In the final act of what was looking like a Fairy Tale finish for one of the Florida Gators’ greatest football players, Kyle Trask’s dream turned into a Nightmare on AT&T Arlington Way. You’ve heard of Bad Day at Black Rock? This was Cinderella Meets Godzilla in A Not-So-Wonderful Life. Rocky Balboa gets knocked out in the first round.
As I sit here pondering the stunning outcome of the Goodyear Cotton Bowl which happened not even 24 hours ago – like many Gator fans, unwilling to watch it back in search of a different outcome – I feel a sense of betrayal by the football gods on behalf of Trask. He deserved better.
Sadly, what evolved into one of the best seasons by a player and team since the days of Urban Meyer and Steve Spurrier went up in smoke suddenly -- crashing and burning in Jerry's World like the Hindenburg.
The harshness of history will incorrectly judge 2020 as a mediocre-to-poor 8-4 football season when, in fact, for 10 games Trask & Company delivered the promises of Hope & Opportunity in the face of a cruel pandemic. The dream died right before the finish line.
If we allow the wrong narrative to be told, it tarnishes the spectacular comeback story of a guy who was wearing a headset not two years ago yet who is now a Heisman Trophy finalist – if only for the honor. (P.S. please note historians: When we voted, Kyle Trask was very Heisman worthy.) How remarkably, symettrical and unfortunate that he finished his career the same way.
The junior red-shirt quarterback from Manvel, Texas would not want to say this, so I will: He gladly took a bullet for his Opter-Outers. Just as he wouldn’t want anybody blaming his teammates – even the ones who didn’t show. There were somewhere between 18 and 25 no-shows all told, but believed to be around five "opters" by choice (there could be more): Kyle Pitts, Trevon Grimes, Kadarius Toney, Marco Wilson and Shawn Davis.
Trask paid a big price, not just in NFL dollars forfeited for such a bad showing, but a blemish on his legacy. Remember, this is the same guy who was within a touchdown of beating Alabama, maybe winning the Heisman, maybe becoming the fourth statue in front of Steve Spurrier-Florida Field.
Not that I am shocked by the loss, nor am I saying that Trask’s poor performance wasn’t to blame. However, the stark contrast in the Trask we saw for 11 games versus the Trask in the first quarter of his first Cotton Bowl with a horrid three interceptions – he only had five all season to that point – left us shaking our heads in wonderment.
In our post-game analysis, we might say that the four top receivers who didn’t play – three opting out, one for health reasons – radically changed the offensive attack. That “Alley Oop” style pass that resulted in many successfully executed 50-50 balls because of the amazing athleticism of Pitts, Grimes and Toney just became 20-80 balls. Fine young receivers, but none of them “freaks.”
It was more than just the loss of a football game, as all Gators know. The humiliating 55-20 hammering by Oklahoma was warranted, mostly self-inflicted and is rapidly becoming a referendum on opting out. “Opting out? What is that?” you may ask. “Isn’t that just a euphemism for quitting?” And you would be partially correct. Therein lies the conundrum, one that has me rethinking the okay-ness of such an act: Leaving the team voluntarily to protect self-interests.
Let me get this on the record right now – nothing I have written or will write here in any way, shape or form should be construed as an excuse for such an embarrassing loss, because the Sooners were impressive and are to be congratulated. I’ve already got them pencilled in my Top 4 for 2021. In the autopsy, however, what should we write on the death certificate? And the reverse engineering of Kyle Trask’s transformation will be forever be a mystery. Where did that other guy go?
Disparaged or discouraged Gator fans just had to reach down in the liquor cabinet for New Year's, eschewing the Dewar’s or J&B or Crown Royal, and grab that bottle labeled “Bad Medicine” and take a big swig. It’s going to be a long off-season.
Particularly bitter for Gator fans is the inability to grasp this new term “opt out,” which is being touted as a “smart business decision,” but feels to most fans like a broken vow. If there is a true bond among teammates, where does it say, “I’m with you all the way, unless it benefits me to leave early.” There’s no “I” in team, but there’s no “U” in Opt, either.
On the other hand, I get why these young men and their families want to take the money at a time like this as opposed to playing in the Walla Walla Washington Washing Machine Bowl.
However, changes for college football are long overdue. And how about these dunderheads overlording the game -- please waking up from your two-year snooze! It’s long past due time for expanding the playoffs – at least doubling it to eight, maybe to 10 or 12 – so the post-season can become relevant again.
Every coach I know agrees with me that if there’s a playoff spot awaiting in the Orange or Sugar, or Rose, or Fiesta or Chick-Fil-A—or whatever bowl—there will be little or no opting out. There may not be a “U” in Opting, but there IS a “Play” implied in Playoff.
Where do we go from here after such an epic reversal of fortunes? Older folks will revert back to the “Siesta at The Fiesta,” the 52-24 dismantling of Steve Spurrier’s unbeaten 1995 team by Nebraska. After such a humiliating showing, Spurrier’s team came back to win Florida’s first national championship the following season.
In typical Trask fashion, he had no excuses and only good things to say, including about his future – and past. Yet chose not to make an announcement on the NFL Draft at the time.
“It's been a crazy journey here. I got really nothing else to say," Trask commented after the game. "It's just been a wild ride, and I've enjoyed every second of it. Like I said before, this isn't the way you want to go out, but when I look back on all the memories and friendships I made here, it's all worth it."
Not wanting to draw attention away from what backup QBs Emory Jones and Anthony Richardson did in his place, Trask waited until the next day to announce his decision about the NFL Draft, revealing he would be pursuing his dream and leaving school without his sixth year. In a heartfelt video over two minutes long, the normally quiet Trask poured his heart out in thanks to Gator Nation.
In the irony of ironies, for the first time in his 22 games as a starter, Trask didn’t have a touchdown pass and couldn’t add to his total of 43 this season. Yet first-time player Anthony Richardson, the big, strong true freshman from Gainesville, Eastside, did.
Committed Florida fans woke up on the last day of 2020 feeling like there was an eclipse of the sun because it looked so dark. But there was also a little of light peeking through the ashes. Dan Mullen, spinning it forward, said “The future is bright” for Gator football.
Good. Bring it on. And get the hell out of here, 2020.