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Game Day Headquarters: Florida vs Kentucky

The Florida Gators are aiming for their 30th straight win over the Kentucky Wildcats, the longest current annual streak in the country and the fourth longest in NCAA history. The Gators are favored to win, but both teams are looking to bounce back from bad performances a week ago.

#25 Florida Gators (1-0) vs.  Kentucky Wildcats (0-1)

Saturday September 10, 2016; 3:30 P.M.

Gainesville, Florida; Ben Hill Griffin Stadium

TV: CBS

I happened to be there that Mid-November Saturday in 1986 when the Kentucky Wildcats last defeated the Florida Gators. It was one of the coldest days (36 degrees to be exact) I can remember as a collegian and I was playing in the Fighting Gators Marching Band in the ‘Tuba’ section.

I can remember the field being like soft clay as the home team decided to waterlog the field and make it slower for both teams which would keep the Gators from utilizing all of the speed advantage they should have had in the contest.  Florida wasn’t prepared for the field conditions and played with the wrong kind of cleats that day. The home team was doing what they could to try and win.

The Gators weren’t allowed on television for the second year of a two year penalty due to NCAA infractions, so the ugly field wouldn’t be much of an eyesore on television. The low10-3 final score was indicative of the ugly play on the field for the most part.

Darrell Woulard went 65 yards on a short completion and was run down at the Kentucky 5-yard line and that was the closest the Gators would come to the end zone that day. It wasn’t a great game for the Gators.

It was my second real road game as a member of the band.  Those years and those trips were some of the absolute fondest in my life. The constant reminders this week that have been thrown around about the 29 game winning streak that the Gators are on, have tied in with a little not-so-great news for me personally this week.

Bear with me.

You see, as a member of the marching band, you’re usually there for at least one of three reasons… a love of music, the social aspect of being around a large group of people over time with similar interest, and /or the love of football.

All three things don’t exactly have to be there to be honest. My wife was never really a big football fan. However, she loved music and she loved the comradery and the social aspect of the band. We met in the Gator Band, I proposed on the scoreboard at halftime of the LSU game in 1994, and we were married in the Touchdown Terrace at the stadium in the summer before the first national championship year, 1996.

Football brought us together and it brought me and the really thousands of friends I made in the band together as well. You see, I was kind of a lifer. I actually marched for seven years as I tried to piddle my way through a degree. I was having so much fun, I didn’t want to quit. Eventually, reality set in, I settled down, got my degree, and finished. But the friends I made are things that I enjoy the most about that time.

And that leads me to my sad note. One of my good friends in the band from about five years after that fateful game in Lexington passed away this week. He and I were in the Kappa Kappa Psi band service fraternity together.

The flood of pictures that appeared on Rob Wall’s Facebook page this week brought back so many great memories. I dug into my stack of glossies as well and was able to find a shot that nobody else had. It joined the myriad of photos from his college days and also when he moved on to ‘adulthood’.

Rob Wall (1970-2016)
  I actually hadn’t seen or heard from Rob in years until a couple of years ago. He was the Athletics’ Director at New Smyrna Beach High School and one of the football players was a highly coveted offensive lineman that the Gators were after. I stumbled upon the fact that Rob was the AD at the school, but made sure to call him right away when I found out to see what he could tell me about the young prospect.

When we talked, he gave me a few pointers on the kid, but we couldn’t help but harken back to our days in college. It was honestly like we were right back in the very early 90’s yuckin’ it up and acting a fool on the phone.

Man, good times.

When I went to his Facebook page and read this past week, I found myself so proud to be a friend of Rob Wall. The guy was a mentor to many. He was loved by what seemed each and every student he had ever been in front of. All of these things were there in writing from the hundreds of people that poured out their emotions on his web page.

And there was one other thing that stood out to me and everyone else. He was a Gator through and through.

The family has asked friends and family to wear Gator attire to the funeral services Saturday (today). That is a tribute to the passion that Rob had for the University of Florida and the football team.

I won’t be able to make the service for him late this morning, because of my duties here and the terribly long day it creates for my old and tired self. Of that I am truly disappointed. But the thought of Rob will carry over into the day. And when I look out in that crowd of 92,000 people wearing Orange and Blue, I know that they will be wearing those colors for Rob Wall. Oh yes, for the team in front of them as well, but also for all the fans of the past that sat in those very stands and yelled, and the ones that played those instruments, and the ones that do the flips and cheer into the megaphones.

Rob was one of them.

Football brings us together in many different ways. The passion involved helps us bond, shoulder to shoulder, arm in arm.

The “We are the boys” song sung after the third quarter is not selective. If you are wearing Orange and Blue and you are standing next to someone else that is… when you hear that song, you better put your arms around them, start swaying, and get to singing.

I’m thankful that in my college life I surrounded myself with good people like Rob. I am sure many of you feel the same way about your college friends from Florida. I know now when I don’t keep up with them that well, that they are still good people. We lost a good one this week. But, I am so thankful for the memories I did have. And I will be thinking of those Saturday in The Swamp.

 ‘In all kinds of weather’ Rob… in all kinds of weather.

***

THE GAME

Jacquie Franciulli did a nice piece on the matchup between the two teams and you can find it HERE.

Florida comes into the game with something to prove after last week’s game. They also come in with a bunch more weapons at their disposal. The loss of Dre Massey is big, but they gain C.J. Worton, Tyrie Cleveland, and Rick Wells at receiver along with Cyontai Lewis at tight end.  The flexibility this group brings on offense compared to last week in my opinion can’t be overstated.

The Gators should attack more in the run game as the Wildcats gave up 262 yards on the ground to Southern Miss last week and this is a place where Lewis will help as he is the best blocking tight end the Gators have.

Defensively, cornerback Jalen Tabor is back along with cornerback Duke Dawson. Tabor missed all of last week with a suspension and when Dawson went out of the game in the first quarter with an injury it caused some major shifts in the secondary. UMass took advantage a couple of times. Those will be fixed as well.

This is a good thing as Kentucky likes to throw it around a lot. Sophomore quarterback Drew Barker threw for 323 yards and four touchdowns against Southern Miss. He won’t be scared to throw in Gainesville.

The Florida defense got to the quarterback four times in week one, Barker was also sacked four times at home last week. The defensive line will need to continue with the heat.

In the end, I think Florida does make it 30 in a row. They won’t keep the Wildcats off the scoreboard completely, but the running game will get turned loose.

PREDICTED SCORE… Florida 31   Kentucky 13

***

COMPLETE STORY GUIDE

 Tyler Jordan: "We have to finish"

Prospect Visitor List for the Kentucky game

Behind Enemy Lines: Kentucky

Khairi Clark is doing it at a high level

Gators and More Podcast; Sept. 8

Gators welcome roster infusion

Gators DL coach Chris Rumph wants to raise the standard

McElwain SEC Teleconference

Joey Ivie believes in a good season

Good, not perfect, start for Del Rio

Jarrad Davis ready for SEC opener

Sights and Sounds: The receivers at practice

Gators and More Podcast; Sept. 6

Breaking down the Gators offense vs. UMass

McElwain Notebook Florida needs to grow up soon


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