By BUDDY MARTIN
“Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.” —
OCALA, FLA. — I’ll never forget the day my neighborhood was hit by Hurricane Charley and thinking, for a moment, that my wife and I were going to die in the cyclonic cells which engulfed our Punta Gorda home. We knew it was bad outside, so we were grateful to have survived. Still, I dreaded the thought of walking outside to see the carnage in our neighborhood. So I took a moment and gave thanks before I opened the door.
Terrifying. There is nothing about an athletic contest that could compare to a natural disaster. But perhaps Florida Gator football fans could learn a lesson from that. Take a moment before you survey the destruction. And then ask: Has anybody died? So how bad can it really be?
Right now, a big chunk of the concussed Gator Nation is driving most of the post-SEC Championship Game narrative.
This is the norm for those bleeders of orange and blue. I’ve bled with this tribe of conflicted contrarians through World Wars, Presidential assassinations, Watergate, a near-death NCAA experience and well over half of those fruitless 85 years barren of championships.
So I know of what I speak.
The one common thread throughout it all? Almost every football season Florida fans have been fraught with unrealistic expectation. That dejection that resulted fostered the annual mid-year cry of frustration: “Wait ’Til Next Year.”
I thought after 1991 and Florida’s first Southeastern Conference title it might change things. It didn’t. I was sure after Steve Spurrier’s 1996 national championship season that the joy would prevail and the story line would evolve. It didn’t.
When Urban Meyer brought them two national titles in three years and suddenly suffered a PTSD-like affliction, many angry Gator fans accused him of playing possum until the Ohio State job came along. Good riddance, they said.
And now it’s beginning to sound like a disenchanted core of UF dissidents are conjuring up an insurrection that borders on impeachment talk of Jim McElwain’s offensive brain trusts.
I get it. I was there in the Georgia Dome and saw it in person — maybe had a little blood spattered on me. It was uglier that it looked on TV. I even left the game five minutes early. And then I went home and slept on it.
There is no need to panic. Go back and check your expectations. Did you really anticipate Jim McElwain’s team winning the SEC East and going 8-4? Would you have accepted that in August?
Yeah, I realize Gators fans were administered a particularly painful dose of ugliness while watching “The Massacre on Peachtree.” There no other way to parse a 54-16 trampling, although I could argue that, despite the beating, I loved the fire and spunk of The Fighting McElwains. Because I’m big on fire and effort.
Most of all I liked Florida’s opening drive because in that one sequence there was more offense than all of the loss to Florida State. So there was also improvement. I also admired the fight of a team in the middle of a beatdown bouncing back after giving up the most points ever scored in the first half (33) and closing the second quarter on another scoring drive.
Then the floodgates opened and the massive wave of what McElwain called Alabama “creatures” inside the Crimson Tide came washing over the less-talented Gators.
Playing Alabama without a roster of five-stars is like going into a gun battle with a BB gun.
The Tide’s talent is so wide and so deep that no matter what part of the game you try to shut down, they’ll find something else on offense, defense or special teams to beat you.
Therefore I’m going to go on record now that if Nick Saban’s squad finishes strong to win a national championship, it will go down as the greatest team I’ve ever seen — just ahead of the 1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers.
So talented is this ‘Bama club and so well-crafted is this Saban team that I couldn’t find anybody to vote for as MVP after the SEC title game, so I put down Bo Scarborough (91 rushes, 2 TDs). It was won by LB Ruben Foster.
Of course it helps when the quarterback consistently throws the ball to the wrong colored jersey. I did not love Austin Appleby’s miserable accuracy that resulted in three picks — one for a pick six. That may have been the swan song for the Purdue graduate transfer and many expect a redshirt to come off one or more freshman quarterbacks.
So there is that one common gripe among the dissidents — the poor quarterback play for two seasons and an offense that tends to go on radio silence at times. Gator fans are fed up and steamed about that. Bad as it was, there have been some positives.
That’s why I waited a couple of days before I opened the front door to survey the carnage. We needed to draw a breath first.
For several days now my social media placards and email box have been bubbling up with discordant communiqués.
Of all the comments made, the one by my friend Ned from Orlando — a former Gator athlete himself — probably expressed it best.
You know where Facebook asks the question: What’s on your mind? Writing as though he were speaking directly to Siri, Ned responded:
“What’s on my mind is recruiting a quarterback and a offensive coordinator…”
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Hurricane Charley devastated our neighborhood. We were without power or water for two or three weeks and stifling August heat without air-conditioning can be hell. Downed trees and power lines closed Punta Gorda. Several died. We thought we had seen the worst. Two other hurricanes hit Florida that year. On Dec. 25, Indonesia, India, Thailand and Sri Lanka were devastated by a tsunami, and 227,898 people died.