How have you been? Looks like you have been through a few coaches since we saw you last. Whatever happened to Tommy Tuberville?
We’ve paid attention over here in Gainesville. We know what you have done over the last dozen years. Believe me, everybody was an Auburn fan the night you played FSU for the national title.
Anyway, it’s good to have you back in town on Saturday. Don’t be a stranger.
Except, of course, Auburn has no choice. There was a time when you could make an argument that the War Eagles were one of Florida’s big rivalries on a long list of rivalries.
Auburn vs. Florida was a big deal, especially in Gainesville.
Their fans would show up and try to take over midtown on Friday nights, a confusing battle of two fan bases who both wear orange and blue. There was always that level of respect and the knowledge that there was going to be some hitting on game day and almost all of it on the field.
Florida. Auburn. Florida Field.
It was my first game. Ever.
It was Steve Spurrier’s Heisman Trophy-winning field goal in 1966. It was the Tigers embarrassing Florida on Homecoming 1970 with Pat Sullivan and Terry Beasley. It was Kerwin Bell somehow getting to the end zone on a two-point conversion in 1986.
It was Spurrier announcing there was a new sheriff in town in 1990 (48-7). It was overtime in 2002 and a field goal at the buzzer five years later.
Sorry for the history lesson, but that’s exactly what Auburn vs. Florida is now — history.
Instead of a rivalry game against the school that is the closest geographically to Gainesville, Saturday’s game is a freak of scheduling. Let’s put it this way — say you brought a young boy to the game. He is in first grade. It’s his first game. (Is this where I say, “That little boy is me?”)
He loved the intensity and the colors and the passion. He loved it so much that he asked you when he could see these two teams play again in The Swamp.
“Um, when you graduate from high school, son.”
It’s frustrating, really, the way the SEC has set up its scheduling, especially as we see attendance drop around the country.
But there is one thing you have to remember — it may mean more in the SEC, but not everybody is after the same thing.
The SEC is more of a collection of institutions than it is a conference. Some schools will give up their permanent opponent when you pry their cold, dead hands from it.
I’m not naming names, but there are bowl-hungry programs that don’t want to see Alabama and LSU and Georgia rotate onto their schedules more often.
There is also this — there is a prevailing sentiment at the main offices of the SEC that it’s working just fine because the league is always in the playoffs and is considered the country’s top conference. So why change?
There have been conversations at the various meetings among athletic directors about dumping the permanent opponents from the other divisions, which would allow more rotation of those opponents.
But they don’t seem to be going anywhere because there are schools that would consider it sacrilege to give up their annual game against (fill in the blank).
If the game is so important, schedule it as a non-conference.
Nope. Instead, we get what we get, no matter how silly it looks.
“Nobody has seen Auburn in The Swamp since 2007,” said Florida coach Dan Mullen, “They’ve seen a lot of teams over and over in The Swamp but not Auburn since 2007. And so I think that is a big draw that everyone will look at, maybe, and say, ‘OK, this is a better way to do it.’ ”
Even though the homecoming game is sold out. And that’s the thing that really seems counterproductive. As we’ve pointed out before, fans don’t travel the way they used to. And part of the reason is that it is the same trips every other year.
What does push them to book flights and plan caravans is a little variety. The biggest visiting crowd to come to The Swamp in the last few years? Texas A&M. Because it was something new and different.
“I would love to see us have more rotation,” said Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin. “I like eight games because it allows us to have more variety in the non-conference. But having more rotation would be ideal.”
The SEC is the best conference in the country, because it has the best players (check the NFL draft) and the best coaches (no doubt) and the best fans (No. 1 in attendance every year).
It’s the best conference despite its scheduling model.
So no matter what happens Saturday, we look forward to having you back in 2031. It’s almost like Halley’s Comet.
We were so close. But then Missouri and Texas A&M got in between us and we were forced to drift apart.
But we remember the good times. It’ll be nice to see you again.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.