“Enjoy the ride”, a simple statement made by Gator radio man Mick Hubert during Saturday’s broadcast of the Florida football game, but something so universal in it’s truth, particularly for Gator fans. Too often in life we get too bogged down in the details of daily living that we forget to stop and smell the roses as the old saying goes. Life’s a journey, not a destination and so goes football as well. When the season unfolds we are only guaranteed 12 stops along the way. Each one different, a city unto itself. If we’re lucky, we get an extra stop at the end and if we are REAL lucky we get two extra stops.
Now think about expectations for the Florida Gators before this season began if you had any at all. Most fans and college football analysts alike predicted anywhere from 7-5 to 9-3 at best. I, like many figured 7-5 was probable and 8-4 would be great. The main thing I wanted was to see them improve dramatically over last season. To win a close game or two they lost last year. To be competitive against the best on the schedule that they were not competitive against last year. To be able to run the ball, stop the run, and cut down on the multitude of silly penalties.
Now zoom ahead to the present. One game past the halfway point and the Gators are 7-0 way ahead of anybody’s expectations. They are one win over UGA away from clinching their first SEC East championship since 2009 when a guy named Tebow was still in Gator gear and a guy named Urban wasn’t coaching the dreaded Ohio State Buckeyes.
Are they perfect? Far from it, as Gary Danielson was quick to point out after yesterday’s big win. For the third straight game they threw for less than 100 yards, for the first time all year they failed to rush for 100 yards, they’re still getting way too many penalties called in key situations. As fans we like to moan, whine, and complain because of all the blemishes we see. Realistically, all teams have blemishes. Very rarely does a team sufficiently dominate to make their fans happy throughout the season. Nor should they. If there’s any lesson that the 2006 Gators taught us it is to simply enjoy the ride, blemishes and all.
2006 started, much like this one, with mixed expectations in year two of a new coach and system. That team had a good mixture of veteran leadership and young talent, a tough defense, and a mixed bag offense. As the season progressed and the Gators continued to win close games in succession, there was a lot of fan grousing that still weren’t sold on the coaching staff, on the talent level, nor on their ability to continue winning. Fans cursed the coaching staff, ridiculed the players particularly the qb, and refused to believe the team was as good as it’s record indicated.
There was the Chris Leak slide on third down that Tebow had to make up for on fourth down. There was the tough road loss to Auburn with a Leak interception and some specious ref calls, and The Block against South Carolina. Those Gators had so many blemishes that even Proactiv couldn’t help them. In spite of it all, that team persevered, even if it’s fans couldn’t, to eventually play in and win the BCS Championship Game.
When the season ended with Chris Leak holding that crystal football I, like many Gator fans, felt exhausted. Happy, joyous, elated yet exhausted. The constant worry week to week with more ups and downs than a roller coaster ride left me worn out. That season was like living in a horror movie, and surviving. It was great, it was exciting, will make a great story one day, but I’m glad it’s over. The problem? I let the ups and downs get to me more than I should have and I didn’t really get to enjoy the games as I should.
This season is similar in a lot of ways. Namely, they’re not going to blow out teams like the 2008 team. They will continue making self-inflicted mistakes that extend opponent drives or end them for the Gators. They will continue with plan to win that is pound the ball with the running game, minimal passing, protecting the football, playing field position football, and relying on a tough defense. It ain’t flashy, it ain’t sexy, but it is winning football for these Gators. As much as fans like to grouse and complain no one can argue with the results to this point.
These Gators may very well fall on their face to close the season. They may tank against one or all of Georgia, FSU, or Alabama if they make it to Atlanta. But from this vantage point this has all the makings of a special season, a championship season. Regardless of how the string plays out there are only 5 stops left in this regular season. So before this train reaches the end of it’s journey, STOP AND ENJOY THE RIDE!