I flew into Atlanta late on Friday. As is always the case, I misjudged how effective Marta would be at getting me into midtown and to the hotel my buddies Moerk and Sonny Beam were staying at. I ended up walking quite a distance, dragging my suitcase behind me through the revelers. I eventually found them and we spent the rest of the night pounding beers and speculating about how well Tim Tebow would play the next day and whether Carlos Dunlap’s suspension would have an impact. It was two years ago this week and it was our last night in that old universe.
See we and all of Gator Nation existed in a different world back then. Florida was 12-0, had gone wire-to-wire at #1 for the season and was of course the defending BCS champion. We had won two of the previous three national titles. The one season we didn’t win the championship, Tebow put together arguably the greatest single season in college football history and took home the school’s third Heisman Trophy. We were in the midst of a dynasty that would rival all dynasties.
Florida was a six-point favorite that day for many reasons. First was Tebow. He had returned for his senior season to finish off perfection. An undefeated season and a third ring were the goals from day one and nothing else was acceptable. The offensive line had two future first-rounders and a second-rounder. The receiving corp was solid with Aaron Hernandez, Riley Cooper and David Nelson, all now in the NFL. Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps were young but explosive options in the running game. The defense was loaded as well with Ahmad Black, Brandon Spikes, Joe Haden, Janoris Jenkins and Dunlap. Florida fans didn’t see a way the team could lose.
Of course, as we now know, there were many factors out of sight that were fatal. The pressure the team had felt all year weighed heavily on Meyer. He was an ineffective leader that week and ended up in the hospital before the night was out. Carlos Dunlap passed out in his car before he could turn left onto SW 34th Street. His subsequent suspension took away Florida’s best defensive lineman. But more importantly, it revealed a lack of commitment and preparation on the entire team’s part. That became evident in the game.
We arrived down near the Georgia Dome early. It was a frosty, windy day and we hunkered down next to the Omni and consumed a 12-pack each. As game time approached, we hiked over to the Dome and chanted and sang our way to our seats. The reality of the situation began to sink in after Florida’s second offensive play. With nothing but clear turf in front of him, Demps readied himself to grab a toss from Tebow and sprint 70 yards for a defining score. Only Demps dropped the ball. Alabama soon went up 9-0.
Florida was able to claw its way back into the game at 12-10 and 19-13. The FG at the end of the half should have been a TD instead. Hernandez couldn’t hold onto another Tebow throw and Florida missed yet another chance to steal momentum.
The second half was an abomination highlighted by Greg McElroy’s teardrop to Colin Peek and a Heisman-defining performance by Mark Ingram. The Tide seemingly converted every third down. Florida didn‘t abandon the run as much as they never even attempted in the first place. And McElroy was the Priest in the rainstorm in Caddyshack. As the clock ticked down, the dream was over. Tebow’s tears had the power of a million eyes as Gator Nation collapsed in shock. They also washed away an era. Since those saline drops hit those rosy cheeks, Florida has gone 15-12. Before the Immaculate Bawl, UF was on a 25-1 run.
So tip back a few in memory of what was and what may never be again. It was a hell of a ride while it lasted but all good things must end.