We’ve Made It to August; College Football (and Hope) Commence

We wait far too long for college football to begin. The fan starts to wait the moment the national championship game comes to a conclusion. There are other sports to fill our time, but they don’t fill the void. They are stopgaps and as much as we love them, we always come back to college football. (Unless you’re a college basketball fan first, but then I can’t explain your existence.)

Jeff Driskel Florida Gators

There are countdowns upon countdowns–100 days, 50 days, 1 month. The real one begins in August. Fall camps have started and games are on the horizon. It’s truly the most wonderful time of the year. Or it would be if it weren’t for this infernal heat. I love Florida and all it has to offer (even its copious amounts of crazy), but even I have my limits when having to walk outside in a button-down and khakis. My Canadian blood curses me every time. (Insert obligatory Jesse Palmer mention here.)

So here we are–August. It’s full of practice reports, predictions, trash talk, and apparently appendectomies. You don’t want to enter August with the news that one of your players will miss a few weeks of practice due to the removal of his appendix. You don’t want that player to be your starting quarterback. You don’t want the quarterback to be the only one on the roster with experience because that other guy now calls one of the Carolinas home.

It’s an entirely different article in itself, but this is the year of Jeff Driskel. Not in a year of Chris Leak sort of way, as Leak had on his way to a national championship in his final season. But in the way that Driskel could be made or broken during this, his junior season. Driskel could be on his way to that Chris Leak year. He could also go the way of a, let’s say, Terry Dean. For those keeping score at home, 2006 Leak > 1993 Dean. So maybe just maybe it is in a year of Chris Leak sort of way, or maybe Driskel is one season away from that 2006-type run. On the other side of the coin, maybe there is a youngster in the wings waiting to pounce and take over.

(To be clear, Dean was not a bad quarterback by any stretch of the imagination. However, there was someone else on the depth chart that became the legend Dean did not. Driskel could end up with a historical significance very close to that of Dean’s–a serviceable QB on teams with heaps of talent. That’s not an awful thing, but it’s also not what we want and most likely not what Driskel wants. While the Danny Wuerffel and Tim Tebow spots are reserved for, well, Wuerffel and Tebow, Driskel has a shot at putting himself alongside someone like a Leak. It’ll take a leap of sorts and even more than the heaps of talent the Florida Gators may already possess, but let’s be clear that 2013 Driskel would much rather resemble 2006 Leak than 1993, or even 1994, Dean. It’s more than just the individual numbers, it’s the end result of the season.)

There will be others to watch on offense, and defense as well. The Gators are sure to produce a star or two or ten, but there is also the opportunity for disappointment. We don’t take disappointment well here in Gator Nation. We never have, but we used to be better at it. Actually, that’s not true at all. The truth is that we used to be quieter about it. All fanbases did. Before the Internet explosion and message boards and Facebook and Twitter, we complained to our close personal circle of family, friends, etc. Today, we live in a world in which we complain to everyone. Disappoint came against Georgia and again against Louisville last season, and we let the world know about it.

It could come again this season. While an undefeated season is a possibility, it’s not likely. I would venture a guess that no one out there fully expects an unblemished record. As much as we all may hope for it, we are realistic and think 11-2 is entirely possible again. If those two at the end of that record come, you’ll be sure we’ll talk about them. There’s nothing wrong with that–every fanbase does it (even if at times it feels like we may do it more)–but for now we ignore the possible disappointment. We ignore it because it’s August and we have hope.

Hope is a dangerous thing in sports, but it’s also what makes a fan a fan. Every season I have hope; some seasons more than others, but hope all the same. But look at it this way for a moment: I was 33 years old at the end of the 2012 season. In those 33 years, the Gators won three national championships. Not a bad percentage at all (unless you’re Alabama of recent years), but three ultimate prizes in 33 years. In that same time, FSU took home only two trophies and Tennessee managed only one. Yet, we fans have hope.

Hope despite a quarterback with a future that could go in either direction. Hope despite a largely new running game (although, let’s be honest, we’re all pretty excited about it). Hope despite a group of receivers that need to step up possibly more than any other unit on the entire squad. Hope despite plenty of new starters and faces on defense. Hope despite a talented kick returner lost for the season.

I, personally, hope for Driskel’s progression. I hope for big things from Matt Jones and an explosive rookie campaign from Kelvin Taylor. I hope for a go-to receiver or two. I hope for a dependable offensive line. I hope for a frightening defensive line. I hope for consistent tackling from the linebackers. I hope for All-American seasons from Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy. I hope to finally be able to spell Loucheiz correctly on the first try. I hope for 10 wins, at least. I hope for an SEC Championship Game appearance. I hope for a season to be proud of. I hope. We all do.

The Night the Florida Gators Hit a Brick Wall, and Then Were Run Over By It

A Florida Gators’ fan is asked a question–“best college football team ever?” What’s their answer? The 1996 Gators? The 2006 squad? What about the 2008 team? Sadly, it’s not a Florida team. Sadder, the answer is an easy one that brings on instant nausea. They begrudgingly respond with the only logical answer in their mind.

Tommie Frazier - 1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers

“The 1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers.”

In 1995, I was a junior in high school. I had already decided my college destination. Even if I wouldn’t apply for a few months, I had known I would attend the University of Florida for years. For many of those years, I’ll admit that I knew very little of the school itself. I didn’t have a family full of alums or even neighbors that openly touted their affiliation with UF. What I did have was an unhealthy obsession with a football team. And in 1995, that obsession reached new, glorious heights.

The Gators would beat Tennessee and that Peyton Manning guy by 25 points. They would travel to LSU and Auburn on consecutive Saturdays and come away with victories against two ranked opponents. Georgia? Ha! 52-17. No. 6 FSU fell to the mighty Gators 35-24. Arkansas stood no chance in the SEC Championship Game and Florida came away with a 34-3 win, securing their spot in the national title game. That meant the 12-0 (yes, an undefeated season prior to the bowl game) Gators were headed to Tempe, Arizona to face the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Fiesta Bowl for all the marbles, the whole shebang, all that and a bag of chips, and whatever else you want to use to describe the national championship.

And Florida had stars, plenty of them, but one above all others. Danny Wuerffel was front and center, and rightfully so. His dream of a national championship would be fulfilled just one year later, but it felt within reach following the 1995 season. There he was, with Steve Spurrier behind him, directing one of the nation’s most explosive offenses. Nebraska was favored by three, but many believed Wuerffel and the Gators would be too much for the Cornhuskers’ defense. This, despite the fact that Nebraska had faced three top-10 teams during the regular season and had held them to an average of 16.3 points (admittedly skewed by allowing No. 10 Kansas only three points, but impressive nonetheless).

Wuerffel’s counterpart on Nebraska’s offense was Tommie Frazier (a name ever ingrained in the minds of Florida fans, and not in a good way). Frazier threw the ball half as much as Wuerffel did, wasn’t as accurate, and didn’t account for nearly as many touchdowns through the air. Frazier excelled, though, at managing one of the deadliest offenses we’ve ever seen in college football. The ‘Huskers option offense produced six players that would carry that ball at least 50 times. Only one averaged under 6.2 yards per carry. Two others carried the ball 22 times or more and both averaged over 8.4 yards per carry. By comparison, Nebraska didn’t throw the ball much, but they didn’t need to.

Heading into the game, the Gators were scoring 44.5 points per game, an impressive number. They had never scored less than 28 and had gone over 50 four times (and scored 49 once). I liked it. We all liked it. Very much. Then there was Nebraska. The Cornhuskers were averaging 52.4 points per game, had never scored less than 35, and had scored over 50 five times (with two games in which they put up 49). From a pure points-production standpoint, if the Gators were good, the ‘Huskers were better. There are many other factors to take into consideration when looking at these numbers. For instance, Florida’s strength of schedule ranked in at No. 16 that season. But Nebraska’s wasn’t much further down the list at No. 24.

The game began with hope. Florida scored first and, after allowing Nebraska to get on the board, scored again. The Gators were ahead 10-6 at the end of the first quarter and the outlook was bright. While the ‘Huskers had reached the end zone, so had the Gators and many were still wondering if the Nebraska defense could stop Florida. Then would come the second quarter.

Getting punched in the gut hurts. You momentarily lose your breath and struggle to find it as the pain in your stomach builds. This wasn’t that. This was much worse. This was November 26, 1994 (look it up if you must) all over again with the exception that that game ended in a tie at least (we can salvage that much, can’t we?). This would not end that way. Not even close. This was having Ryu come to life and hadouken you into a new zip code, to the tune of 29-0.

I can’t imagine what was said in the Gators’ locker room during halftime, nor do I want to. I heard my share of angry halftime locker room speeches during high school. I’m sure they didn’t register on the same level as this one. Florida was down 35-10 with a half to play. It wasn’t looking good. Even if the Gators could kick start their offense, how would they stop Nebraska? Well, they wouldn’t. While the fireworks wouldn’t continue as rapidly, the grand finale hadn’t come either. It would, with less than one minute remaining in the third quarter.

Florida had scored to cut (ha) the lead to 42-18. Nebraska got the ball back and on second down from their own 25 unleashed one of the most memorable plays in the history of college football (which is also possibly the most painful for Gators’ fans despite it happening when the game was already out of reach). Actually, Frazier unleashed it. There was nothing spectacular about what the other ‘Huskers on the field at the time did. It wasn’t a case of a perfect play or an amazing block that sprung Frazier into the opening. In reality, five Gators had a more than great opportunity to bring Frazier down (your count may be slightly different depending on how you define a true missed tackle). At the time, it felt like closer to 50.

I just rewatched the play for the first time in many, many years. It doesn’t hurt any less. It was the game’s most dangerous offensive weapon taking over on the game’s most important stage. If the game was out of reach before the play, the mercy rule should have been put into effect after Frazier’s run. Frazier rushed for 604 yards during the 1995 regular season. He rushed for 199 against the Gators.

When it all came to an end, Florida had fallen to Nebraska 62-24. What could have been the biggest moment in the program’s history became one of the worst. Attempting to put a cap on what had been a great season, the Gators ran into the best team in the history of college football. Some will say 1971 Oklahoma and others will mention 1972 USC. For this fan and many others out there, there is no debate. Even without suiting up in orange and blue and being on that field, we felt the shear power that Nebraska team had. It was painfully amazing and at the same time amazingly painful.

Exactly one year later, the Gators would accomplish what they hoped they would have on January 2, 1996. There would be three national titles in all following the destruction in Tempe. We like to think that loss propelled the Gators into the 1996 season with a chip on their shoulders. That 38-point championship game loss became a 32-point championship game win. As much as we’d love to have that game back, the result may not have been different. Whatever fuel it gave the Gators to power them to the 1996 championship is all we can take from it. That has been good enough for us for many years and will have to be for many more.

Florida Gators Video Of The Day: Danny Wuerffel Tribute

The Gators Video of the Day (GVOD) features, you guessed it, videos relating to the Florida Gators. They could be Gators athletes or homemade videos made by fans like ourselves. If you have any suggestions for GVOD, email me at evandagator@gmail.com or TBG at onegameback@gmail.com. We will try our best to live up to the “of the day” part of the title.

Many of you miss “Danny” as you call him. You watched Danny Wuerffel lead the Florida Gators to a National Championship, and you also saw him win a Heisman. Some of your best memories come from his duelings with Peyton Manning and Tennessee. The Wuerffel era was one of the best sports times of your life.

But for me and many others who where born in the 1990s and were simply too young to efficiently follow the Gators at the time, we missed the era. Instead, we grew up in the Tim Tebow and Urban Meyer era. As I wrote this post up, I couldn’t even spell “Wuerffel” correctly. I’d like to blame this mistake on the generation gap.

Of course, it is always great to look back at the players who made it great to watch and somewhat built up Gators sports. One of those players was Danny Wuerffel. Even though I didn’t grow up watching him, through a quick highlight tape or by watching one of his games, I can tell that he was great.

Wuerffel was truly one of the greatest Gators ever. What were some of your best “Danny” memories? Other 90s memories? What made him so special as a player?

Steve Spurrier, Stephen Garcia, And The End Of A Career

Steve Spurrier has yet to find what he’s looking for at South Carolina. The former Florida star and head coach is searching for a quarterback to replicate what he had when he was with the Gators. From Shane Matthews to Danny Wuerffel to Rex Grossman, quarterbacks made Spurrier’s offenses some of the most explosive in the nation. While the Ol’ Ball Coach has made strides with the Gamecocks, he’s still in search of that golden arm.

Before South Carolina’s Saturday game against Kentucky, Spurrier decided that arm would not be Stephen Garcia’s. Garcia was benched in favor of Connor Shaw and Shaw took every advantage, playing well in the victory over the Wildcats. But we all know Spurrier. His leash is particularly short for his QBs and we figured it was only a matter of time before we’d see Garcia on the field again. We were wrong.

On Tuesday, it was announced that Garcia has been dismissed from the football team, effectively ending his college career. As opposing fans, Garcia gave us laughs. For Gamecock fans, he gave frustration. Garcia definitely had his moments, but the bad ones greatly outweighed the good. It all came to an end abruptly, but not surprisingly.

A Review of the Orange and Blue Game

I don’t do rhyming.  At least not when it’s out of its normal comfort zone.  Anything outside of music and the occasional children’s poem is outside of that zone in my opinion.  This is one of the reasons I’ve never been a fan of “The Foundation for the Gator Nation” and also why I can’t bring myself to refer to the annual Florida spring game as the Orange and Blue Debut.

The game, which took place on Saturday and again on Sunday for those of you that happily turned on the television to see Breakfast with the Gators back, was about exactly what you would expect from a spring game.  Some things worked, most looked sloppy, many key contributors watched from the sidelines, and all in all it tells you very little about what to expect from the fall.
The first takeaway is an important one: the orange team wore orange.  We saw Florida break out the orange jerseys against LSU last season and although the game ended in a Gator loss, those of us who remember Florida football 25 years ago smiled when we saw them (even if they did look a little bright in high definition).  Having the orange jerseys reproduced for last season and then seeing them again in the spring makes one think we’ll also get a look at them in the fall.  Florida is a Nike school (see the swoosh on the Tim Tebow statue?) and Nike likes money.  There’s a reason the Gators wore four different jerseys in 2010.  We’ll set the early over/under at 3.5 for 2011 with three almost being guaranteed.
Speaking of the statues, they were a nice touch and if you’re going to honor individuals, those are the three you probably start with, but I can’t help but bring up that Tebow is so recently a member of the Florida football team that you half expect him to still run out of the tunnel on Saturdays.  He will always be considered one of the Gator greats – and not one on the list of 25 or 50, but one you count on one hand – but we’re just over one year removed from #15 playing in Gainesville and we have a sign inside the stadium, the speech has been immortalized, and now a statue.  Not saying he doesn’t deserve it, but can we give it a little more time?  It took Steve Spurrier 45 years and Danny Wuerffel 15.  Again, Tebow deserves it as well, but it’s okay to give it some time.  For another interesting take on the statues, check out Alligator Army where a great point is brought up – what about the back-to-back National Champion basketball teams?
In addition to jerseys and statues, there was a game played.  One that further promoted Quinton Dunbar’s coming out party.  There are two thoughts here: 1) wow, the practice reports were right; and 2) please don’t be Dallas Baker 2.0.  Before anyone gets all uppity about that last comment, that’s not a shot at Baker who ended up putting it all together his final season.  But before that, Baker was one of the spring game stars who struggled when the contests mattered in the fall.  He ended up making his mark during a National Championship season so all is forgotten, but I’m already hoping the same doesn’t happen to Dunbar.  He has a legitimate shot at playing time this fall and if he can keep doing what he’s doing now, there’s reason to be excited.  Not only does it look like Dunbar has good hands and a solid understanding of the offense, he knows how to block.  It’s not every day you find a college wide receiver with blocking skills.  Dunbar has them and showed them to Darren Kitchens who may have gotten up clapping, but definitely didn’t see the hit coming.  It’s not too late to join the Dunbar bandwagon although it’s pretty full already.
Sticking with the offense, the quarterbacks looked shaky.  It’s hard to sugarcoat it because that’s exactly how they looked.  It’s the spring so this happens and this is really the biggest area you can’t take anything from.  Last spring, they looked much better and we all remember the 2010 season.  What is most concerning though is the decision making.  A good amount of the incompletions were so because they were thrown into heavy coverage.  Deep balls weren’t always necessarily off the mark, but were thrown regardless of two defenders being in the immediate area.  You want an incompletion to have virtually no chance of getting intercepted.  Those are throws that can’t be made during the fall.  Although it’s John Brantley’s job to lose, it’s hard to say any of the quarterbacks that played looked ready to go on Saturday.  Plenty of needed time until September.
The defense looked like the more prepared of the two, but still wasn’t quite there yet.  It was evident however that this is a unit with a lot of young talent and plenty of depth.  Players may be starters in name only during the fall because plenty of fresh athletes will be rotated in.  One of those athletes that looked good on Saturday was Josh Shaw.  Shaw is competing with Josh Evans for a safety spot and showed flashes of Reggie Nelson with his ability to cover great distances in only a few seconds.  Shaw still has some growing to do, but looks like he could be one to take a leap from his first year to his second one.  If you’re not excited about seeing him and Matt Elam on the field together, you don’t have a pulse.
Again, don’t take too much out of these games.  Things could look very different by the time September rolls around.  Those missing will be healthy, hopefully a quarterback will find his accuracy, and schemes will be fully installed.  For now, it’s fun to speculate, but that’s all it is.

Small? Weak Arm? Kellen Moore Meet Danny Wuerffel

It’s natural to compare those of the present to those that came before us.  We at The Bull Gator always find this difficult to do for ourselves because we are best suited to be placed in line with individuals such as Macaulay Culkin (for striking resemblances) or Tim Tebow (for an overwhelming attachment to three-piece suits).  The problem with that of course is that we came before them.  Although we still hold on to the hope that our greatness will come after.  Even at this age, we dream big.

When discussing the NFL Draft and the potential those at the collegiate level have of being legitimate professionals, we make that comparison regularly.  For the most part, those comparisons are used to show how good a player can be at the next level.  They show a ceiling in a good way.  Being compared to Ray Lewis or Julius Peppers is a good thing.  Being compared to a former Florida quarterback, National Champion, and Heisman Trophy winner is not (don’t get ahead of us, we’re talking about the first one, not the second).
Mel Kiper (we leave out the “Jr.” because we’ve never seen Mel’s dad and therefore are not even sure he exists, sort of like the Dakotas) has used Danny Wuerffel as a comparison of the negative persuasion, and sadly it’s hard to argue based on the attributes he used.  When describing Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore, Kiper compared him to Wuerffel saying he lacked size and has a weak arm.  This is where Gator fans can feel free to chime in…
We Florida fans are a calm bunch.
Moore knows he’s small.  If you believe what you find on the internet, Moore measures in at six-foot nothing, a hundred and nothing (or more accurately 6’0”, 191 lbs.).  If Wuerffel was small, Moore is smaller.  Danny has him beat by an inch and 21 pounds.  None of which means much in an era when quarterbacks average somewhere in the neighborhood of 6’9”, 285 lbs.  And then there’s that weak arm.  Yes, Wuerffel had a weak arm.  Yes, Moore has a weak arm.  BUT DAMMIT THEY’RE WINNERS!  Winners who do nothing but win.  Sure they lose on occasion, but those occasions are so rare that we tend to forget they even occurred.  Winners win.  Given that our motto around here is “just win,” this is a good thing.
Wuerffel turned that lack of size and near laughable throwing power into a six-year NFL career – one that started when he was selected in the fourth-round of the NFL Draft.  He just so happened to be drafted by a team that currently employs a quarterback who also lacks in the size department.  The arm thing?  Well, we’ll have to get back to you on that.
We don’t know where Moore will fall in the draft (this is 2012 we’re talking about, Kiper got a little ahead of himself by discounting quarterbacks who aren’t the size of defensive ends a year early on this one), but we do know he’ll get a shot at the next level.  If for only these reasons: he dons orange and blue, he doesn’t feel entitled, and he wins.  Wuerffel was never mistaken as a great NFL quarterback (or, sorry Florida fans, even a good one), but he did stick around the league for six years, or about five more than anyone would have expected out of him.  Lack of size, weak arm, and all.
Today, we tip our hat to you Kellen Moore.  And as usual, turn a blind eye and deaf ear to Mel Kiper.

My Most Gut-Wrenching Sports Moment

GAINESVILLE, FL - NOVEMBER 13: A Florida Gators fan looks on dejected during a game against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on November 13, 2010 in Gainesville, Florida. The Gamecocks beat the Gators 36-14. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)I was listening to The Scott Van Pelt show the other day and he and Ryen Russillo were discussing Boise State’s overtime loss to Nevada and Kyle Brotzman’s missed kicks. Van Pelt and Russillo were talking about how the end of that game has to be a Broncos’ fan’s most gut-wrenching sports moment ever. I can agree with that. While it seems unlikely that Auburn or Oregon will lose, there is still a chance either could slip up, but if they do, Boise State will no longer be the team taking their place in the National Championship game. After all the talk about how the Broncos belong in title discussions, they didn’t get through the regular season.

Van Pelt and Russillo went on to talk about their own most gut-wrenching moments. Van Pelt recalled Duke and Jay Williams blasting Maryland and Russillo went on about two of the usual Boston Red Sox moments – Bill Buckner and Aaron Boone.

This of course made me think about my own moment. I, like most people, am a fan of a number of teams across a variety of sports. I could point to one of the Orlando Magic’s NBA Finals appearances, but I’m a passive Magic and NBA fan (which is funny because I used to LOVE everything about the NBA) so while Nick Anderson’s missed free throws will always be remembered, they were far from gut-wrenching. Ray Rice provided many moments that might make any USF fan puke, but it’s hard – when looking at the entire picture of those seasons – to determine how much of an impact they really had. So I turn to the team I’m most passionate about – the Florida Gators.

The moment is easy to pick. It’s actually a series of moments put all together that repeatedly kick me in the stomach even almost 15 years later. But while it can all be combined for a night of pain for Florida and Gators’ fans, one moment stands above the rest. One moment is burned into my mind so much so that I can accurately replay it in my head without needing to watch the highlight.

By now you already know which moment I’m talking about. It happened on January 2, 1996. The #2 Florida Gators faced the #1 Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Fiesta Bowl for the National Championship. These were two dominant teams throughout the course of the season. The Huskers’ closest game was a 13-point victory. The Gators’ was 11. Nebraska was the favorite according to Vegas, but many thought Florida had a good chance to win because of Danny Wuerffel and the Gators’ ridiculously efficient passing game. The result was a 62-24 Huskers’ win. That’s right, 38 points. The Gators took a 10-6 lead into the second quarter. 15 minutes later, Florida was down 35-10 at the half. And it didn’t stop there.

Like I said, the game as a whole is still tough for me to swallow. I was a high school senior at the time only a few months away from starting classes as a freshman at Florida. I had been a Gator my entire life and that was it. Remember, USF wouldn’t even play their first ever game for another 20 months and those of you that have been around this site before know my passion levels for the two aren’t even in the same galaxy. I have an ongoing flirtation with the Bulls. I’m madly in love with the Gators.

This was the National Championship. Add that to the fact that I’m in that minority that actual believes the 1995 Gators’ squad was better than the 1996 team which won the title. That may seem blasphemous given how badly they were defeated by Nebraska, but I’m also someone who believes the 1995 Huskers are the best college football team ever.

On to the moment, like I said, you’ve probably already figured it out. It’s the play that always made me cheer just a little quieter for Rod Frazier even though he was wearing orange and blue. With less than a minute left in the third quarter and Florida just having scored to put the score at 42-18, the moment happened. Tommie Frazier ran for what looked to be about a 10-yard gain. In a flash, it became a 75-yard touchdown run. Frazier broke tackles, avoided tackles, and, oh yeah, broke more tackles. Even more painful was the tackles he was breaking. Right before Frazier broke free, he practically runs over Ben Hanks and drags Lawrence Wright for a few yards. For those of you not well-versed in Florida history, those are two very, VERY good defenders. Two of the better tacklers and hitters the Gators had and probably ever have had. Frazier treated them like they were kids attempting to bring down a Hall of Famer. It was oh so upsetting. In case you missed it, here’s the video…

You’re probably not too happy with me for posting that. I’m not too happy with myself either. The caption for the clip says “one of the greatest Husker QBs ever.” That could be one of the more understated claims you’ll hear. Tommie Frazier is one of the greatest to ever play the sport. Period. When healthy, he was unstoppable. As a fan of college football, watching him in that game was seeing something special, something historic. As a Gator fan, he might as well punched you in the nose and then kicked your dog while you were drowning in your own tears. That run was the definition of gut-wrenching.

I’d imagine many Florida fans have the same moment at the top of their list, but if not or if you aren’t a Gator fan, feel free to add your most gut-wrenching sports moment. We might as well prepare ourselves for the sorrow that is the end of the college football season with some past sports nightmares.

The Greatest Florida Gators Jersey Numbers

There are a number of “best Florida players at a certain jersey number” lists out there.  I did one a while ago and GatorBait.net is doing a series.  That’s typically the way we look at jersey numbers: who’s the best at each number?  But this time around, One Eyed Willy and I decided to take a different approach: what are the greatest numbers?

We looked at the all-time roster (at least what’s available of it) and each put together a list of our top numbers.  We tried to each have a balance between quality and quantity, but it wasn’t always easy.  Each of us picked what we considered to be the best 15, scored those based on the standard reverse method (1 gets 15 points, 2 gets 14 points, etc.) and from it came this top 10 list.  Enjoy and debate if you must.  I’m sure Gator fans from different eras have very different opinions.
1. #7 (29 pts., 1 first-place vote – Willy) – To many Florida fans, Tebow may have taken the top spot in their hearts, but there’s a collection of us that have Danny Wuerffel slightly higher.  Wuerffel was the Gators second Heisman Trophy recipient, but its first national championship quarterback.  He will always be the first player that comes to mind when you think of the #7 jersey.  John Reaves was a great quarterback in his day as well and Lorenzo Hampton, Jesse Palmer, and Cornelius Ingram also had their moments with the number.  Looking ahead: #7 could strengthen its hold of the top spot if incoming freshman Ronald Powell becomes even half the player he’s expected to be.
2. #1 (28 pts., 1 first-place vote – TBG) – I have a soft spot for both Percy Harvin and Reggie Nelson so they may have swayed my vote, but they aren’t the only players that represented #1 well.  Keiwan Ratliff was one of the nation’s top shutdown cornerbacks throughout his career (he holds the Florida single-season record for interceptions) and Tony George was a feared defensive back.  Don’t forget about Jack Jackson who was the leading receiver and kick returner during two SEC championship seasons.  Looking ahead: Janoris Jenkins has a chance to put his mark on the number with two more years of eligibility.  He already has one good season under his belt with the number, although some may argue his season wearing #29 was his better as a Gator.
3. #22 (26 pts.) – You always have to start the discussion about #22 with Emmitt Smith.  Without him, this number may still make the list, but wouldn’t be considered a top three candidate.  Smith was one of the greatest to ever play at Florida.  Along with Smith, a series of Jacksons wore the number with pride.  Terry Jackson won a national title with the Gators while Willie Jackson Sr. and Willie Jackson Jr. both sported #22.  John L. Williams and Steve Tannen also must be mentioned.  Looking ahead: Matt Elam could give #22 a boost.  A high-rated recruit, Elam has a chance to push the number into the top two with a good career.
T4. #15 (23 pts.) – #15 can thank Tim Tebow for getting the number to the top five.  Without him, it’s highly unlikely it would make the list.  Of course, Tebow’s not the only star to wear the number.  Reidel Anthony was part of three SEC title teams and won a national championship wearing #15.  He also set the SEC receiving touchdowns mark.  Don’t forget about Dee Webb who improved as a cornerback over the course of his career.  Looking ahead: good luck.  It could be a while before Urban Meyer lets someone else touch #15.
T4. #21 (23 pts.)Fred Taylor and Cris Collinsworth are the biggest names to wear #21.  They alone would get the number on the list.  And if we were looking at NFL accomplishments, neither would hurt their cause.  Dexter McNabb and DeShawn Wynn contribute to the number’s solid history of running backs.  The latest defensive player to wear it – Major Wright – definitely served it well.  Looking ahead: we’re all hoping another Taylor – Fred’s son Kelvin Taylor – wears #21 for Florida in the future.  For now, Emmanuel Moody has one last chance to truly make a name for himself.
T6. #5 (16 pts.) – A three-year starting cornerback, the Gators all-time leader in receptions, and an All-American receiver push #5 this high up the list.  Joe Haden was the latest to wear it and you can’t say he didn’t wear it well.  Andre Caldwell set the record for most career catches while wearing #5 throughout his entire career.  Jacquez Green only wore #5 for his final two seasons, but they were his best.  Another good #5 – Earnest Graham – became only the fifth Gator running back to ever rush for more than 3,000 career yards.  Looking ahead: surprisingly enough Joe’s little brother – Jordan Haden – won’t start his career with his brother’s old number.  Also surprising, either will Chris Dunkley.  Dunkley was rumored to be wearing #5, but is listed at #27.  If either switches to #5, they could help the number’s legacy.
T6. #33 (16 pts.) – Call #33 the running back club.  Errict Rhett is Florida’s all-time leader in career attempts and yards and is third in rushing touchdowns.  For good measure, Rhett also ranks fourth in receptions.  Kestahn Moore, Ran Carthon, Tony Green, Tommy Durrance, and Larry Smith also wore #33.  Only the defensive side of the ball, Teako Brown had good years with the number.  Looking ahead: True freshman Mack Brown hopes to add to the number of running backs that have excelled in the #33 jersey.
8. #74 (15 pts.) – Yes, a number typically reserved for linemen makes the list.  One player can be thanked for that – Jack Youngblood.  Youngblood earned All-American honors during his final year at Florida and would go on to be elected to the College Football Hall of Fame.  Jason Odom was also an All-American #74 and was a member of the All-SEC team twice.  Before Odom, was two-time first-team All-American offensive lineman Jeff ZimmermanLooking ahead: Maurice Hurt currently wears #74 and has a chance to earn a starting spot in 2010.
9. #88 (14 pts.) – Similar to #74 above, #88 can thank one player for pushing it into the list.  Wilber Marshall will forever be linked to Youngblood as one of the two greatest defensive Gators of all-time.  At Florida, Marshall was a two-time Lombardi Award finalist and was named the National Defensive Player of the Year during his final season.  Erron Kinney and Kirk Kirkpatrick both made their marks at #88 as starting tight ends.  Back in the 1960s, Jim Yarbrough wore the number during his great Gator career.  Looking ahead: Reserve tight end Michael McFarland wears the number now, but has some work to do to climb the depth chart.
10. #9 (13 pts.)Shane Matthews will always be one of my favorite Gators because he’s one of the first I truly remember watching live.  Matthews had quite the career and left Florida holding many of the school’s passing records.  Louis Murphy and Darrell Jackson were both among the team’s top wide receivers during their stints with #9.  Two defensive backs of recent history – Guss Scott and Anthone Lott – also served the number well.  Looking ahead: Carl Moore has the number in 2010, but will only have one year left to do anything with it.
Those also receiving votes: #11 (9 pts.), #8 (8), #61 (6), #3 (4), #12 (4), #55 (4), #51 (1), #89 (1)