The return to The Swamp of the 1996 National Champions was every bit as exciting for the guys getting the ovation on the field as it was for Gator fans who were welcoming them home. No team at the University of Florida will ever be able to bring home the first National Championship.
That spot is taken forever by a group of guys who brought it home in the most emphatic of ways, routing their arch-rival in the title game.
Among the Gators back in Gainesville was safety Tony George who was just a sophomore on that team. “T-George” was part of one of the best secondaries ever at UF, along with Anthone Lott, Fred Weary and Lawrence Wright. The hard-hitting defensive back was also the farthest from home during his Gator career, having left Cincinnati Ohio to try on the Orange and Blue.
I spoke with George last Saturday night about the reunion, his times in Gainesville and how his future plans may bring him back to Gainesville.
LV: Tony, what was hit reunion like for you?
TG: I tell you it was really, really incredible Larry. We’ve all come to be known as full-time Gators all that time now. It’s something to come back in fellowship and re-live all the memories, all the hard work and the blood sweat and tears that we went through. To be gone all these summers and be able to come back and be with each other today was really gratifying.
LV: It has to be special to know you were part of leaving a permanent mark on the University of Florida football program.
TG: It’s very special. There are not many people who can say that they’ve won a national championship. To win one and be able to come back with such a large percentage of the guys that you did it with is great.
LV: Tony a lot of people were concerned about how fans would respond to Coach Spurrier since he’s now at South Carolina, but he got a great reception. What was your reaction?
TG: There’s nobody like Coach Spurrier. I absolutely love him. He came up to Cincinnati and pulled me from some 13 hours away and made me a Gator. He deserves nothing but the best. He came here and promised to win championships and he won championships. I can remember when he came to me in high school and he said, ‘there’s going to be an opportunity for you to play and you’ll decide whether or not you have success’. And it was like that every day at practice. Every day was a chance to prove yourself
LV: What is your read on Coach Meyer and the effort he has made to bridge the gap with the former players?
TG: Coach Meyer has really done a phenomenal job of reaching out to the players. He has his front office and coaches writing letters just to let us know what’s going on in Gator country. It helps us to be able to come back and be able to show these guys what it’s like to reach these goals. It shows them how attainable these goals really are.
LV: So tell the folks on Gator Country what’s going on in your life?
TG: Well I’ve moved on from playing football; even though I would love to still be playing. I’ve moved into the professional world and am doing my own business. I’m doing personal training in my own business, “Body by Evolution” in Charlotte, North Carolina. Business is going very, very well and I look forward to expanding back here in Gator Country very soon. I’ve been talking with a couple of people down here and hopefully in a year, year and a half we’ll have a facility down here in Gainesville.
LV: And there’s another former Gator DB doing well up there in Charlotte, Larry Kennedy.
TG: I see Larry quite often and he’s doing an excellent job up there working as a high school coach. He’s doing a phenomenal thing working with young kids up there.
When I did the best Gators by numbers, I listed Tony George as honorable mention behind Keiwan Ratliff. He told me he was honored to make the list. For many he will be known for one play more than any other; that would his 89-yard interception return for a touchdown against Peyton Manning and Tennessee in 1997.