Thoughts of the day: March 16, 2014

A few thoughts to jump start your Sunday morning.


For seniors Patric Young, Scottie Wilbekin, Will Yeguete and Casey Prather it seems that every game is a chance to do something they haven’t done before. This afternoon they will have the chance to exorcise the demons of Southeastern Conference Tournaments past if the Gators (31-2) can knock off Kentucky. This is the third trip to the SEC Tournament championship game for the seniors, who probably remember all too well what it was like to watch Ole Miss cut down the nets last year. To win the SEC Tournament title, the Gators will have to beat Kentucky for a third time this season. Beating any team three times in a season isn’t easy – just ask the Gators about that Tennessee team they had to battle past Saturday – but especially Kentucky and especially at the Georgia Dome, which will probably fill up to the tune of 25-30,000, about 90% of which will be loud, boisterous Kentucky fans. It will be loud enough that it will seem like just another game at Rupp, so the Gators will have to keep their focus narrowed to the task at hand and leave the hollering and screaming to the folks in the stands.


This Florida team doesn’t have the polarizing personalities of Joakim Noah and Taurean Green nor does it have a stockpile of first round draft picks. Those 2006-07 Gators were so talented that they could go on cruise control and beat just about anybody they played. This Florida team doesn’t have that luxury. They are talented and they are good but while there isn’t a team in the country they can’t beat, there probably are 100 teams in the country capable of beating them if they don’t come to the game focused and connected. You could use the word lunch pail when describing this team. They have to come to work every day with their hard hats and lunch pails, ready to outwork and outhustle anyone they play. There is something special in a group that understands those principles. These guys don’t take winning for granted and they don’t take their opponents for granted either. That’s why they are so much fun to watch and why it’s so easy to for the Gator Nation to connect with them. As one Gator fan told me on the concourse of the Georgia Dome, “This is OUR team. I mean really OUR team. They make us all proud that they are Gators and that we are Gators.”


Although Kentucky fans are to be admired for their loyalty and willingness to travel wherever the Wildcats are playing, there is also a certain amount of delusion that goes with the territory. They are convinced that John Calipari has sprinkled magic woofie dust all over his freshman and now, suddenly, everything is okay. Calipari said he “made some tweaks” but the tweaks are so secretive that he won’t tell exactly what they are. And Kentucky fans are buying into it because the Wildcats beat LSU and its midget guards who played like – well, midgets – and then beat an over-achieving Georgia team that really had no business being in the SEC Tournament semifinals to begin with. The Big Blue diehards, however, see this as a hint of good things to come. “Florida don’t stand a chance,” a Kentucky fan told me while waiting in line to order ribs at Fatt Matt’s Saturday night. “The Cats are back and anybody who knows basketball knows that it was just a matter of time before they turned it on. They turned it on now. They gonna win the national title. Mark my words.” Okay, your words are marked. Now mark mine. We’ll see.


General consensus among the Tennessee media contingent in Atlanta for the Southeastern Conference Basketball Tournament is that the Vols will be a better football team this season although it might not show up so much in the record. Expectations are for a 6-6 season … There is a certain amount of confidence that one of Tennessee’s six wins will come at the expense of Florida. Why the confidence? One Tennessee pundit told me, “Until he proves to me that he will cut his offensive coordinator loose, I think it will be the same old, same old offense at Florida and that’s something even Tennessee can figure out how to beat.”


Don’t look now, but Florida’s baseball team is streaking. The Gators (13-6, 2-0 SEC) made it seven straight wins Saturday when they took out Arkansas, 1-0, on a solo homer by freshman Peter Alonso and a combined 3-hitter by three UF pitchers. Eric Hanhold got the start and the win with five scoreless innings. Bobby Poyner came on to go the next 3-2/3 and then Ryan Harris came on to strike out the final batter of the game to seal the win. The Gators field one of the youngest teams in the country, but there is no lack of talent particularly on the pitching staff. These guys are going to be fun to watch.


Florida’s men and women turned in third place finishes at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships in Albuquerque. Oregon won both the men’s and women’s championships. Oregon won the women’s title with 44 points, a half point more than second ranked Texas. Florida and Georgia tied for third with 40.5 points each. The Florida men scored 35 points. First place Oregon won it with 62 points while second place Arkansas had 54 … Florida’s #1-ranked softball team (27-2, 3-2 SEC) dropped a 3-2 decision to LSU in Baton Rouge … Florida’s #4-ranked women’s lacrosse team (8-2) dropped a 17-12 decision to #2 Syracuse on the road despite three goals each from Shannon Gilroy and Mollie Stevens … Florida’s men’s golf team dropped one spot to #12 after two days of the Chris Schenkel Invitational in Statesboro, GA. The Gators are 28 shots off the pace set by host Georgia Southern … The women’s golf team improved one spot at the Sun Trust Invitational. The Gators are in 10th place, 22 shots off the pace set by Kent State.30


Former Gator All-American Brandon Spikes signed a one-year $3.25 million free agent deal with the Buffalo Bills Saturday. Spikes is hooking up with former Patriots linebackers coach Pepper Johnson, now of the Bills’ staff … The Bills have also signed Sanford’s Keith Rivers, who played collegiately at Southern Cal … In other NFL news, Julius Peppers’ days of unemployment are over. He signed with the Green Bay Packers for three years and $30 million of which $7.5 is guaranteed.


The best moment was meeting the former Fat Matt, who has dropped 50 pounds and is now skinny Matt. I have been going there for years, just about every time I stay over in Atlanta, and the ribs are always fall of the bone tender and juicy and the sauce is always tangy with a kick at the end. Matt and I stood outside Saturday night and spent 30 minutes talking barbecue and basketball. He gave me a bottle of his sauce and said, “This is two hour sauce. Put it on the ribs and let it slow cook for two hours” … The worst moment was Friday night when two Kentucky fans — I think they were guys but I’m not sure because of all the face paint and oversized  blue and white striped overalls — puked simultaneously in the hotel elevator and then congratulated each other because barfing would let them start drinking again.


I have a growing addiction to “Live from Daryl’s House” on Palladia TV. I keep discovering new music there and fueling my musical addictions with collaborations of old artists who come to Daryl Hall’s home to spend a few days making music with the rock and roll legend and his band. This is where I discovered Diane Birch, who I think has the voice and talent to become a serious artist in the future. This is her song “Don’t Wait Up” performed on a segment of “Live at Daryl’s House.”

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Franz Beard
Back in January of 1969, the late, great Jack Hairston, then the sports editor of the Jacksonville Journal, called me on the phone one night and asked me if I wanted to work for him. I said yes. The entire interview took 30 seconds. It's my experience that whenever the interview lasts 30 seconds or less, I get the job. In the 48 years that I've been writing and getting paid for it, I've covered Super Bowls, World Series, NCAA basketball championships, BCS championship games, heavyweight title fights and what seems like thousands of college football, baseball and basketball games. I'm a columnist and special assignments editor for Gator Country once again, writing about the only team that ever mattered to me, the Florida Gators.