Updated: Jul 24, 2020
What constitutes honor?
Is it reputation of character? Resilience in the face of defeat? Respect earned through hard work?
Who decides the deserving?
Two weeks ago, the Florida Gators began teasing news about the football Ring of Honor. The natural assumption was that there would be a new inductee. That wasn’t the case and in the words of Ralphie from “A Christmas Story,” it was simply “a crummy commercial.”
The news itself was cool; the school will release a Ring of Honor merchandise line. Two players each year over the next three years will be highlighted. The UAA, in a release, said, “the specially curated Ring of Honor collection, which was developed with the help of the university’s exclusive licensing agent, CLC, will feature the former players that have earned the prestigious honor.
“The Ring of Honor merchandise collection will feature officially licensed Florida branded apparel and non-apparel items, including a collectible jersey, from best-in-class licenses such as Nike/Jordan Brand, Top of the World, Highland Mint, and others.”
First up will be Emmitt Smith and Jack Youngblood.
The two week build-up reignited the debate though; who deserves to be in the Florida Ring of Honor?
As of now, the plaques around the top of The Swamp features only six names: Jack Youngblood, Wilber Marshall, Emmitt Smith, Steve Spurrier, Danny Wuerffel and Tim Tebow. All well-earned and deservedly included.
Florida has had a lot of incredible players and talent over the years. Yet as the rules currently stand, there is really only one—maybe two—names that qualify. While the exclusivity increases the honor, if there is currently only one person qualified from the pool of household names, are the rules too strict?
This is the criteria listed on the Florida Gators website to merit consideration:
Heisman Trophy Winners (Spurrier, Wuerffel, Tebow)
Former UF All-Americans Inducted into NFL Hall of Fame for Accomplishments as Players (Youngblood)
Former UF All-Americans Who Are NFL Career Category Leaders (E. Smith – rushing)
Collegiate Career Category Leaders
Coaches with UF National Championships (Spurrier)
Coaches with at least 3 UF SEC Championships (Spurrier)
Players with 2 or more consensus All-American honors (AP, Walter Camp, Sporting News, AFCA, FWAA, UPI) who have also been named National Offensive/Defensive Players of Year (AP, Walter Camp, Sporting News, ABC, AFCA, FWAA, UPI)
Based on that criteria, the only qualified candidate as of right now is Urban Meyer thanks to the National Championships he won as head coach of Florida in 2006 and 2008. The prevailing thought is that Meyer will one day be inducted. The only obstacle is the fan base perception of Meyer over the way he left the school. The past year, he’s been on somewhat of a redemption tour, attending Florida games, posting on social media in Florida gear, shouting out the Gators in TV spots. He’ll get in one day, it’s just a matter of when.
But surely Urban Meyer isn’t the only person worthy of the ROH is he? According to UF, he is. Let’s look at who this criteria eliminates.
Percy Harvin was a first-team All-American selection by Sporting News in 2007 and by both Sporting News and the AFCA in 2008. But he was never a consensus selection (a point based system, allowing points for making 1st, 2nd and 3rd team lists) or Offensive Rookie of the Year (a crime in its own right) so he doesn’t meet that qualification. He wasn’t a career category leader either. But one could argue that was because he didn’t fit into one category. He was used everywhere across multiple positions, making it hard for him to focus all of his stats into one area. In that sense, he’s being punished for being too versatile.
Therefore Harvin’s only way into the Florida ROH will be via Canton. His outstanding rookie year with the Seattle Seahawks earned him the AP, Sporting News and Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year. That year alone could be enough to get him into the NFL Hall of Fame but it will likely require some campaigning to convince the voters of such.
Most Florida fans would probably argue Brandon Spikes should be inducted for his tackle on Georgia’s Knowshon Moreno alone. That won’t do it, but maybe he meets one of the actual requirements? Spikes was a unanimous All-American in 2008 meaning all five of the NCAA recognized selectors put Spikes on their first-team. He followed that up as a consensus All-American in 2009. That’s a good start, he’s now met the two time consensus rule…but wait, he was never Defensive Player of the Year. So his name won’t be put around the top of the stadium.
Joe Haden was a unanimous selection in 2009 but that one year won’t be enough. Haden will have a legitimate shot at the NFL Hall of Fame once he’s been retired from the game for at least five years. Vernon Hargreaves III was a first-team selection in 2014 and a unanimous selection in 2015 but that means he wasn’t a consensus choice the first time and no DPOY, so he’s out. VH3 would need to make it into the NFL HOF to be eligible.
Florida has no collegiate career category leaders. Tim Tebow and Danny Wuerffel make a few appearances near the top of some quarterback categories but they’re already in thanks to the Heisman. Kicker Eddy Pineiro isn’t at the top of the list for career field-goal percentage but he is third and the most recent (2016-2017; 0.884%).
These are the most recent names but there are countless more. Alex Brown, Jabar Gaffney, Reggie Nelson, Wes Chandler to name a few. Wes Chandler actually still holds two Florida receiving records (average yards per catch and touchdown to reception ratio) as well as being in the Florida Athletics and San Diego Chargers Hall of Fame.
All are right there but fall just short of the qualifications. But who can argue with the impact they made on the Florida Gators? How many can match their contributions and become synonymous with the Gators success?
The decision to induct someone into the Florida Ring of Honor shouldn’t be left purely up to emotion. That can become subjective, leading to questionable additions. When does exclusive become stringent though? Urban Meyer earned his way in and he will be there soon enough.
But in Florida’s long and storied history, there have been unquestionable generational players. They have been recognized for their talent and career by their peers through All-American selections and NFL prowess. Simply removing the two-time consensus along with POY qualification, changing it instead to consecutive or unanimous selections would open the honor up to a much larger list of deserving names.
What constitutes honor?
A number of things…and there have been a number of Florida Gators who deserve the title.