by Pat Dooley
One day last football season, my cell rang and it was Steve Spurrier on the other end.
He told me that he had kept a column I wrote before the season because it lifted his spirits and that I should run it every pre-season.
Of course, we don’t do that in print but I thought I would use my blog to re-run it. I’m not sure some of it is applicable now after UF’s 8-5 season last year, but here it is anyway.
“It seems like so long ago and yet it has gone by in a blur. We were all younger then, walking around on healthier knees and seeing with better eyes (or is that just me?). Back then, there was nothing called the Gator Nation. There were just Gator fans with a chicken-footed mascot, orange replica jerseys and artificial turf in the stadium.
Tennessee wasn’t a rival then. Georgia was an annual loss. Twice in the previous decade there were interim coaches because the NCAA went all MMA on the program.
But then Steve Spurrier walked through the door and everything changed. Since then, 20 years have passed. The Gator Nation is everywhere. The jerseys are blue as long as Nike says they can be. The grass will be its greenest of the year on Saturday.
And Florida is one of the elite programs in college football.
It wasn’t then, not prior to 1990.
Before the 1990 season, Florida football was a bit of a joke.
Great players to be sure. Great personalities. Folk heroes galore. But great teams that always fell short. On the rare occasions they didn’t, it was because they cheated.
Florida had traditions, but one of them was to always be waiting until next year. There were bowl victories but more postseason losses than wins.
The greatest players tasted way too many defeats. Emmitt Smith went on to become the NFL’s all-time leading rusher and a Hall of Famer. His Gator teams went a pedestrian 20-16. UF’s other Hall of Famer, Jack Youngblood, was a senior in 1970 when Florida lost 63-14 to Auburn. It was Homecoming. I’m not making this up.
John Reaves-to-Carlos Alvarez formed one of the greatest passing combinations in Florida history. In their senior season, UF went 4-7. Wilber Marshall’s teams never won an SEC title. Neither did Steve Spurrier’s when he was the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback at Florida. In Cris Collinsworth’s junior season, his Gators went 0-10-1.
Prior to 1990, Florida had 22 losing seasons. It had no 10-win seasons.
Everyone talked about the program being a sleeping giant, but it had taken a triple dose of Ambien with a Lunesta chaser. There seemed to be no waking it.
The last two decades have been different. Florida has become one of college football’s talking points with no signs of slipping back.
Spurrier started the ascent when he returned to Gainesville. Urban Meyer has kept it going.
No team in college football has won more games the last two decades than Florida. A program that could not get to 10 wins in a season has averaged 10 wins a season over the past two decades. Gator teams have won almost 80 percent of their games, 83 percent if you don’t count the Ron Zook years.
Since the start of the 1990 season, the success has been ridiculous. For those who didn’t start following Florida football until Spurrier was the coach, being in the top five in the preseason polls feels like a birthright. But to truly appreciate what Florida has become, you have to have lived through Lindsay Scott and Fourth-and-Dumb and 51-0 in the rain. All of those disasters were against Georgia. You know, the team you now own.
To really get it, you have to remember the three different quarterbacks who threw the ball out of bounds to stop the clock … on fourth down. You have to have a working knowledge of the fumbles at North Carolina in ’68, Andy Summers’ fumble at the goal line against LSU in ’72 and Neal Anderson’s alleged fumble at Auburn in ’83. Or at least the opener in ’87 when Florida scored its only points on a pair of safeties.
If this is all news to you, you are a blessed Gator fan. The rest of you know what I’m talking about.
Which makes the last 20 years that much better.
Since 1990, Florida has been ranked in the final polls every season. With the exception of that first season when the NCAA punished Spurrier’s team for something it had nothing to do with, Florida has been to a bowl every year. No other SEC team can say that.
Since 1990, Florida has won eight SEC titles, crowding the south wall with achievement. The Gators have played in 10 SEC title games. They have won three national championships.
Florida players have won a pair of Heismans during the last two decades.
And as we prepare for another season, there is no reason to think anything is going to change.
From 1946-49 under Raymond Wolf, Florida was 11 games under .500. The players still refer to it as the “Golden Era” and celebrate annually.
I think we know what the real “Golden Era” is. Enjoy it.”