Thoughts of the Day: March 13, 2020

WHAT TO DO WHEN THERE ARE NO SPORTS ON TV

I’ll start with the obvious. It might turn out that the decisions to shut down all sports for the foreseeable future was an over-reaction, but since there are so many unknowns about the corona virus, shutting down sports was the only choice to make. I’d much rather look back on this time and say the virus was vastly over-rated than to see lives lost unnecessarily because not enough caution was taken. Given the choice, I'm happy with the decisions that have been made.


So, since there are no sports to watch whether live or on TV, then what shall we do with our time? And, since I write about sports and there will be no sports for awhile, what will I write about?


I’ve decided to search Youtube for ball games that helped shape University of Florida sports history.


TODAY’S FLASHBACK: GATOR BOWL 1969, FLORIDA 14, TENNESSEE 13


If you were to ask 100 fans the 10 most important Florida football games in history, only a handful might point to the 1969 Gator Bowl when Florida nipped Southeastern Conference champion Tennessee, 14-13, but the significance of this game cannot be under-estimated.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P7S4SdUS7CE


To understand why it was so important, you have to go back to August of 1969. That’s when UF president Dr. Stephen C. O’Connell, in his infinite wisdom, decided that the Gators were never going to win the Southeastern Conference championship as long as Ray Graves was the head coach. Dr. O’Connell took it upon himself to make a deal to hire former Gator quarterback and University of Tennessee head coach Douglas Adair Dickey as the head coach to replace Graves. Graves would be allowed to coach the Gators through the 1969 season and would be allowed to remain on as the athletic director. In that he wasn’t a wealthy man, Coach Graves felt he had no choice but to accept the deal.


What Dr. O’Connell never counted on was 1969 would turn out to be one of the greatest seasons in Florida football history. Armed with a core of young talent dubbed “The Super Sophs” and with an offensive coordinator in Fred Pancoast ready to unleash a passing offense like no one in the SEC had ever seen, the Gators became the darlings of college football starting with the third play of the season-opener with a Houston team that some publications had predicted to win the national championship. This was a Houston team that had twice scored more than 70 points in 1968 and had finished out its regular season with a 100-6 win over Tulsa, a game in which Larry Gatlin (yes, that Larry Gatlin, the country/western singer) caught the TDP that got the Cougars their 100 points.


Houston was supposed to wipe the Florida Field grass with the young Gators only the Cougars were stunned on the third play of the game when John Reaves and Carlos Alvarez hooked up on a 70-yard touchdown pass, a play they had practiced so many times in the summer they could have run it in their sleep.


It’s important to tell the story of “The Pass” as it has become known because it pretty much sets the stage for the rest of this season and why the Gator Bowl game was so important. Pancoast knew he had an absolute burner in Alvarez, who was the state sprint champion (9.6 100 yards) as a high school senior at North Miami. “The Cuban Comet” was a high school running back who became a wide receiver as a UF freshman. Because this was an era without social media, recruiting combines and Youtube, Carlos was relatively unknown. Pancoast thought he could get Carlos behind Houston corner Johnny Peacock, but he wanted to make certain All-American safety Paul Shires couldn’t give over-the-top help. So Pancoast flopped tight end Bill Dowdy to the left side of the formation and had Alvarez flank four extra yards wider than usual.


Alvarez made one simple move on Peacock and then hit the after-burner. Peacock was toast. Because he had to first cover Dowdy, Shires had to delay by a full second or two giving Peacock any help, and then there was the matter of the four extra yards. No chance. Reaves’ throw was like a scalpel through the air, a good 50 yards from where he threw to the waiting hands of Alvarez, who was a good 10 yards behind Peacock. Touchdown Florida and the rout was on. The Gators won the game, 59-35, and a season of offense like no one had ever seen was begun.


Florida went on to an 8-1-1 regular season record, a loss to Auburn and a tie to Georgia on successive weeks the only blemishes. Nobody, particularly, Dr. O’Connell expected that, but O’Connell was still confident that he had made the right move because Dickey had taken Tennessee to a 9-1 record and the SEC championship. What could go wrong?


What went wrong was the week leading up to the Gator Bowl game on December 27, Buddy Martin of Cocoa Today and Jack Hairston of the Jacksonville Journal unearthed the little secret that Graves was out after the ball game and that Dickey would be named Florida’s head coach. The Florida players threatened to boycott the game, arguing that if Graves was out, then Gene Ellenson should be the successor. After all, Ellenson had turned down the Georgia job (Vince Dooley got it when Gene said no) to remain at UF with the promise that he would succeed Graves.


Graves talked the team out of a boycott and they played that Saturday, but they played with a chip on their collective shoulders.


Florida’s defense came through in the first quarter when linebacker Mike Kelley intercepted a Dewey Warren pass inside the UF 10 to snuff out the Vols’ first drive of the game. Florida’s second drive ended with a missed field goal from the Tennessee eight but the UF defense delivered a three-and-out. The Gators blocked a punt that Kelley scooped up and ran into the end zone for the first score of the game. Trailing 10-7 in the third quarter, the Gators put together a 67-yard scoring drive that culminated with a nine-yard Reaves to Alvarez touchdown pass. In the fourth quarter, Florida’s defense put up a ferocious stand inside the 10 to force a Tennessee field goal. Tennessee’s fate was sealed in the fourth quarter when its punter dropped a snap. The game ended with Florida threatening to score at the Tennessee one.


The significance of this game is enormous. I am of the opinion that Florida football would have been far better off with Ray Graves passing the torch on to Gene Ellenson than it ever would have been with Doug Dickey at the helm. While I recognize Dickey for his efforts to integrate the team and the courage it took to play a black quarterback in an era when they were few and far between, especially in the south, I have no doubt that Coach Ellenson would have succeeded in bringing about a fully integrated team seamlessly. If you ever talked to Gene, then you know he could instantly gain your trust. If he was your friend, you had none better.

Gene Ellenson was that rare man who could inspire men like few I have ever met. He was a man’s man who had two silver stars pinned on his chest by General Patton for his heroism at the Battle of the Bulge. At Florida, his pre-game speeches became legendary. As a defensive coordinator, his troops played with incredible passion and were tough as nails.

Dickey didn’t have the charisma that Florida needed and it didn’t help that he took over under such adverse circumstances. From 9-1-1 in 1969, Dickey’s first two seasons were 7-4 and 4-7.

Dickey was so disliked by the team he inherited that in their final game as seniors, there was the infamous Florida Flop in the Orange Bowl when the defense let Miami score so John Reaves could have a chance to set the all time (then) record for passing yardage. When the game ended, many of the players sprinted to the open end zone at the Orange Bowl and jumped into the pool where Flipper swam during Miami Dolphins home games.

To this day, I believe that although he meant well, Dr. O’Connell made the worst possible move and set Florida football back a long, long way.


SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT: When this virus has run its course, Corona Beer should embark on a serious advertising campaign with this slogan: “A six-pack a day will keep the virus away.”


THE BEST COMMERCIAL SEQUENCE FOR A SUPER BOWL: The 1997 Super Bowl featured this sequence of commercials with the lizards and the frogs. Louie hired the ferret to pull off a hit on the frogs.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aS3op_7QVIY


WITH NO SPORTS ON TV, TRY WATCHING THIS: On Amazon Prime they have the entire Boston Legal Series (William Shatner, James Spader, Candice Bergen). This was Shatner at his absolute best. It’s worth a binge watch weekend!

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