The Florida Gators season was to be kicked off at 7 p.m. eastern standard time but Mother Nature had other ideas.
A storm blew into Gainesville, just about an hour before kickoff. It sent sheets of rain down on to Florida Field. The wind was so strong that the rain appeared to be moving sideways.
But this is football and rain alone wouldn’t stop the game. It was, however the lightning that accompanied the rain that halted play and thwarted what was to be Kurt Roper’s introduction to Gator Nation. The lightning storm that illuminated Gainesville as much as the lights did to Florida Field was impressive.
The first delay lasted two hours and 48 minutes before the Gators and Vandals took the field. Idaho won the toss and deferred. Valdez Showers collected the opening kickoff, turned to his left and up the field. The running lanes closed, Showers bounced right and saw a soggy open field in front of him. He turned the burners on and took the ball 64-yards down to the Vandal 14-yard line.
“As everyone saw with that opening kickoff, I thought that our guys were ready and fired up to play,” Will Muschamp said through a press release.
Jeff Driskel and the offense took the field before a grounds crew member sprinted out to the field to meet with officials.
There was more lightning.
There would be no more football. At 10:30 game and school officials met and decided the field was not fit to play on and the game was, in their words at the time, “terminated.”
“It’s unfortunate that the weather didn’t cooperate for tonight’s season opener,” Muschamp said. “After long discussions with the head referee, it was determined that the field conditions were too dangerous for the student-athletes.”
This isn’t the first time a season opening game has been canceled. The last time it happened, in 2004, it was Hurricane Frances that tore through the state of Florida, ultimately causing the game to be postponed. That season, much like this one, the Gators will open their season up against Eastern Michigan.
In 2004, the game was postponed six weeks with Florida finally taking on Middle Tennessee State in mid-October. As of midnight, we are still unsure if this game will be played at all.
According to the SEC rule book, if a game is suspended before the end of the fourth quarter and it cannot be resumed there are four options the two schools can take:
1. Resume the game at a later date;
2. Terminate the game with a determined final score;
3. Forfeit of the game; or
4. Declare a no contest.
The second and third options are believed to be off the table. The game was announced as “terminated” but there was no score and not a single offensive play from either team. Officials from both schools were meeting late into the night to try and figure out what to do. Also, neither team has reason to forfeit the game.
The first option is a possibility. Both Idaho and Florida have open dates on October 25 and a game could potentially be played then. That would mean that Florida would be giving up a bye week before playing Georgia, however.
The final option, in my opinion, is what will most likely take place. It is unfortunate for the fans that traveled from out of town to attend the game but ultimately the health and safety of the student-athletes reigns supreme.
Idaho was to be paid approximately $975,000 to play Florida on Saturday and that matter will need to be worked out by the two schools.
The Real MVP of the night
The irony is too rich to not be mentioned. The only play of a rain-soaked night was a tremendous kick return by a player name Showers.
However, the game ball doesn’t go to any player; it goes to the fans in the student section.
I was highly critical of the student section last year. Far too often they showed up late and left early.
Tonight, however, the fans showed up in droves and the rain wouldn’t stop them. Thousands of students stayed in their seats despite torrential rains. They stayed, cheering in their seats, sliding on the wet bleachers; they cheered, they chanted, they booed when one of their own was escorted out of the stadium by security when she ran on to the field (the young coed Gator chomped while being shown the door.)
To the fans, I know you are disappointed, but you handled yourselves in expert fashion during the worst-case scenario.
The fan reaction and determination is promising. At the end of last season it appeared that a think layer of apathy had engulfed Gator Nation but tonight, fans were hungry. “We want football! We want football!” was the chant that rang through Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
They stayed until the bitter end. The words “the game has been terminated” would finally send them out onto University drive and off to home or to the bars. But for more than three hours they sat in the pouring rain, waiting for an opportunity to cheer on the team they love.
It was amazing to watch.
“We appreciate the fans coming out and supporting us and sitting through several weather delays. It was amazing the energy and passion shown in the stands all night,” Muschamp said. “The Gator Nation showed why they’re the best fans in the country, starting with one of the most enthusiastic Gator Walks that we’ve had since I’ve been here.”