Hatred is a powerful word, and a powerful emotion. Many people dislike the word entirely. Others embrace it. I remember Steve Spurrier once saying, and I’m paraphrasing here, that if your opponents don’t hate you, you aren’t beating them often enough. There is a lot of truth to that. When your opponents are beating you more often than not, they talk about how important the rivalry is and how it is good for the sport. When you are throttling them on a regular basis, they accuse you of cheating and hang your mascot in effigy. I prefer the latter.
And the University of Florida is one of the most hated athletic departments in all of the country and that is the result of one thing, SUCCESS. Florida is the only school in the nation to have finished in the top ten of the national All-sports standings each of the last 30 years. The Gators are also the only SEC school to place 100 or more athletes on the Academic Honor Roll every year for the last 15 years. Although the University of Alabama likes to delude itself into believing it is the cream of the SEC that distinction really goes to the Florida Gators. For the most part, the Crimson Tide is a one trick pony, football, while the Gators have excelled across the collegiate sports landscape.
Yes the Tide has dominated the football landscape for several decades but Florida has racked up more SEC championships in all the sports than any other program in the conference. In basketball, Alabama has won two conference championships in the last 35 years to Florida’s seven. Florida leads Alabama 10-3 in baseball championships. The Gators lead 4-0 in men’s tennis conference titles and a whopping 20-1 in women’s tennis. I could go on and on but the stats look pretty much the same. The Gators have won 33 national championships overall compared to Alabama’s 25 (and let’s face it 15 of those are football and some of those are dubious at best). Florida has also won 23 of the last 26 SEC All-Sports trophies. Let the dominance of that single statistic sink in for a moment.
Florida is indeed the cream of the crop when it comes to the Southeastern Conference sports landscape. But, how do the Gators match up against their two big in-state rivals? Florida State has 19 national championships compared to Florida’s 33. In football the Gators hold a 34-23-2 all-time lead over the Seminoles. The Miami Hurricanes have a total of 10 national championships in all sports. The Canes do own a 29-26 series lead over the Gators in football. Even so, it is clear that across all sports Florida is the dominant athletic program in the State of Florida.
There is a point to all of these numbers. When the football program is struggling it is easy to get a little discouraged as a Gator fan. After all, this is the south and college football reigns supreme here. I think it is worth remembering that even at such times the Gators are among the best in collegiate athletics. Just in the past few weeks Florida has sent both the softball and baseball teams to the College World Series with the softball team winning yet another national championship and the baseball team falling two runs shy of an appearance in the championship series against Vanderbilt. And, both of these teams are loaded with young talent for the future. The men’s track and field team finished second in the NCAA Championships while the women’s team finished eighth. As you see there is much to be proud of with the Gator program.
But alas, there is that football thing isn’t there? The Gators do not appear to be found in ANY of the top 25 lists that were just released in the many football magazines. While I have no problem with that based on the many questions surrounding the program, it is a little disheartening. However, I would caution that much of this is based on the simple fact that NOBODY has any idea of what to expect from Florida this season. None at all. This is a season of “IF”s. IF an SEC caliber quarterback emerges from the starting job battle between Treon Harris and Will Grier, and IF some playmakers develop in the passing game and (most importantly) IF the coaching staff can come up with an offensive line between now and September then this Gator team could surprise a lot of folks. Personally, I have a lot of faith in this coaching staff. But, if I might quote Nelse McLeod from the movie Eldorado, “faith can move mountains but it can’t beat a faster draw”. The bottom line is that in this conference you better have enough talent. I will give Head Coach Jim McElwain and his staff this much credit. They aren’t just sitting back and hoping to piece together an offensive line. They have managed to add some extra bodies through transfers that will be available THIS fall. The more you have to choose from the more likely you will be to find five starters and it has to help as far as depth is concerned. I truly believe that IF they can solve the O-line issues this team can compete for a spot in Atlanta in December. It may be as simple as that.
So cheer up Gator fans. There is much to be proud of and much to look forward to in the future. In the meantime, memorize some of the above numbers for those times you have to debate SEC or state hierarchy with friends, family or obnoxious co-workers. You really are fighting this battle from a position of advantage. And, oh yeah, embrace the hatred. It is a compliment.