The basketball title lifted UF to an elite list of schools to have won both of the major sport titles. Football in '96 didn't do that. The basketball title was better, more significant, more special and more memorable for dozens of reasons. But since only six were offered to make the point for football, it's time for the top six reasons the basketball title was indeed the greatest moment in Gator history.
Six Reasons Hoops Was Better
Low expectations: While the football team was in the top five all season and widely expected to be a national contender, the basketball team entered the season unranked. While the football team was loaded with returning stars including the favorite for the Heisman, the basketball team lost its top three scorers from the previous year. While the football team had played for the national title the previous year, the basketball team had not made it past round two of the NCAA Tournament in five years. On top of that, the basketball team suffered through a 5-6 stretch that convinced many their 17-0 start was a mirage. There's nothing better than confounding the so-called experts.
Football school?: The football team won its fourth consecutive SEC Championship in 1996, while the Gators' only outright SEC Title came in 1989. Florida was known as a football school where pockets of success were possible, but elite status was elusive. Only two Gator teams had ever finished the season in the nation's top ten. The football team had done so in at least one major poll 13 times. To win it all in what some view as a "secondary" sport is far more impressive than finally getting it done in sport number one.
Youth was served: The basketball team started four sophomores while the football team was a veteran team loaded with experience. They say you need senior leadership to be a championship team, and the '96 football squad had that in huge doses with Wuerffel, James Bates, Donnie Young, Jeff Mitchell, Lawrence Wright, Anthone Lott, Dwayne Mobley, Xavier McCray and others. The basketball team had one senior, Adrian Moss who was eighth on the team in minutes played (11.2/g) and scoring (3.1 pts/g). Watching young guys plays with a maturity beyond their years is something special.
The personality of Joakim Noah: He's become the most popular athlete on campus and has one of the most engaging personalities you'll ever come across. Joakim's exuberance on the floor is absolutely contagious. I wrote that Danny Wuerffel is the most loved student-athlete ever at UF, and that's true. But Joakim might well be the most interesting. And let's face it; I can't see Danny proclaiming his championship being "better than sex!" Add in the fact that Noah could be the most improved player from one year to the next I have ever seen and you got a guy you simply can't help but pay attention to and root for.
Nobody voted: It wasn't long after the football team beat FSU that I started wondering if the voters might give more consideration to Ohio State since they had virtually identical credentials to the Gators. I didn't think the vote would be close, and it wasn't. But it's absurd that it was even a fleeting thought. In football half the schools have no realistic chance to win a title no matter what they do. Just ask Urban Meyer's Utes. In basketball every team controls its own destiny. When you don't win in part because of history, name recognition and the support of a bunch of idiots in the media you've accomplished something more meaningful.
Everybody is staying in school: Shortly after the football team won it all it was clear Ike Hilliard and Reidel Anthony were moving on. Both were likely first round picks, so who could fault them? Well, three guys who would likely be first round picks off this basketball team decided they'd rather enjoy another year of college and try for the repeat. While national pundits… or should I say pun-DIPS criticized those decisions, the trio of Noah, Al Horford and Corey Brewer stayed strong and will look to make their mark on history in 2007. Now that's really special.
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So there it is the title in football was clearly more special. No, it was the basketball title that meant the most. Truth is it's both. Ten years ago the Gators forever buried the notion that this program was an underachiever. They overcame a rash of injuries to the offensive line to put together the two most amazing offensive back-to-back performances many have ever seen. A month ago the basketball team showed you could win it all at a "football school" and you could do it with a bunch of sophomore from who little was expected.
It's fun to debate. Especially considering how many schools would love to take part in the argument.
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