Friday, January 09, 2009

Final Thoughts On Florida's Title Game Win

It's probably a good measure of what's most important to you NOT what you instantly post 5 minutes after a championship game involving your team ends, but after a fitful night of mind-racing lying in bed, what still stands out (more or less in this order):

*Tebow's crazy display of emotion early in the 2nd half: After that very iffy first half, Tebow looked...timid?

Tied 7-7, the 3rd quarter started with a 3-and-out for Florida, but the Gators D held (even after that awful roughing-the-punter penalty).

They got the ball back, and thus began Tebow Time. It was on a key Tebow scramble for a first down that he got up -- and got fired up. It was the "old" Tebow, back and ready to go.

For me, that was the game's biggest turning point. This picture says it all.

*Tebow's unlikely unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty as the game was winding down, doing the Gator Chomp in the face of an Oklahoma defensive player. Though I'll call it part of Tebow's "enthusiasm," it was a display of taunting that I have never seen from him in 3 years. For those of you still hunting for even a sliver of "bad boy" in Tebow: There it was.

*Ahmad Black's give-me-that-ball interception. Down 3 with tons of time to go (10 min), Oklahoma was three plays into a drive that looked for all the world like an inevitable (and go-ahead) TD.

Then Black literally YANKED the championship from Bradford and Co.

It was the ultimate symbol of the performance by the Gators' D, one of the greatest single-game performances in college football history (if you consider the prolific offense they were playing).

*Fox's broadcast was horrible and nearly unwatchable. The defining moment was that "4th down!" gaffe in the 2nd quarter. (No, you morons: It was 3rd down.) They were horrible. I cannot wait for ESPN to take over these broadcasts next year; the difference isn't even worth comparing.

(The only thing I'd compliment Fox on was that "count-up" clock to track the speed of Oklahoma's offense. Like most Fox broadcasts, they probably went to it a little too much, but once I became insanely afraid of their hurry-up capabilities, the clock was like an on-screen enabler of my neuroses. Every time OU went super-hurry-up, they produced a good play -- except for that hurry-up run on 4th and Goal early on -- not sure why they slowed down even a little...unless Florida's defensive game-plan was foiling their first take at play-calling.)

*Tim Tebow's eye-black message. Some don't like the in-your-face evangelism. Surprising even myself, I don't mind it, because -- generally -- he's so much less in-your-face than others.

Just got this message on my Facebook Wall from an old college buddy:
This just in: Shanoff Converts to Christianity - "Christ makes me feel closer to Tim."
Want to hear the most ridiculous part? When Tebow originally came out onto the field, I was like, "Hey, what happened to Phil 4:13? John 3:16 is so cliche."

*Either one of Percy Harvin's long runs, plus Percy Harvin's direct-snap TD. I appreciate Tebow's takeover in the 2nd half. But it wouldn't have been possible without Harvin carrying the team in the first half -- and his long run on the first play of Florida's first drive of the 4th quarter, setting up the go-ahead FG in the 2nd half. Harvin deserved co-MVP.

*Nic Harris's unflagged and totally inappropriate cheap shot on Harvin, twisting his ankle following a tackle. The only question in my mind is: Was Harris -- a notorious cheap-shot artist -- acting independently? Or did either Brent Venables or Bob Stoops instruct Harris -- either implicitly or expliclity -- to try to take Harvin out of the game? The latter wouldn't surprise me.

(And thank you, Orson: For confirming that Venables did, in fact, scream "We're f--ked!" on camera just before the end came for him. I saw it, re-wound the DVR to confirm, and figured I would wait for bloggers to further confirm for me -- don't expect to see it in mainstream media.)

*The jump-pass TD to seal the win: Not only did it capitalize on Black's INT, but the drive that produced it took nearly 7 minutes off the clock. And the call of the jump-pass -- which put Tebow on the national map as a freshman against LSU -- was a sentimental book-end for his career, if in fact last night's game was his last as a Gator.

(Even with just 3 minutes to go and down 10, I thought for sure that Oklahoma would score in, like, 30 seconds, then recover the onside kick and score again. All that confidence I had going into the game was eroded within, oh, the first 2 minutes of the game.)

*The fact that every time my wife had to briefly leave the room, something amazing happened: The stop on 4th and Goal; the blocked FG. It got to the point where we seriously considered watching the rest of the game with each of us in separate rooms.

*And, as much as anything else, the game will be defined for me by this ongoing feeling of dread I felt throughout. Oklahoma's defense was better than I could have ever imagined; Florida's offense was stalling -- some of the play calls were maddening. Oklahoma's offense seemed to be able to move enough; every play, I was sure, would be the "Big One." Brown was killing things.

As I mentioned last night, I was so sure that Florida would win -- not just this week, not just the last month, but even going all the way back to my preseason expectation that they would win the national title -- that the taut, low-scoring game totally threw me for a loop. It was totally unexpected; normally, I love to be surprised -- live sports are one of the only things left that have the power to truly surprise you. In this case? Not so much.

I found it hard to be TOO jubilant last night, just after the game ended. I was still too keyed up, the lingering feeling that they just might lose -- at least the first 55 of the game's 60 minutes -- was still too residual in my frame of mind.

(As you'd expect, I got a bunch of text messages and emails as the game was winding down and victory seemed secure, and I found it too hard to digest them in the immediate moments after the game. I appreciated them a lot more this morning.)

It was only after thinking about it overnight that I was able to start fully appreciating how hard-fought this win was -- it was so different from the feeling I got watching the shocking shellacking that Florida put on Ohio State two years ago.

Only now, in a bit of delayed gratification, does the game begin to feel fully satisfying. Perhaps the thing -- not a moment, per se -- that will linger with me is "14." Oklahoma's offense was among the most prolific ever, and Florida's D shut them down (mostly...certainly, as well as you could ever expect). It's hard to watch a slugfest -- it's not as sexy as a shootout. It's gritty.

But in the end, though it has taken 12 hours (and will likely take even more to fully marinate), I feel the sensation of awesome that any fan whose team wins a championship should feel. Once I got over the disconcerting disconnect between my expectations and reality, gritty finally felt so good.

-- D.S.


Mergz said...

Very well summed up Dan. I too spent nearly the entire game with a feeling of dread, made worse by the long TV time outs and extended halftime. It seemed any moment Oklahoma might break the “big one”. And when the Gators went up by 10 and my wife started talking about how we had “won” I really cringed.

At the end of the game the thing that stood out to me too was “14” – as in 40 points lower than their seasonal average. A defensive performance for the ages.

In leaving the stadium there was not nearly the giddiness among the Florida faithful I saw two years ago – I think we were all too emotionally spent by the game. If there was ever a game that Al Davis’ mantra applied – “Just win baby”, that was it.

Unknown said...

I know this has been hashed out here before, but I can't take a Northwestern grad's claim that he was sweating bullets on Florida's account too seriously. Further let's put Oklahoma and Ohio State on a 5 year list of mandatory championship exclusions.

Brett said...

Do you agree in this observation I had:

Tim Tebow as a NFL prospect at QB looked very bad last night. He had trouble reading the pass coverage and missed some very plausible deep throws that NFL QB's should make. When he morphed into run and pass Tebow he was brilliant though. I think if Tebow wants to become an NFL QB he really needs to get better at reading pass coverages and his accuracy on deep balls.

That being said, Bradford did not look much like a 1st round NFL QB either.

Both defenses played their tails off though.