Sports

Florida Gator haters abound in SEC

In 2006, for his book Dixieland Delight, Nashville lawyer and FanHouse columnist Clay Travis spent 12 weeks attending 12 football games at 12 Southeastern Conference stadiums.

One thing Travis brought away from the experience was that despite their differing quirky traditions, their selfish rooting interests and their distaste for their natural rivals, SEC fans are united by one worthy cause.

They all hate Florida.

"Basically, (Florida is) like the new money Internet millionaires in the old-school club of SEC football," Travis wrote via e-mail on Monday. "Everybody knows they're rich, but they insist on being showy anyway."

Oh, the Gators are Bill Gates-rich all right. They've won two of the past three BCS titles. They're favored to capture a third this season. They have Tim Tebow, the all-too-perfect robo-quarterback. They are coached by Urban Meyer, i.e., The Urbanator. And did we mention they are favored to bring home another BCS title this year?

"They're the Alabama of the '70s with Bear Bryant," said Paul Finebaum, the long-time Birmingham talk show host. "You can make your season by beating them. You can make your program by beating them. Who had ever heard of Ole Miss before they beat Florida last year?"

"Beat the top team, and you get instant respect," agreed Buck Belue, the former Georgia quarterback who co-hosts a talk show in Atlanta. "Plus, they come off as just a little arrogant."

As Travis found on his Dixieland Delight Tour, it's that (perceived) arrogance that rubs the rest of the league the wrong way.

"A) Florida fans are the least Southern of all the SEC schools," Travis said. "As a group, they have a huge Northern influence since most of them didn't grow up in the state, tend to be more clueless about the conference at large and SEC history, and haven't traditionally been an SEC power yet to carry themselves as God's gift to football."

And ...

"B) They've won an awful lot more than anyone else in the past 15 years and haven't been quiet or humble about their victories."

In other words, that "IT'S GREAT TO BE A FLORIDA GATOR!" chant gets a little old after a while.

"Everything rubs people the wrong way about Florida," said Finebaum. "Here's Urban Meyer, a guy from Utah, who comes to Florida and immediately lands Tim Tebow and wins a national championship. It's a little too easy."

But Steve Spurrier won a national title at Florida, too, and Steve Superior did so running it up by the ridiculous scores of 73-7, and 65-0 (just to name two), and saying, "You can't spell Citrus Bowl without a U and a T."

"Florida has had a lot of success, and I do think there is some jealousy there," said Jimmy Hyams, veteran talk-show host in Knoxville. "But Spurrier liked to stick the needle in and twist it. He not only did it to Tennessee, he did it to LSU, to Georgia, to Alabama.

"I remember one time, when Florida went to the Citrus Bowl, someone asked him if that was his worst nightmare. And he said his worst nightmare would be to go 3-8 and have his players going to the Blue-Gray Game."

LSU had just gone 3-8.

"You know, I think people hate Urban more," argued Travis, who's excellent new book, On Rocky Top, is in stores now. "Spurrier was cocky, but he was funny and cocky, like your eccentric uncle who got rich selling horse manure.

"Meyer is cocky, but he's a jerk. I think, in the South, we'll excuse eccentrics, in fact we love them, but we don't excuse being a jerk."

Especially when that (perceived) "jerk" keeps beating your rear end year after year.

"I think some people would love to see him brought back down to earth," Hyams said. "But that's hard to do."

Said Travis, "I think Spurrier provoked a grudging respect and jealousy, i.e., everyone wished he coached their team. Whereas, I think everyone wishes Meyer would just go ahead and go to Notre Dame and become the North's jerk."

Until then, among those that are Gator Bait, meaning the rest of the SEC, Gator Hate lives on.

  Comments