When did you become a Gator for life? What was that moment that cemented for all time in your heart and in your mind that you were Gator through and through with veins that whizzed orange and blue blood?
Though the years, I’ve asked those questions hundreds of times and rarely do I get the exact same response. But, everyone I know who is a diehard Gator has had that moment when their fate was sealed and they were Gators forever.
For me, it was October 1, 1960. Florida was playing Georgia Tech at Florida Field that day and I got to go to my first college football game with my dad courtesy of tickets purchased for us (I think they cost a whopping $5 each) by my grandfather. The only football games I had ever been to up until that day were Seminole High School in Sanford, games played at Municipal Stadium, which used to be the spring training stadium for the Brooklyn Dodgers and then the New York Giants. When we walked into Florida Field that day, part of a crowd of more than 39,000 (capacity was 42,000 in those days), I was absolutely stunned to think that so many people could be in one place. Easily, it was the largest crowd I’d ever been a part of.
The atmosphere was electric that day. As I later learned UF coach Ray Graves had been the defensive coordinator at Georgia Tech only a year before and he was still best friends with Tech coach Bobby Dodd. I learned while the game was being played that one of Florida’s quarterbacks – Bobby Dodd Jr. – was the son of the Georgia Tech coach. I remember wondering why he would want to play for Florida when his dad coached Georgia Tech.
So much of the game was a blur. As was the custom, we were well dressed and wore a tie. Even the students wore ties. Women wore dresses. We ate hot dogs and drank cold Coca-Cola. The people behind us ate peanuts and poured whiskey in their Cokes. A man in front of us complained on every play that didn’t gain much yardage and then took credit for the ones that did well, shouting out, “See! If you do it my way look what happens!” The lady who sat beside me ate popcorn and kept asking her husband what was going on. He was patient at first, but he really got annoyed about the third quarter. The band was more than twice as big as the Seminole High School band and they had this giant bass drum that was called “The Biggest Boom in Dixie.”
The part of the game that isn’t a blur is the last five minutes when the Gators, trailing 17-10, drove 85 yards for a touchdown. On that drive Bobby Dodd Jr. threw a 32-yard pass to Don Deal. When Dodd was in the game the Gators usually threw the ball. When Larry Libertore was in the game, the Gators usually ran. Florida got a first down to the Tech three but three consecutive running plays netted zero yards to bring up fourth and goal. Time was running out and nobody was sitting down. I stood on the bleacher seat so I could see. On fourth down Libertore faked to fullback Jon MacBeth on the option and then pitched to Lindy Infante who barely got into the end zone to make the score 17-16 with only 33 seconds left on the clock. Everybody went nuts when the referee threw his hands up to signal touchdown.
Florida had an excellent kicker in Billy Cash, who had kicked a field goal and an extra point earlier in the game but without hesitation, Coach Graves raised two fingers on the sideline. The Gators were going for the win. I remember the roar from the crowd and the electricity. The man behind us told my dad, “Bob Woodruff would kick! Ray Graves wants a win!”
Libertore stayed in the game so Georgia Tech assumed the Gators were going to run option again. Libertore stuck the ball in the belly of Jon MacBeth and pulled it out but instead of sprinting out, he took a couple of steps back. MacBeth had slid through the line and was standing alone in the end zone. Libertore threw – it was more like a shot put from the 5-8, 128-pounder from Lakeland – over the heads of the Tech linemen and MacBeth cradled the ball home. Florida led, 18-17!
I had never heard a crowd so loud in all my life. I had never seen such excitement either. People who didn’t know each other jumped up and down and hugged. The lady next to me hugged me and her husband hugged us both. My dad got hugged by a whole bunch of people he didn’t know.
A couple of minutes later the game was over but people didn’t want to leave the stadium. As I would learn later on, this was the biggest and most important win in Florida history up to that point but at this moment in my nine-year-old life, I knew for the first time that I really had a team. The Florida Gators.
That was my moment. I was a Gator for life.
Gator notes: More and more it’s looking like Brady Singer (7-5, 3.29 ERA) will get the start Sunday night when the Gators face TCU in their opening game of the College World Series in Omaha … Tyler Dyson’s strong performance Monday against Wake Forest shores up the Florida pitching for the CWS. Singer, Alex Faedo (7-2, 2.55) and Jackson Kowar (12-0, 4.00 ERA) are the starters but for long relief or a necessary fourth starter, Dyson (3-0, 3.69 ERA) will most likely get the call … KeAndre Bates and Grant Holloway are among the 10 semifinalists for the Bowerman Trophy, which is the track and field version of the Heisman. Bates won the long jump and triple jump at the NCAA outdoor championships and took the long jump at the NCAA indoors. Holloway won the 60 meter hurdles at the NCAA indoors and the 110 meter hurdles at the NCAA outdoors … Maria Torres was selected to the Golf Week Women’s All-America first team and Kelly Grassel was chosen to the third team … Alejandro Tosti was chosen first team men’s All-America by Golf Week ... Tim Walton has elevated Jen Rocha to associate head coach.
THE NCAA STRIKES AGAIN
The NCAA has struck again, lowering the boom on Louisville basketball and head coach Rick Pitino. Louisville gets four years of probation (ends June 14, 2021), a suspension of the first five ACC games in the 2017-18 season for Pitino in which he can have no contact with his players, coaches or staff and a loss of two scholarships plus some other recruiting restrictions.
That’s actually the slap on the wrist.
The toughest part is vacating wins earned while using players who were involved in the sex scandal that brought on the men in blue suits to investigate. That could result in Louisville vacating its 2013 NCAA championship and four Final Four appearances.
Louisville, of course, will appeal and plans to go with a full frontal legal assault on the NCAA. The NCAA may or may not back down. When the NCAA had Miami dead to right on numerous charges of illegal benefits for players given by a booster running a Ponzi scheme, the NCAA botched the investigation so badly that when Miami pushed back, it had to back down. Miami got off lightly. When the organization leveled harsh sanctions on Penn State for the Jerry Sandusky crimes that did not involve any football players, Penn State fought back and sanctions were somewhat eased. The Joe Paterno wins that were vacated were restored.
North Carolina continues to fight back in its academic fraud case, which has resulted so far in the NCAA hitting women’s basketball and women’s soccer hard while almost exonerating the men’s basketball program. There are no sanctions on Roy Williams or any loss of scholarships although that could change in the next couple of months. North Carolina is claiming this is an academic matter that doesn’t concern the NCAA and if somehow this winds up in court with UNC winning that appeal, it could result in the elimination of NCAA rules for academic requirements of recruits and its student-athletes already in school.
If Louisville is forced to vacate its 2013 title the NCAA might find it difficult not to vacate North Carolina’s titles in 2005 and 2009.
The NCAA has also leveled serious charges that Ole Miss cheated on the recruiting trail and Ole Miss is fighting back with a vengeance, calling into question the honesty of those accusing Ole Miss of wrongdoing. The NCAA wants the head of Hugh Freeze on a pole. Ole Miss is standing by Freeze and essentially telling the NCAA to bring it on and we’ll beat you either on appeal or in court.
The Louisville, North Carolina and Ole Miss cases, while radically different – Louisville about sex parties for recruits; North Carolina about fraudulent classes for athletes; Ole Miss about blatant football cheating – all raise questions about how the NCAA goes about sanctioning wrongdoers and punishment. If there is one consistent thing about the NCAA it is both the inconsistency of sanctions by the Committee on Infractions and the way it often backs down when confronted on appeals.
If nothing more, these three cases should alert the schools that one of two things has to happen: (1) Either the NCAA rids itself of its cumbersome rulebook and comes up with set guidelines for sanctions or (2) it’s time to blow everything up and start all over from scratch.
One other thought: The NCAA vacates a win from a school yet it still counts as a loss for the other team? That has never made sense to me.
Former UF women’s tennis coach Andy Brandi, who led the Gators to three NCAA championships, and son Chris have been named co-head coaches of LSU’s men’s tennis program. Brandi led the Gators to 17 SEC championships and a 460-43 record while leading the Florida women.
So much for my two US Open favorites. Dustin Johnson came in at +3 and Jason Day did a triple bogey and from there it was all downhill to a +7.
For day one at least, the course lost at Erin Hills. Rickie Fowler shot a 7-under 65 in the morning and in the afternoon Paul Casey and Xander Schauffele (I have no idea who he is, do you?) came in at 66. Forty-four golfers broke par and another 16 were even par 72. If you’ve followed the US Open through the years, the course usually demolishes otherwise very competent and often brilliant ball strikers.
I like Phil Mickelson even more after he withdrew from the US Open so he could attend his daughter’s high school graduation. That’s what you call having your priorities in the right place.
Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield will take an alcohol education class and serve 35 hours of community service for his February arrest for public intoxication. The university has announced that Mayfield will not miss any games for his arrest.
ESPN is reporting that Lonzo Ball is considering talking to teams that have lottery picks below the #2 of the Los Angele Lakers. It’s also reporting that the Celtics are seriously considering taking Josh Jackson of Kansas with the #1 pick instead of Markelle Fultz.
The way the Golden State Warriors have transformed the way the NBA game is played with their 3-point shooting, the three guys whose draft stock is soaring are Kentucky’s Malik Monk, Duke’s Luke Kennard and Villanova’s Josh Hart.
Do you lay awake at night wondering whatever happened to for Kentucky football coach Hal Mumme? Well, fear not. Humble Hal is still coaching. He’s been the coach at Belhaven in Jackson, Mississippi the last three years where he’s piloted the Blazers to a 6-25 record.
Former Alabama coach Gene Stallings on WNSP Mobile on the comparison of Auburn and Alabama football: “Auburn is a great football town and they support their program. They are a good program. I still think they are a little behind Alabama.” Since 2008, Alabama is 112-13 with four national championships. Auburn is 73-44 with one national championship over that same time span.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Do you remember the moment you knew beyond a shadow of doubt that you were a Gator for life?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
Whenever I listen to the music of Delaney and Bonnie and Friends I’m always captivated by the piano of the late, great Leon Russell. Thursday I went searching for some of his videos and I came across this 1980 concert when he was fronting for his band The New Grass Revival. Leon was a one-of-a-kind talent who played with George Harrison, the Beach Boys, Frank Sinatra, Bob Dylan, B.B. King, the Rolling Stones, Elton John, Eric Clapton, Glen Campbell and Dave Mason among others.