It’s Florida-Georgia week and time to share an indelible memory of the most important game on Florida’s schedule.
On the day before the 1963 Florida-Georgia game, the first child of Larry and Denise Dupree was stillborn. Gainesville was a much smaller town then and the UF campus population was a third of what it is now so news of the tragedy spread throughout the community like wildfire. Dupree was a first team All-American halfback but he was loved and appreciated throughout the UF and Gainesville communities.
Teammates were devastated by the news and the mood was somber as Gene Ellenson was delivering a pep talk just prior to the Gators loading up the buses to head to Jacksonville that afternoon. Dupree had asked Coach Ray Graves if he could say something to the team and Graves agreed. When Dupree walked into the room, Coach Ellenson stopped in mid-sentence and walked out of the room.
In a rare interview that he gave me for Fightin’ Gators magazine in November of 2004, Dupree recalled, “I still don’t remember the exact words I said, but it was very emotional for me. I thanked my temmates because they were so supportive and I let them know how I felt about them. I saw some pretty tough guys with big ole tears streaming down their faces.”
Dupree spent the night at the hospital with Denise. Saturday morning, Dupree’s father-in-law, Col. Eldridge Beach of the Florida Highway Patrol, walked into the room and suggested that Dupree go to Jacksonville to play. Denise nodded her head in agreement. Larry didn’t know Denise and Col. Beach had already talked this through.
“Somehow, I knew I was supposed to do this,” Dupree recalled.
What Larry Dupree didn’t know was that Col. Beach had the Highway Patrol ready to spring into action. Two cruisers were waiting outside Shands and with lights flashing and sirens blaring, they took Larry to the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville in record time. He walked into the Florida locker room carrying his uniform and it was like a wave of energy spread throughout the room. Teammates cried. Burdens were lifted. A whole lot of love was shared.
The late, great Jack Hairston, then sports editor of the Jacksonville Journal, told me that Graves gave his shortest pre-game speech ever: “If you guys don’t want to play today, you never will.”
That was Larry Dupree’s day. He played for the stillborn son. He played for Denise. He played for teammates and coaches. Mostly, he played because he felt in his heart it’s what God was telling him to do.
Dupree ran for more than 100 yards and the Gators beat Georgia, 21-14. It would have been worse because the zebras called back a 70-yard touchdown run, claiming Dupree had stepped out of bounds. Replays showed he was inbounds more than a foot,
Thinking back to that day, Dupree told me, “There was no way we were going to lose that game to Georgia. There were a lot of big ole guys that not much would make them cry, but they cried that day. They cried that game. They cried for me. They opened their hearts for me that day and they were a Godsend. I got more from them than I ever gave to them.”
Larry Dupree died back in June of 2014, leaving a vacuum in the soul of those who loved and knew him. As a Gator, even though he was Florida’s first 3-time All-SEC selection and a first team All-American, he never thought he was better or more important than the walk-ons or the managers or the people who cleaned up the locker rooms. He saw value in everyone and understood that when a team is made up of people who value each other, there is a chance for greatness.
November 9, 1963 there was greatness on the playing field of the Gator Bowl.
#3 ALABAMA (7-1, 4-1 SEC): It’s rare when Alabama fans cheer for Auburn, but that’s what most of them will be doing this weekend when Ole Miss travels to Auburn. Ole Miss currently holds the tiebreaker over Alabama in the event both teams finish with 1-loss SEC marks, so a loss by Ole Miss would put Alabama one game up. Alabama is idle this week and next faces #4 LSU in Baton Rouge on November 7.
ARKANSAS (3-4, 2-2 SEC): Freshman running back Rawleigh Williams, injured in Arkansas’ 4-overtime win over Auburn, underwent successful neck surgery Saturday night. At his Monday press conference head coach Bret Bielema indicated that Williams is expected to make a full recovery and will probably be able to play football again. Jared Cornelius, who suffered a compound fracture of his forearm four weeks ago, has made a miraculous recovery and is listed as a starter or Saturday’s game against D1AA Tennesse-Martin.
AUBURN (4-3, 1-3 SEC): Carl Lawson practiced Monday but Gus Malzahn still doesn’t know if his defensive end will play Saturday or even if he will play in any of the five remaining games. “We’re definitely hoping that he’ll definitely play before the year is out,” Malzahn said. “He’s hungry and progressing in the right direction.”
#11 FLORIDA (6-1, 4-1 SEC): Here are various bowl projections for the Gators prior to this week’s Georgia game:
Jerry Palm, CBSSports.com: Florida vs. Michigan, Citrus Bowl
College Sports Madness: Florida vs. Utah, Fiesta Bowl
Brett McMurphy, ESPN: Florida vs. Notre Dame, Fiesta Bowl
Mark Schlabach, ESPN: Florida vs. Memphis, Peach Bowl
Jason Kirk, SB Nation: Florida vs. Michigan, Peach Bowl
Bill Bender, Sporting News: Florida vs. Utah
GEORGIA (5-2, 3-2 SEC): Since their indoor practice facility hasn’t been built yet, Georgia bused to Flowery Branch to practice at the Atlanta Falcons’ indoor facilities Tuesday because of bad weather in Athens. On the injury front, LB Jordan Jenkins, WR/KR Isaiah McKenzie and D-linemen John Atkins and Chris Mayes are all practicing this week and expected to play Saturday against Florida.
KENTUCKY (4-3, 2-3 SEC): The Wildcats are following a familiar trend. Last year they started 5-1 and finished 5-7. This year they started 4-1 and have lost their last two. They need two wins to become bowl eligible and have three home games (Tennessee this week, Charlotte and Louisville back-to-back to close the season) plus road trips to Vandy and Georgia.
#4 LSU (7-0, 4-0 SEC): The November 7 showdown between LSU and Alabama could be the game that decides the Heisman Trophy. If Leonard Fournette runs strong against an Alabama defense that is giving up only 78.5 yards per game rushing, it would all but seal the Heisman. On the other hand, Alabama’s Derrick Henry might jump to the top of the Heisman heap if he runs wild against the LSU defense and the Bama defense stuffs Fournette … The Tigers are 35-11 since 2012 but they’re 0-3 against Alabama.
#25 MISSISSIPPI STATE (6-2, 2-2 SEC): The off week comes at a good time for the Bulldogs, who are assured of going to a bowl game for a school-record sixth consecutive year. Senior corner Will Redmond tore an ACL against Kentucky so he’s done for the year. Some NFL Draft analysts projected Redmond as a first rounder.
MISSOURI (4-3, 1-3 SEC): Gary Pinkel has lifted the month-long suspension of quarterback Maty Mauk. The Tigers are 126th out of 127 Division I teams in total offense and with a bye week, Mauk should be able to regain his starting position from true freshman Drew Lock, who has struggled and only gotten worse instead of improving with each game.
#19 OLE MISS (6-2, 3-1 SEC): Since beating Alabama, Ole Miss has lost both its road games. The Rebels are a 6-point favorite heading into Saturday’s game at Auburn, which needs a win over a good team to begin salvaging a season that has gone sideways. On paper it should be a rout as the Rebels have the 12th ranked offense in the country (514.8 yards per game) while Auburn’s defense ranks #99 (430.6 yards per game), but Hugh Freeze says he expects to see “the best Auburn team of the entire year.”
SOUTH CAROLINA (3-4, 1-4 SEC): South Carolina’s defense might catch a break this week against Texas A&M. The Aggies struggle to run the ball – good news because the Gamecocks have problems stopping the run – and their quarterbacks have thrown 5 interceptions in the last two games after throwing only 3 in the first five. South Carolina’s pass defense registered three picks in its last outing against Vanderbilt and held the Commodores to 4.2 yards per pass attempt.
TENNESSEE (3-4, 1-3 SEC): Will the Vols go into Lexington feeling a bit overconfident Saturday? Tennessee’s schedule is built for a 5-0 finish but as we’ve seen in the previous seven games, nothing seems to come easy for Butch Jones and the Vols. Win and he’s got the fans completely in his corner. Lose to Kentucky and it’s entirely possible that he will find himself squarely on the hot seat.
TEXAS A&M (5-2, 2-2 SEC): Through the first five games of the season, Kyle Allen threw for 13 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions. In the last two games, he’s completed less than 50% of his passes (32-74), averaged only 4.7 yards per pass attempt and has thrown 4 interceptions with only 1 TDP. If Allen can’t get it going against a South Carolina defense that has struggled this year, Kevin Sumlin will have a full blown QB controversy on his hands with stud freshman Kyler Murray standing on the sidelines.
VANDERBILT (3-4, 1-3 SEC): Derek Mason’s plan heading into Saturday’s game at Houston is to stick with a two-quarterback platoon. Freshman Kyle Shurmur will play two series and Johnny McCrary will be under center for one.
File this under things that make no sense at all: There are some folks out there saying Charlie Strong would leave Texas to take the Miami head coaching job. Strong makes $5 million a year at Texas and he’s in year two of a contract that is 100% guaranteed, so why would Charlie voluntarily leave a gig like that? At Texas Charlie Strong makes $5 million, has a 102,000 seat on campus stadium that is filled regularly and facilities as good as there are anywhere in the country. Miami, on the other hand, can afford a max $3 million a year contract, has no on campus stadium, pathetic crowds, a fickle fan base (most of which didn’t go to the U and probably couldn’t navigate their way to the campus) and facilities that make Florida’s look world class. Yeah, like Charlie’s going to voluntarily give up Texas for Miami.
If Washington State upsets #8 Stanford this weekend, you can forget a Pac-12 team making the College Football Playoff. That Washington State would be 5-2 at this point and in contention for the Pac-12 North is stunning considering Wazzoo lost to D1AA Portland State in the first game of the season. A lot of folks on the West Coast think Wazzoo wins this one. If Mike Leach can get the Cougars to 8-9 wins, he will be in prime contention for a coaching vacancy somewhere closer to civilization. Pullman isn’t the end of the earth but there are road signs that can get you there in 30 minutes or less.
While all Heisman eyes are on Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey of Stanford is putting up wowser stats. Through seven games, McCaffrey has rushed for 953 yards and 6 TDs, caught 21 passes for 284 yards and 2 TDs and returned 19 kickoffs for 559 yards.
COUNTDOWN TO FIRING DAY UPDATES
Frank Beamer’s status at Virginia Tech is shaky, at best. If Virginia Tech were to fire Beamer or if Beamer elected to retire, it would cost $2 million. Beamer will be paid $250,000 per year for eight years to work as a special assistant to the VaTech athletic director when he stops coaching no matter the circumstance.
Things are a bit more complicated at Virginia, which desperately wishes to fire Mike London but needs boosters to pony up some cash. London will receive $2,568,979 if he’s fired and assistants would be paid $1,579,083. If London is coaching at Virginia next year, it’s simply because the school decided it couldn’t afford the buyout money.
If West Virginia opts to can Dana Holgorsen, there will be a lot of sentiment to hire Marshall coach Doc Holliday, a former West Virginia player and assistant who is 30-6 in his last 2-½ seasons. Holliday is a former Florida assistant under Urban Meyer and maintains a close friendship with Meyer. That’s important because the new WVU president is former Ohio State president Gordon Gee, who also is a close friend of Meyer’s.
There is a lot of speculation that Bill Snyder is going to retire at Kansas State. If that happens, expect former K-State linebacker and Clemson DC Brent Venables to get the first call.
Among the names you will probably hear when Kyle Flood gets the axe at Rutgers are former Michigan coach Brady Hoke and former Miami coach Al Golden. Money is going to be an issue with Rutgers so hiring an unemployed coach might be the way to go.
UCF is paying offensive coordinator/O-line coach Brent Key $700,000 to NOT be the next football coach. UCF won’t start looking for a replacement for George O’Leary until a new AD is in place and that’s probably not happening until December.
There are seven jobs currently vacant. The president of a coach/AD search firm told me Tuesday evening that he expects another nine college football jobs to come open between now and December 1.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Who is Florida’s biggest and most important rival: Florida State or Georgia?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
The Pimps of Joytime are a band I discovered about a year ago. Their style of music is a combination of soul, New Orleans funk and Brooklyn street soul. They’ve come out with four albums including their 2015 release “Jukestone Paradise.” Today’s music is a live performance from the Festival of Gnarnia at Beech Mountain, North Carolina.