The 2008 team that will be honored at halftime of today’s Florida-LSU game is special to current Florida coach Dan Mullen for a number of reasons.
The obvious one is that it won a national title.
The secondary reason is that it was the last team Mullen coached as an assistant.
Back then, things were different and I’m not just talking about the fact there was no Instagram and nobody played Fortnite on their phones.
Because back then, Florida-LSU was a big deal. But it wasn’t the angry rivalry it is today.
In fact, it wasn’t really a rivalry. LSU was Florida’s permanent opponent from the West as much for its box office draw as anything. Oh, the games always seemed to be a big deal. But rivals? Hardly.
Everything changed with Hurricane Matthew in 2016.
As a result, Mullen inherits a game that has a lot more venom than it did when he left Florida.
“I don’t know about the angry part,” Mullen said. “But (the players) know it’s a rivalry and it’s a big game.”
Maybe it has all calmed down. Maybe cooler heads are now prevailing and we’re back to normal now that we’re back on schedule with the home-and-homes. Or maybe there are still hard feelings on both sides.
Maybe it really is a rivalry and will be forever.
Let’s put it this way — have you ever seen two teams celebrate a non-rivalry win the way Florida did two years ago and LSU did last season?
The Gators, of course, clinched a second straight trip to Atlanta with the 2016 win of the delayed game that came down to the final play. LSU celebrated last year so vociferously, players sprinting across the field with mock Gator chomps as if they’d just won the lottery in part because of Jim McElwain’s comments the previous year.
“They got what they deserved,” he said then of LSU’s loss to UF.
There really is no point in bringing up the details of what started the feud that became more intense than the Hatfields and McCoys on Twitter. Your opinion, whether you’re a Tiger or a Gator, hasn’t changed since then.
Just know that it made this rivalry as intense as any of the others Florida has. (I glanced at Wikipedia this week and it does list LSU as one of Florida’s rivalry games, but it also listed Auburn and UF fans haven’t seen Auburn in so long they forgot those Tigers are still in the league).
The rivalry was also intensified by the claims of both sides of being DBU. And after the 2016 game, Teez Tabor twisted the knife by saying, “You can’t give up a 98-yard touchdown and call yourself DBU.”
Then there was last year when Gator fans lost their minds because the LSU band played over the start of a new tradition, the sing-along of “I Won’t Back Down.” Tom Petty died that week. I still haven’t forgiven them.
Anyway, if you missed the last couple of years, know that the game today will have a notch more of intensity than the usual Florida-LSU game. It’s big because it always seems to be big. But now there is a tad more hate than the old days of good, clean respect.
The funny thing is that of all of Florida’s rivals — and the Gators have so many we’ve lost count — none have had as much drama as the Florida-LSU series.
It’s why CBS grabbed it even before the Tigers won over Ole Miss to go to 5-0 and Florida surprised Mississippi State in Starkville. You just know it is going to be must-see TV.
“There have been some exciting, great games that have uniqueness to them,” Mullen said.
Yeah, that’s the best way to put this series. Unique.
I mean, LSU beat Florida twice in six years on fake field goals. There was the Tim Tebow jump pass and the electric 70-yard touchdown to Percy Harvin on the third play in 2008 and the five fourth-down conversions by LSU the year before.
You can go back to the 2004 Marcus Randall to Joseph Addai with 27 seconds to play to win it or the Gators winning in 2003 in a year LSU won it all or Urban Meyer crying after the 2005 loss or if you are really old the game in the monsoon in 1972 that ended in a 3-3 tie or penultimate game Charley Pell coached that also ended in a tie.
I could go on. It has been an amazing series.
“I coached in four of them,” Mullen said. “I always know it’s a big, big game. All of them were pretty big. For our guys, I’ve talked to them all week. This is why you come to Florida, to play in big games like this.”
It’s big. And it’s bad.
Don’t let the hard feelings spoil it. It’s too good a series to let anything ruin Florida-LSU.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.