It was probably after the Vanderbilt game when I first googled “how to remove a curse” and began looking for answers to what was obviously some sort of voodoo placed on the Gators. In hindsight, I should have begun my research on January 2 when a clearly distracted and unfocused Florida football team was blitzed by Louisville in the Sugar Bowl. I guess at least we had one day in 2013 when we could hold our heads high. What followed was one of the most amazing runs of bad mojo I’ve ever seen, and it didn’t take a genius to see Gator Nation was in trouble.
The 2013 calendar year will be long remembered by Gator Nation as one of the most depressing, disheartening years ever. But the reality is a little bit different. The University of Florida took home two national championships, both in dramatic fashion. The men’s outdoor track and field team captured its second title in a row, and the women’s gymnastics team won its first ever crown. In addition, there were SEC titles for men’s swimming and diving, women’s tennis, softball and soccer and the aforementioned gymnastics squad. And Florida finished second overall in the Director’s Cup standings for the 2012-2013 athletic season.
In the current 2013-2014 athletic season, though, Florida sits 21st, and is in very real danger of finishing outside the top 9 for the first time in history. Which brings us back to the fact that despite those many triumphs that most athletic programs would kill for, 2013 can go right to hell. Here are the lowlights, ranked by how painful they were to take:
After three straight College World Series trips, it was inevitable that Florida was due for a backslide. Too much talent had departed and there just wasn’t enough on the roster to compete in the loaded SEC and against the nation’s toughest schedule. Florida did manage to make the NCAA Tournament for the sixth straight season but was swept out of the postseason and finished under .500 for the first time in Kevin O’Sullivan’s tenure.
Mary Wise has built one of the most surefire regular season juggernauts in the NCAA. The Gators once again rolled through the regular season, losing only three times and were the fifth seed in the NCAA Tournament. But then about a week after the football team was blasted by Florida State, the Seminoles came into the O’Dome and ended Florida’s run of eight straight Regional Finals. This was an absolute nightmare ending for the Gators.
Like Wise, softball coach Tim Walton has built the Gators into a perennial contender that just can‘t seem to win it all. Florida made its fifth trip to the Women’s College World Series since 2008. The Gators entered Oklahoma City as the #2 overall seed with really good odds of making the Finals. But like every other trip to the WCWS, the Gators were out without a title, despite an epic 15-inning win that was one for the ages.
3. Men’s Hoops
I actually consider the ending to the men’s hoops run this year an upgrade from the previous two years, at yet it still was a kidney punch to Gator Nation. The Gators followed up two straight crushing losses in the Elite Eight with yet another opportunity to reach the Final Four. But unlike the previous years in which Florida led late in the second half, the Gators were never close in this one, getting blown off the court by Michigan.
2. Women’s Soccer
Like the others coaches on this list, Becky Burleigh’s reign at Florida has seen a lot of success. Since the Gators shocked the soccer world and won the 1998 NCAA championship, Burleigh’s teams have remained among the nation’s best but haven’t been able to make much noise in the NCAA Tournament. This year, Florida had arguably its best team since the national title bunch. But in the span of 30 minutes or so, everything changed. Florida was headed toward another SEC Tournament title and a high seed in the NCAAs when junior captain and all-SEC performer Havana Solaun tore her ACL. The Gators blew the lead in the second half and lost the SEC crown. They then lost in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Given how wide open the field was this year, there is a decent chance the ACL injury cost Florida a shot at the national title.
Of course, if you want to talk injuries in 2013, nothing compares to the insanity the football team experienced. The Gators suffered more injuries than any other college football team this season and it is probably safe to say than any other Gators squad ever.
21 23 scholarship players missed at least one game. When you are losing players before the season, that’s rough. But when you lose your quarterback and best defensive player in back-to-back weeks early in the season, you begin to wonder what you did to deserve this. Those losses were still only the beginning for Florida. I still contend that if Tyler Murphy wasn’t seriously injured against LSU, Florida could have salvaged its season and finished with 6-7 wins. Murphy was a shell of himself in the next three games before pulling the chute on the season. Other injuries along the offensive line and throughout the defense mounted and Florida finished the year with a team that might not have won an intramural flag football championship.
Subnote: The curse of 2013 even infected the professional ranks as it saw the end to Tim Tebow’s NFL career and serious injuries to Maurkice Pouncey, Jordan Reed and Al Horford. Not even going to mention Riley Cooper’s incident and definitely not going to mention the tight end accused of murder.
So Gator Nation will ring in the New Year tonight with a lot of disappointment but also with more hope than we’ve had in a long time. That’s because there is no where to go but up. Most importantly, the football team will be better. A new offensive coordinator, a few more playmakers (including possibly a freshman quarterback), lots of underclassman with lots of experience should at minimum get us back to 7-8 wins and a bowl game. The other sports are in even better shape. This looks like Billy Donovan’s best team since the 04s. Gymnastics has four All-American returners is the preseason #1. Baseball is adding the nation’s best freshman class. Soccer returns Savannah Jordan, the most dynamic scorer since Abby Wambach, and should have Solaun back as well. The rest of the athletic program is great shape as well.
As for those curse remedies I was researching, no matter how bright 2014 looks, you can never be too safe. Let’s leave nothing to chance. Leaving out any animal or virgin sacrifices, I say we settle on two remedies. The first is the idea of placing mirrors facing out all around the Swamp and the practice field to deflect spirits and curses back upon their senders. Additionally, it can’t hurt to smudge Ben Hill Griffin Stadium with some lit sage.
Be gone demons of 2013. Happy New Year!