This is the second of a three-part series where I will look back at my love for media and the ways and means that I have used it to keep up with the Florida Gators over the years.
This will be the 53rd season that I have watched a Florida Gator game on television and I can’t think of any type media coverage that has changed as much, especially for the better. Of course, that is taking into account that I had not heard of a personal computer in 1962.
I will be honest from the start, I love television and have for as long back as I can remember. When I was still a young ‘un I would go out and play all the games in season, I would paddle down Cedar River with my friend Kenny Long in his canoe and would go to camps in the summer, but when I was home, I had the TV on.
As I have written earlier, the first football game I can remember was the Florida Gators’ Gator Bowl game in 1962 against Penn State. I was just four months past my tenth birthday when that game happened, but I can vaguely remember some of the pregame stuff, such as would the game be blacked out in Jacksonville?
It is strange the things you remember as a fifth grader. I am sure my teacher at the time, Mrs. Rhoden, would have had me remember a lot of things taught in the classroom, but the term I remember most today is black-out.
It became big news when the Gator Bowl announced the game would not be blacked out in Jacksonville, so far be it from me to miss a game that had all that hoopla before it kicked off and taught me a word that we used to use so much in sports, blackout!
I do not remember a lot about the game, other than in an upset as the Fightin’ Gators defeated the Penn State Nittany Lions 17-7.
Now in today’s world when someone watches their first Gator game and becomes an instant fan, it would just seem natural that they would start watching all the Gators games, but alas, this was 1962. During the rest of the decade the Gators would appear on television ten more times.
What the Gator fan did get in the way of television coverage in the 1960’s was watch Florida Football with Ray Graves, which was a 30 minute highlight show that originated from WJXT in Jacksonville and was hosted by Dick Stratton. If you happened to miss that show, well that was it. One show, one shot or just stay tuned next week for more Florida Football highlights.
The thing is, we were not mad or upset by it, because we did not know any better. Oh, I feel sure around the water coolers and at other places of gathering for Florida fans they complained every time a new TV Guide came out and fans saw some Big Ten team or Notre Dame was the featured game of the week, but as I said, this was what it was like.
Now this next tidbit will seem equally ludicrous, in 1964 CBS purchased a majority share of the New York Yankees and by 1966 the Yankees were the game of the week on CBS 21 weeks. Of course there was one other game on NBC during those weeks, but the fans had little or no choice.
Such was the life of a sports fan in the 1960’s, we took what they sent us and were happy to get it.
As happy as a sports fan was to get what we could get, to be honest the TVs and the coverage were nothing to sit spell bound watching for three hours, but we did. Heck, there was not even instant replay until 1967. So for most of the country you had one or two college football games a week, on a 23” television with no instant replay. It is amazing the game survived, much less the television.
While the coverage of games did get better, the technology improved, the color sets of television became all the rage as they improved, but we were still forty years away from HD broadcasts.
However, it was in the middle of those forty years that things changed for the better for the college football fans.
In 1979-80 as the NCAA was once-again negotiating a television contract that would put a couple dozen teams on the air in a season, an upstart organization that called itself the CFA (College Football Association) was also negotiating a TV contract(s) that would put many more teams on the air and wrestle some of the control away from the NCAA in deciding who would get on the television and how often.
Now, this is from memory and might be a little off, but get the point. The rule was something like a team could be on a nationally televised game twice a season or three times in two seasons, plus a few regional games and that was it.
Adding to the flavor at that time was cable TV growing as fast as it could hang cable lines and the perfect storm was brewing for the college football fans. The final ruling came from the courts in 1985 or so and when the CFA won there was all those new stations from TBS to ESPN with pockets full of cash waiting to purchase a product that had been slowly hand fed to millions by the NCAA.
For the Florida Gator fans it could not have been better timing. After the perils of the rulings of the NCAA and Florida being on probation twice in a six year period the Gators hired the coach made for television. His offense was explosive, his style was seemingly created for TV announcers and the hundreds of analysts that would spout up overnight. Steve Spurrier was made for this new onslaught of television sports and the Gators on TV were like a royal wedding, fans could not get enough.
To put the icing on the cake TV sets were getting bigger and better. Fans now could watch their larger than life coach with players who played like the Ole Ball Coach had a remote control and whatever buttons he pushed worked. In the 1990’s Florida had a X Box offense in a Bear Bryant league and the results were stunning for not only Gator fans, but for fans of football everywhere.
We were the kings of college football at the right time.
Now with the SEC Network and plenty of other networks covering college sports it is the perfect time to be a Gator.
Looking back to 1962 and being known as the only team in the SEC (along with Vanderbilt) to have never won an SEC Championship. Fifty-three year later TV has changed a whole lot, but then again it had to, just to keep up with the Florida Gators!