COUNTDOWN: UF Loses All-Sports Trophy

I had been covering Gator sports for a couple of years when I first found out there was a "Bernie Moore Trophy, given annually to the best All-sports program in the SEC. I thought it was a pretty cool idea, recognizing the school that top-to-bottom had the best programs in the conference. Then they added a women's category (the SEC didn't sponsor women's athletics seriously until 1981-82).

(Seventh in a series of 10 stories)

Florida had never won the Bernie Moore Trophy, let alone the Bernice Moore Trophy (okay, I made that up) but each year through the eighties we started keeping track of those results as the Gators overall program kept improving year after year. The women made it to the top before long, but it wasn't until 1992 that the Gator men topped all others in the SEC. I remember how pleased everyone from Jeremy Foley on down were that they had finally caught and passed such traditional programs as Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Auburn and LSU.

The First Of Many

After the first title things really started to role. Led by football, swimming, baseball and tennis the Gator guys strengthened their hold over the league while the women's program dominated their side. For years the combined scores were not even close. Appallingly, the SEC chose to stop sponsoring the All-Sports Trophy so it had to be rescued by former Gainesville Sun Publisher John Fitzwater.

Year after year Tennessee or Georgia might challenge UF, but the Gators stayed atop the standings. Oh, Georgia won the women's competition a few times but most years it was a Florida sweep. The trophy presentation on opening day at Florida Field became an annual event --- until this year.

The Gators stranglehold on the award ended with the Georgia Bulldogs taking the top spot this year. Georgia did it on the strength of eight conference championships while the Gators were able to bring home just two. It was tough for UF to take after winning 14 years in a row, but also a healthy reminder that you can't take things for granted. And that a dismal showing by one or two programs can make all the difference in the world.

Four Low Finishes Hurt

The Gators finished in the top five of the SEC in all but four sports this year, but those four poor finishes cost them the All-Sports Trophy. Women's golf was sixth at the SEC Tournament and women's track was eighth indoor and ninth outdoors. But the biggest drop of all came in baseball where Florida went from SEC Champs to eleventh place.

Nationally, Reputation Intact

While Florida was disappointed to lose the conference trophy they have come to consider their own, the Gators did their part to maintain a first-class reputation around the country. The Gators, led by the basketball team's national title and men's golf finishing second will end up in the top ten for the 23rd straight year. One of the pleasant surprises for UF was the women's golf team, which finished sixth in the conference and matched that placing at the NCAA Tournament. In all ten Gator teams were in the top ten this year.

It was far from the best year in Gator history, even though you could argue it produced one of the two greatest moments the school has ever had in athletics. Still, the end of a 14-year run is pretty significant and we consider it the # 7 sports story of the year.

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