get scolded by Nick Saban and try to keep up with Jimbo Fisher and get to know Jeremy Pruitt. OK, so it’s not that exciting. But I know you are anxiously anticipating the preseason All-SEC teams. If you land on one of those, you get, well, nothing. It’s like Florida defensive back Marco Wilson told me the other day — “They’re going to be based on last year. They can sleep on us. I don’t care if we’re in some magazine, I just care what I do on the field.” Here’s another thing that we might not have thought about last year when the nine players were suspended. Both Wilson and CJ Henderson told The Back Nine that it hurt their development when Antonio Callaway was booted. They really wanted to go up against him every day. I think Van Jefferson will make them better defensive backs.
14. So last year and during this offseason I have railed against the inability for Florida to be any good on special teams despite having the two best kickers in the country. Now that I have calmed down, I have to admit that I knew it wasn’t all about coaching. Don’t get me wrong, coaching and the lack of attention paid to special teams was part of the problem. So was the lack of confidence to pull the trigger on trick plays they practiced on special teams ALL THE TIME. But a major factor was also the suspensions and then the injuries. When you lose so many scholarship players, there is a trickle down effect that often hits special teams the hardest. And the more important players you lose, the less likely you are to put studs on special teams. So I do get that it contributed into stats like these (you may want to avert your eyes):
• Florida was 104th in punt returns and 105th in punt return big plays.
• Florida was 108th in punt return defense.
• There were 139 kickoff reruns for 50 or more yards last year in FBS football. Florida had none of them.
• Florida was tied for last in blocked kicks with one. It came in the first game. That was it.
Thanks. I had to get that off my chest.
15. Anybody who thinks that Florida didn’t hire a certain coach because the athletic director wouldn’t let that certain coach hire his assistant coaches has been sold some magic beans. It’s a bit of a farce and I’m not mentioning names. I will say this — Florida wanted Chip Kelly and UF wanted Scott Frost, but if the Florida AD had not been so close to Mississippi State, Dan Mullen would have been the no-brainer first choice. And in the end, Florida got the perfect person for the job and may have dodged bullets. And that’s all I have to say about that. This feels like a therapy session.
16. One final thought about a remarkable baseball season. I feel like Gator fans went into the five stages of grief on Twitter and elsewhere late in the final game:
• Denial. These guys weren’t that good to begin with. They were never going to repeat.
• Anger. My gosh that calling the Hogs thing is annoying.
• Bargaining. You know, a walk here and an error and one deep fly and we’re tied and I promise to give up fried baloney sandwiches for a year.
• Depression. Has it been a year since it felt so great to see them storming the field? That’s sad.
• Acceptance. This was another great season. Winning the College World Series is hard. Florida picked a bad time to field poorly and couldn’t get clutch hits, but that’s the way the game is. As Kevin O’Sullivan said, it’s a fickle game. They were fortunate to make it to Omaha and won two games there. They were one of the last four teams playing. And we’re gonna miss guys like JJ Schwarz and Brady Singer. Well done, lads.
17. The Tweet of the Week was written Friday by someone who misses her father very much — “May 12, 1937-June 22, 2008. Ten years. Missed by millions. Missed more by his loved ones. What he taught through his actions: Do your work. Speak your truth. Be generous to those with less resources. Speak out for those with less power. Take everyone’s ego to task.” The author was Kelly Carlin writing about her dad, the great George Carlin, who is definitely on my Mt. Rushmore of comedians. I think of him every time someone comes on the radio with a weather report. “The weather for tonight — DARK. There will be scattered light in the morning.”
18. Speaking of greats, the Carpool Karaoke that James Corden did with Sir Paul McCartney was the best thing I have seen on the Interweb in years. Please Google and enjoy. And try out this playlist:
• “One of the Drunks” by Panic! At The Disco.
• “Girls, Girls, Girls” by Ana Egge.
• “Crack the Case” by Dawes.
• “My Way” by Tom Walker.
• And for an old one, “Baby, Now That I’ve Found You” by The Foundations.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at email@example.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.