To Heck with You Georgia, to Heck and Beyond

As a fan of the Florida Gators, you’re afforded many rights this week. Among those is the right to tell Georgia exactly where you think it should go, or be banished to. You can also ask them if they’d like to bite something in particular. The options are really endless for it is Florida-Georgia week and the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party has arrived. (We’re not supposed to call it that, but our goal should be to ensure the moniker lives on with future generations.)

Florida Georgia Football

Your mind will be emblazoned with images of Brandon Spikes playing the role of Top Piece of Bread in the Spikes-Knowshon Moreno-ground sandwich, and it should be. There are moments that live with us forever and that is one of them. Another is the one of those damn dancing Dawgs in what we are required by University of Florida law to call a classless and utterly inappropriate display of arrogance. To take us back to positive images, I must quickly mention that Mohamed Massaquoi is still afraid of Reggie Nelson (REGGIE F’ING NELSON!).

Saturday is a date with destiny that isn’t. More was expected of both the Gators and the Bulldogs, but less has occurred for a variety of reasons. Injuries can be blamed and are the easy way out. Blaming injuries gives us comfort because it means our team doesn’t have offensive issues, wasn’t overrated to begin the season, and doesn’t have questions at various coaching positions. It means that a few very unfortunate circumstances led to 4-3 and the losses can be blamed on the absence of a key player or two or three or seven.

Quick side-note relating to records and not injuries: six of the seven teams in the SEC East are currently on losing streaks (including first-place Missouri). Look across the standings and you will see that six of the seven SEC West teams are currently on winning streaks. The lone West team on a losing streak is last-place Arkansas. Hey, the Gators beat them! YAY!

Moving past the injuries, we get to the issue of offense. No, we don’t. Let’s move right past that because we’ve talked about it all before here, here, and here. I don’t know how much more of it I can stomach and I can only imagine that you all are in the same boat. We need offense. We don’t need it next season. We don’t even need it next week. We need it now, or else the Bulldogs of Georgia will chew us up, spit us out, and end zone dance to an easy victory.


Remembering Mary Lakes

Five years ago today in the midst of preparing for the biggest and what would be the last game of his career with the Florida Gators, safety Reggie Nelson lost his mother to cancer. Mary Lakes fought valiantly with breast cancer for three years before passing away on December 21, 2006. A fearsome player on the field, Nelson was a “mama’s boy” in the best possible way off of it. As someone that can relate to what Nelson felt that day and every day after, he and his mother are in my thoughts. Rest in peace Mary.

Heroes Of The Series: Reggie Nelson – Florida Gators vs. Alabama Crimson Tide

Heroes of the Series explores some of the stars of past. These players either excelled for Florida or the Gators’ opponent of the week – in this case Alabama. They may have been the star of the game or provided a spark that shifted momentum. They might be remembered for their entire careers or just for that single game. To get you riled up and more ready than you already are for the week’s matchup, it’s a two-part series with part one covering an opposing player and part two highlighting a Gator. For part one highlighting Freddie Milons performance in the 1999 SEC Championship Game, click here.

On September 30, 2006, Alabama visited The Swamp in a game that quickly became a classic. The Gators had jumped out to a 4-0 start in Urban Meyer’s second year and the Crimson Tide were 3-1 under then head coach Mike Shula. Alabama would take a 10-7 lead into the locker room at the half, but the second frame would be all about Florida.

With 6:47 left in the fourth quarter, Gator quarterback Chris Leak hit Dallas Baker on a 21-yard touchdown pass that would stretch the Florida lead to 21-13. Still very much in it, Alabama began to drive down the field. Fortunately for the Gators, the drive wouldn’t last very long.

Tide quarterback John Parker Wilson completed his first two passes of the drive for a total of 17 yards, moving Alabama to their own 37. After an incomplete pass and a four-yard run by Tide running back Kenneth Darby, Wilson hit D.J. Hall for 13 yards on third and six. Now in Florida territory, Alabama looked ready to make things interesting.

Wilson’s first pass on the Gators side of the field would fall incomplete. His second wouldn’t, but it definitely didn’t go to the receiver he intended. Florida All-American safety Reggie Nelson would do what he did best (well, one of the things he did best). Nelson read Wilson and jumped in front of the pass. 70 yards later he would finally fall to the ground, but not before getting to the end zone. That would be it for Alabama. 28-13, the Gators would hold on and get the win to improve to 5-0. A few months later, Nelson would help Florida win its second national championship.

Nelson provided plenty of must-see moments for Florida over his career. In 2006, he would become a consensus first-team All-American and turn himself into a first-round NFL Draft pick. After three years with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Nelson was close to being labeled a bust by many that expected much more out of the safety. New life with the Cincinnati Bengals was the goal and early in the 2011 season he seems to have found it. Nelson will always remain a TBG favorite and this great moment will live on in Gator history.

Rest In Peace Sean Matti

Purdue running back Sean Matti went missing Sunday night while swimming in Lake Freeman in Indiana. The 22-year-old Boilermaker was at a party with friends when he went missing. On Tuesday, his body was found floating in the lake. Matti was a defensive star in high school before coming to Purdue where he became a running back. He was entering his fifth year as a walk-on with the program.

Florida fans will immediately recall the story of James McGriff. It’s hard to imagine it was this long ago, but on April 17, 1998, McGriff drowned before he ever got the chance to attend the University of Florida. McGriff was at Melbourne Beach in Florida and was missing for two days before his body was located. Former Gators Joe Cohen and Reggie Nelson – fellow Palm Bay (Melbourne, FL) graduates like McGriff – were part of the first annual James McGriff Football Camp started earlier this year in McGriff’s honor.
Rest in peace Sean and James.

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 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)

Major Wright Joins the Exodus, Will Enter the NFL Draft

After the 2006 National Championship season, four players with eligibility left – Jarvis Moss, Reggie Nelson, Brandon Siler, and Ryan Smith – decided to depart Florida for the NFL.  This time around the exodus is even worse.
Junior safety Major Wright marks the fifth early entrant for the 2010 NFL Draft to leave the Gators.  He joins Carlos Dunlap, Joe Haden, Aaron Hernandez, and Maurkice Pouncey and may very well be the most surprising of the bunch to throw his hat into the ring.
Wright is an extremely talented safety, but one can’t help but wonder if he is nothing more than a mid-round pick.  Not that the money offered to mid-round picks is anything to turn a cold shoulder at, but just something to consider.  However – as One Eyed Willy so graciously pointed out – could Wright realistically up his stock by returning for his senior season?
The answer is no.  Wright is most likely a mid-round pick in 2010 and would probably be a mid-round pick in 2011.  He is a physical safety who can cover a large area of the defensive backfield, but needs to improve his reads on receive route running.  He can get better and probably will, but the odds he will boost his draft stock by sticking around for the 2010 season are slim to none.  After all, the Gators have enough defensive backs to fill the rosters of the entire SEC.  Despite being entrenched as a starter, Wright could’ve actually seen his playing time decrease in 2010.

A Recent History: Florida vs. Alabama

We could go back to the days of Bear Bryant or even only as far back as those of Steve Spurrier, but what fun is that?  You’ll be doing enough reminiscing with your relatives over the holidays, so for now we’ll stick to the recent years.  The Urban Meyer era.
The SEC Championship Game will be the fourth time a Meyer-coached Florida team has faced Alabama.  And the second time in two years the conference title and a shot at the BCS National Championship have been on the line.  It all started before trophies had anything to do with the outcome.
In 2005, Meyer and the Gators had started out 4-0 before running into a Crimson Tide wall.  During Meyer’s time as the head coach of Florida, he has only lost one game by more than 12 points (pretty impressive when you think about it, huh?).  That one game was a 31-3 loss to Alabama.  Look at the statistics and the game doesn’t look all that bad.  But the 28-point Tide advantage speaks for itself.  This was also the famous game in which Tyrone Prothro’s leg did things no one’s should ever do.  That’s typically what Protho is remembered for, but before the injury, he dominated Florida to the tune of five catches for 134 yards and two touchdowns.  The game is remembered by Gator fans as one of the most one-sided defeats in recent history.
The next year, Florida would get its revenge on the way to a national title.  Alabama led 10-7 after the first half of play, but the Gators would score three touchdowns in the final two quarters to get a 28-13 victory.  The Florida secondary would pick off John Parker Wilson three times including one by All-American safety Reggie Nelson that was returned 70 yards for the final score of the game.  Fans will remember this game for the Gators 1966 throwback uniforms and for a certain true freshman by the name of Tim Tebow scoring the second rushing touchdown of his young career.
 Fast forward to this time last year when the Gators and Tide faced off for the SEC Championship.  Alabama came into the game at 12-0 and ranked number one.  Florida wasn’t that far behind at 11-1 and ranked fourth.  The game remained tight through three quarters with the Tide holding a three-point lead heading into the fourth.  It was at that point, Tebow put the Gators on his back and carried them to a victory.  Not turning over the ball the entire game, Florida was able to control the game in the fourth and score 14 points to win 31-20.  A few weeks later, the Gators would win their second national title under Meyer.
And now to this Saturday.  The teams are a combined 24-0 and occupy the top spots in the BCS Standings and the AP Poll.  If it weren’t for four other undefeated teams, this could be a situation where if the game was close, we could see a rematch for the national title.  People have their thoughts for why both sides will win, but regardless, it should be a great game, similar to 2008.

Morning Reading: Eric Berry versus Taylor Mays

I’m a big fan of safeties. Who isn’t? Being a Florida fan, it’s hard not to have visions of former Gator great Lawrence Wright leveling Joey Kent. Or Reggie Nelson scoring on an interception return against Alabama. Or, most recently, Major Wright knocking Manny Johnson into another zip code. Safeties are just fun to watch. It’s as simple as that.

Two of the best safeties in the history of college football (yes, I went there) are currently getting ready for their junior and senior seasons respectively. While a school like Florida may have a great all-around secondary, Tennessee and USC have the individual stars. Eric Berry and Taylor Mays have entire offenses making sure they know exactly where they are lined up.

Berry seems like the better coverage safety. He’s a definite ball hawk who is a threat to score anytime he gets an interception. Although the Vols are not expected to shock the world this season, Berry may be able to singlehandedly keep them in games for longer than most would think possible. You can probably write in between six and eight interceptions and six and eight game-changing hits right now.

If you’re going to give Berry that many big hits, you might as well give Mays triple that. Not that Berry isn’t a great hitter, but Mays isn’t asked to cover one-on-one as much and benefits in the hit department by playing more of center field. He won’t intercept nearly as many passes as Berry, but he’ll make receivers think twice before even attempting to catch the ball.

If you watch a single Vol or Trojan game this fall, watch it for these two. They won’t be around in 2010.