1. Florida-Auburn: When the SEC added Arkansas and South Carolina, it divided into two six-team divisions with an eight-game conference schedule. Florida played all five teams from the East and had Auburn and LSU as permanent rivals from the West. Then some genius in the SEC front office decided only one rival from the West was necessary and since Georgia-Auburn was the oldest rivalry in the south, that game had to continue. Florida-Auburn was axed, ending a truly great rivalry. This was an intense rivalry without the hostility. Florida fans loved driving up to Auburn in alternating years and Auburn fans always told me how they loved coming to Gainesville where the fans treated them so nicely, unlike a few other places in the SEC. Does anyone remember Florida's 1983 game with Auburn at Auburn? Of the players who participated in that game, 57 went on to play in the NFL including Wilber Marshall and Bo Jackson. Then there was the Bo No Mas game in 1984, won by Florida, 24-3, when Bo pulled himself in the second half rather than continue taking the beating he was getting from the Florida defense. Those were the days my friend.
2. GENE ELLENSON: There should be some sort of award given every year to Florida's ultimate team leader and it should be named after Gene Ellenson. For those of you too young to know, Gene Ellenson embodied everything great about being a Gator from 1960 until his death in 1995. He was the defensive coordinator under Ray Graves, but more important, he was the heart and soul of the team. His pre-game speeches were the thing legends are made of. Google Gene Ellenson's letter sometime and read the letter he wrote to the team before the Texas A&M game in 1962. He had a Florida helmet delivered to the team hotel before the 1968 Florida-FSU game with a hatchet buried in the crown accompanied by a note that read, "We're going to kill your quarterback!" It was signed "The FSU defense." Ellenson whipped the Gators into a frenzy that night and the carryover was felt the next day when Jack Youngblood (five sacks) made sure FSU quarterback Bill Cappleman would hear the footsteps long into the future. Florida won, 9-3, in one of the great defensive performances ever by a Gator team. In 1970, when Gene had retired from coaching and was the assistant athletic director, golf coach Buster Bishop's mother died in the midst of the Houston All-American tournament. Coach Bishop flew home and Gene flew to Houston where he took over as the golf coach for the final round. Florida won when Ben Crenshaw missed a putt on the 18th hole. Gene Ellenson was just off the 18th green in a 3-point stance. He said he was beaming positive molecules to divert Crenshaw's putt by one inch. Crenshaw missed by an inch. Spurrier used Gene for pre-game speeches before every Georgia game and FSU game. It's ironic that Gene was a Georgia grad, but after Vince Dooley ran up the score in 1968, he hated Georgia with every fiber in his body.
3. 2 P.M. STARTING TIME FOR FOOTBALL GAMES: Before every athletic director in the country started asking the question "how high?" when television execs said "jump!" there were 2 p.m. starts to Florida football games. Oh, it was still hot at 2 p.m., but you'd be amazed at how much nicer it was than those horrendous heat stroke looking for a place to happen nooners that we have now. The 2 p.m. starts were much more fan friendly, too. Fans could arrive in the morning, set up the tailgate and enjoy lunch, watch the game and have time to get home at a reasonable hour. We get nooners so that ESPN can squeeze seven games between ESPN and ESPN2 onto its Saturday broadcast schedule.
4. COCA-COLA AT THE SWAMP: As long as Pepsico owns Gatorade, we won't see a return of Coca-Cola to The Swamp and the Florida campus, which is too bad. I realize that Pepsi is as southern as Coca-Cola (Pepsi was begun in New Bern, North Carolina and Coke in Atlanta), but Coke has always been the southern drink of choice (non-adult division). Try as I might, I have never acquired a taste for Pepsi and that's never going to change. Folks who consume hard liquor tell me that rum and Pepsi or bourbon and Pepsi just don't come close to Coke when it comes to mixing. I guess I should consider it a swap out. Powerade (made by Coke) is horrible. Gatorade is good.
5. MR. TWO BITS: George Edmondson was already a legend by the time I attended my first Florida football game – October 1, 1960, Florida 18, Georgia Tech 17. When I was nine I thought that other than actually playing football for the Gators at Florida Field, the coolest thing in the world would be spending one game being Mr. Two Bits, running around the stadium, blowing a whistle and leading cheers while wearing saddle oxfords, a yellow button-down collar shirt and an orange and blue Gator tie. I always thought it was so very cool that Mr. Edmondson wasn't a Florida graduate, but a graduate of The Citadel. He proved that being a Gator is a matter of the heart, not necessarily a diploma hanging on the wall.
6. PALM TREES IN THE NORTH END ZONE: The expansion of the north end zone in 1991 meant the end of the palm trees. I know some things stand in the way of progress so the palm trees had to go so we could have the skyboxes and the towering upper deck, but nothing said Florida quite like those palm trees. It's even in the alma mater – "Where palm and pine are blowing." They have hedges at Georgia and Auburn. The palm trees always seemed to be Florida's identity and when they were gone it seemed the stadium became too much like too many others.
7. JACK HAIRSTON AND TOM MCEWEN WRITING ABOUT THE GATORS: "Just the Facts" Jack didn't write fluffy stuff. He gave you the facts and terrific analysis. When you read his story about the Florida game you knew who won and why, who lost and why, and what were the real turning points in the game. Jack knew football. McEwen would give us these 3,000-word pieces that covered everything from what the coach had for breakfast to who sweated the most during the game but it was a fun read. There aren't many writers who cover the Gators whose work I can tolerate anymore.
8. THE SPURRIER SWAGGER: When Steve Spurrier was playing or coaching, it was the same thing – never a question of if the Gators were going to win but by how much. He inspired that kind of confidence. The Spurrier Swagger was at its peak when Stevie Wonder came back to coach the Gators for those 12 incredible years from 1990-2001. When the Gators took the field other teams thought they might have a chance to win the game. The Gators KNEW they were going to win. Remember the 1993 Florida-South Carolina game in Columbia? South Carolina broke out to a 19-0 lead. Spurrier was throwing his visor and stomping the sidelines, but even though he was throwing one of his famous sideline tantrums, you never once thought South Carolina would win the game. Florida came back to win it 37-26. I'm not one to hold grudges, but it still grates at me that Chucky Young, the president of the University of Florida at the time, didn't back Spurrier to the hilt after the Darnell Dockett incident in 2001. I believe that if Chucky had backed Spurrier in the manner in which he should have that Spurrier would have stayed at the University of Florida. I'm happy for the success he has had at South Carolina – the Gamecocks are my second favorite college football team because he is their coach – but Spurrier was and always will be a Gator. Through and through.
9. THE URBAN OF 2005-08: The Urban Meyer of those first four years was a completely different Urban than the one who coached in 2009-10. I know a lot of people today want to focus in on the off the field stuff and how he left UF, but forget that momentarily and focus in on football only during those first four years. That's all I'm talking about here. From 2005-08, Florida was unquestionably the best football program in the nation. The Gators went 44-9 and won two national championships, scoring points in bunches and, with the exception of 2007 when the defense was all freshmen and sophomores, stopping opponents cold in their tracks. The entire Gator nation bought into the way Urban treated Georgia and FSU as second-class citizens and appreciated the way he made those two teams his personal whipping boys (7-1 record in those first four years). The Urban of 2009-10 was legitimately sick but that was complicated by the bunker mentality that turned Urban inaccessible and far less likeable. The coach of those first four years had it going. The coach of those last two years was a shell of the coach of the first four.
10. WHEN GATOR GROWL WAS ACTUALLY ENJOYABLE: When the folks who made the decision to move Gator Growl over to Flavet Field evaluate what went wrong, they need to take a look back at the 1980s when the headliners were big time entertainers, not some obscure comic who couldn't tell a joke without some sexual reference and every other word an F-bomb. Gator Growl was something that always made Homecoming special and when the headliners were entertainers like Steve Martin, Robin Williams, Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Cosby, Gator Growl was indeed the best Homecoming weekend show in the country and the ticket was hard to get. At some point, the entertainers were (a) people nobody knew and (b) not very funny, which is why the greatest Homecoming event has been downgraded and moved out of the stadium. Pity.