Following Florida’s football practice the day before Thanksgiving, 2005, Urban Meyer whacked me on the butt with his Gatorade bottle as he had a tendency to do, but instead of walking on, he paused for a moment and asked me, “How’s your mom doing?” My mom was in Orange Regional Medical Center in Orlando where she had come close to breathing her last at least three times in the three weeks following fusion surgery in which her spinal cord had been nicked.
I told Urban she was weary of fighting but hanging in there just the same and that my mom’s goal was to make it through Sunday, which would be her 77th birthday.
“Tomorrow is Thanksgiving,” Urban said. “Would you mind if Shelley and I give her a call?” I felt a surge of energy through my very drained body and mind, the likes of which I hadn’t felt in nearly a month.
“Would you do that?” I asked and he replied, “Absolutely! We’ll call you around lunch time.”
November 24, 2005. The whole family was gathered in my mom’s hospital room. Our Thanksgiving dinner that day was sub sandwiches and chips. Everybody was hoping and praying this wouldn’t be the last Thanksgiving we ever spent with my mom. I don’t recall the exact time it was, but my cell phone rang and it was Shelley Meyer on the other end asking me if she and Urban could talk to my mom. I hushed everyone in the room and told my mom that the call was for her – from Urban and Shelley Meyer.
I think she levitated off the bed.
They talked for four or five minutes and encouraged my mom to keep fighting and get well soon. My mom promised she would do everything she could.
Then Urban said, “I understand you’ve got a birthday coming up on Sunday. Is there anything special we could do for you on your birthday?”
My mom, always and forever the Gator, said in the strongest voice we’d heard in three weeks, “Well, you could beat FSU Saturday. That would be the best birthday present ever!”
Urban didn’t make a promise, but told her, “Watch the game Saturday and see if we do something special just for you.”
FSU came into The Swamp on Saturday losers of its last two games but still favored over a Florida team that had blown the SEC East championship the week before in Columbia when Steve Spurrier and the Gamecocks dealt the Gators a 30-22 loss. What none of us knew until after the game on Saturday was there had been a come to Jesus meeting on the tarmac of Gainesville Regional Airport the previous Saturday when the UF charter returned from Columbia. For two hours nobody got off the plane as seniors Vernell Brown, Jarvis Herring and Jeremy Mincey basically told their teammates either you’re all in for Urban or get the hell out.
There had been pockets of resistance all season long. If you recall, back on October 15, the Gators lost to LSU, 21-17. That’s when Meyer was branded “Urban Crier” by a few brain dead writers who didn’t have a clue that what moved Meyer to tears after the game wasn’t that the Gators lost but that a player like Dallas Baker played his heart out with a high ankle sprain, a bad back and the after effects of a punctured lung while healthy, talented players more or less went through the motions.
At that point, this still wasn’t Meyer’s team.
All that changed on Saturday night, November 12 when Brown, Herring and Mincey read the riot act to their teammates. From that night onward, this was Meyer’s team. Those unwilling to submit were essentially told nobody would shed a tear if they moved on. The Gators that took the field against FSU on November 26 were as motivated and unified as they had been all season long. Florida’s defense forced 4 turnovers – 2 interceptions and 2 fumbles – and special teams delivered the play of the game, a blocked field goal by Marcus Thomas that Reggie Lewis scooped up and returned 52 yards in the second quarter to give the Gators a 14-0 lead.
The three instigators of the all in or all out meeting on the tarmac made their presence felt. Brown couldn’t play because of a broken ankle suffered against Vanderbilt a few weeks earlier, but he more than compensated by being freshman corner Avery Atkins’ personal coach. FSU tried to exploit Atkins but he made a critical breakup on a slant pattern that would have gone for a second quarter touchdown if not for a brilliant job of stripping the football from De’Cody Fagg and after the blocked field goal, Atkins picked off a pass intended for 6-6 Greg Carr.
Mincey set the tone of the entire game with a personal foul penalty for roughing the passer in the first quarter. Yes, it gave the Seminoles a first down, but it was a sign of things to come because he knocked Drew Weatherford into next week. The Seminoles spent the rest of the game trying to stop Mincey and that opened things up for four other Gators to register sacks.
Herring had 9 tackles including a stuff of Antone Smith for a 2-yard loss and he picked off a Weatherford pass in the third quarter and returned it 26 yards to set up a Chris Hetland field goal that made the score 20-0.
The Gators completely dominated this game from start to finish and won, 34-7. Had they played this way the entire season, there is no question they would have won the SEC East and maybe would have won the SEC championship in Meyer’s first season on the job.
Following his postgame press conference in the south end zone, Meyer exited stage right from the podium as he always did. As he walked by me, he whacked me on the hip with his Gatorade bottle and said, “Ask your mom how she liked her birthday present.”
She liked it quite well, I can attest.
As a side note, that night in the Florida locker room a recruiting tsunami began. Brandon James, the greatest kick returner in Florida history, committed that night along with a couple of others. A couple of weeks later, Tim Tebow committed followed by Percy Harvin. Brandon Spikes was committed long before he announced at the US Army All-American game in San Antonio. The class would include Jermaine Cunningham, Dustin Doe, Carl Johnson, Marcus Gilbert, Mo Hurt and Riley Cooper among others.
Today is the 11th anniversary of Meyer’s call to my mom. In the 10 days after the Meyer call and the Florida win over FSU, doctors said she made what they termed a miraculous recovery. Saturday, when the Gators face FSU in Tallahassee, it will be the 11th anniversary of that win that really put after burners on the Meyer era at UF.
Sunday will be my mom’s 88th birthday. She can’t get around like she used to but she remains the diehard Gator fan and believes with all her heart that if UF knocks off FSU on Saturday, it will have the same effect on the Jim McElwain era at UF as it did on Meyer.
GATORS TRY TO MAKE IT 5-0 TONIGHT
The Gators (4-0) will face their toughest challenge of the season tonight at the Disney Complex at Lake Buena Vista when they face unbeaten Seton Hall (3-0) of the Big East Conference in the Advocare Invitational. The Pirates are scoring 88 points per game and own an impressive 91-83 win over Iowa in their most recent action.
Seton Hall balances the offense with a strong inside game led by 6-10 Angel Delgado (15 points and 13.7 rebounds) and 6-6 Desi Rodriguez (16.3 points, 8 rebounds) and lights out shooters from the outside in Khadeem Carrington (21.7 points, 66.7% from the 3-point line) and Myles Powell (15.3 points, 45% on 3-balls). The key to shutting down the Pirates is getting the ball out of the hands of slick point guard Madison Jones (17 assists, only 5 turnovers).
Florida is coming off an impressive 78-61 win over Belmont that was led by Canyon Barry with 17 points on Monday night.
I find it difficult to believe that Florida defensive coordinator Geoff Collins didn’t make the list of nominees for the Frank Broyles Award, which is given to the nation’s top assistant coach.
A Baton Rouge sports talk radio host is reporting that LSU has made a formal pitch to FSU coach Jimbo Fisher, calling the offer “substantial.”
This seems a bit hypocritical. Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz will not allow a committed recruit to visit other schools but Ferentz continues to recruit kids who are committed somewhere other than Iowa.
Six weeks ago Miami (Ohio) coach Chuck Martin was as good as gone after an 0-6 start. Six weeks later the Red Hawks have won six in a row and are going bowling. That’s the first time in NCAA history an 0-6 team has finished 6-6.
Arkansas is giving up an NCAA worst 6.3 yards per rushing play and rank 85th in scoring defense but Bret Bielema is sticking with DC Robb Smith. I have only one question. Why?
Barry Odom has fired DL coach Jackie Shipp at Missouri. He might want to axe his defensive coordinator while he’s about it.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
What is your best memory of the Florida-FSU rivalry?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
Happy Thanksgiving everybody. Today’s music is a live performance by Mingo Fishtrap from the summer.