What defines toughness? Webster’s Merriam says “characterized by severity and uncompromising determination.” I would say this year’s Florida football team showed these defining characteristics and much more. They showed toughness in bouncing back from a loss to Ole Miss. They hit Georgia in the mouth and shoved their running game back to Athens and they water logged FSU behind the grit of Tim Tebow. Urban Meyer said this was a tough team and it showed the last two games with consecutive wins over number one teams.
Many people think the “spread” offense is a finesse offense and that moniker is usually true. But not with Urban Meyer who was reared in the midwest where you just have to be tough to start your car in February. Meyer instilled a toughness in this program that resonated this season in all three phases. You could argue a tough senior class with a tough as nails defense got the Gators the 2006 title. This year the offense battered opponents for over 200 yards plus per game rushing and knocked out #1 opponents Alabama and Oklahoma in the second half with a physical rushing attack.
Individually the team is defined by its tough quarterback. Tim Tebow played with a bum shoulder that has since had surgery while fighting off back and knee issues through the season. He seeks out contact and never avoids it. Percy Harvin put on a performance for the ages, one that rivaled former Gators Emmitt Smith and Jack Youngblood. He earned the respect of his teammates and the entire country with an MVP performance. Other guys stepped up and played hurt including Louis Murphy and Jim Tartt. How about the defensive tackles Lawrence Marsh and Terron Sanders who basically did not miss a snap in 14 games? Marsh was injured versus the Citadel, but played the next week against FSU until the game got out of hand and he could rest on the sideline.
A Big 12 coach told me after the game that the difference in the SEC and their conference is the secondary. He marveled at the play of UF’s secondary and said there are very few playmakers in their conference like those the Gators put out on the field. This is another unit that truly defined the toughness. Florida corners Janoris Jenkins and Joe Haden flat out can cover and play the run. Major Wright was a big hitting threat at safety, while Ahmad Black is just a football player. Black is a winner from a winning program with a nose for the football. When you think 2006 you think about the Eraser, Ryan Smith and Reggie Lewis … well this group may be better.
Before we get caught up in recruiting and the commits and visit weekends relax a bit. Before we begin to make next year’s top ten or look at which Florida players are lost for spring practice, let’s let this one marinate for a while. Let the odor of Dolphin Stadium ring in the new year for awhile and enjoy the fact that we are fans of the greatest school in the country. The University of Florida is on top again and for us in the Gator Nation, let’s enjoy this title for some time, because these coaches and players deserve that. This reminds me of a quote I read when I was coaching that said “Greatness is not in where we stand, but in what direction were moving.” Under Urban Meyer’s direction the Gators are on top and they’ll be there for some time now.