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This is sports piece discussing the most colorful figures in the history of UF athletics.
“The Face of UF Athletics”

GianLuca Natale

         As a close friend and I reminisced about the recent run of success we Gator fans have been blessed with, primarily about thoughts if the unprecedented run from 2006-2007, I could not help but think of the many colorful figures exposed by the media during that time.  Soon I formulated the prospect of a little contest focusing on who the most charismatic and colorful figures in the history of UF athletics, ultimately concluding who we as Gator fans might choose to represent UF in perhaps some larger contest.  Surely, there have been many, but a few stick out like sore thumbs or bad hair styles.  While these figures clearly arose out of an incredible culture of winning, they also took/take every opportunity to express their love of being a Florida Gator, either through direct revelation or in some cases, by continually poking fun at less worthy opponents.

         Before I provide the names and explanations for the three finalists I have chosen, let me first clarify some basic elements needed to be administered in order to qualify.  First, what this content is intended to do is for better or for worse, highlight the “face of Gator athletics” that would serve to exemplify the success of such a prestigious program as UF’s and represent the university at some larger national contest.  For this reason, the person does not necessarily need to be the most decorated or best looking member of the UF athletics program, but rather be connected with success at UF (as all three clearly do in their links to National Championship teams), as well as have demonstrated an ability to handle the lime light.  It just so happens that winning (which pretty much every UF sport is accustomed to producing) brings forth more constant exposure to media markets, large and small, as well as places these athletes under more frequent scrutiny by the press forcing many athletes, especially young ones, to shy away from the spot light.  As a result, because the college sports media obviously focuses more heavily on football and basketball, the three finalists partly owe their status in this content to the sports they played or coached. For all intents and purposes, though, I think these three crave the limelight anyways. 

         If in fact, there existed a true contest for such a distinction as the one and only “Face of UF Athletics” these characteristics would be expected. So without further ado, here the three finalists, in no particular rank:

1. Steve Spurrier:  Ok, so, SOS deserves this title more so for what he did as a coach as opposed to as a player (he did win a Heisman, though).  However, his presence as a coach was more critical to Florida’s football program, period. Here’s why. Florida Football became Florida Football when Spurrier came to town.  While Florida was successful for sporadic periods leading up to Spurrier’s arrival in 1990 (who can forget the 1984 squad with Kerwin Bell, Neal Anderson, Lomas Brown, etc.), it was Spurrier who transformed Gator Nation into one of football dominance, both regionally and nationally.  The titles and statistical recognitions peak for themselves.  However, this is about color and charisma.  Spurrier was not the slightest camera shy.  You almost have to wonder if the patent visor throwing of the man is only made possible because of how much he knows people will critique it on national television.  He vehemently and verbally went after his opponents (“You can’t spell Citrus without UT” and referring to former Georgia coach Ray Goff as “Ray Goof“, among the many memorable attacks by the Ole‘ Ball Coach) and his “I dare you to try to stop us” mentality dominated the SEC for a decade.  In fact, the environment he created was so successful that following his departure even 3 seasons of 8 wins could not derail UF from re-entering the college football world as a dominant program.  Of course, Urban Meyer deserves most, if not all of the praise for this reemergence, but Spurrier’s shadow influenced many a recruit to still sign with Florida even during the Zook years.  Urban Meyer will continue to have success, as will many other coaches who roam the sideline of Ben Hill Griffin in the future and some may well  be even more successful than Spurrier (and maybe more loyal?), but it is because of Spurrier that Billy Donovan’s program will always be second to the football program.  Furthermore, I have not even mentioned how deep Spurrier’s success reached into the UF athletic programs during his tenure.  If you do not think the success of the football program had anything to do with other athletes wanting to come to UF, you’re wrong.  This does not mean, however, that another athletic team at UF still can’t have its say about who “The Face of UF Athletics” should be.

2. You guessed it, Joakim Noah.  Sorry, Matt Walsh, but Joakim was everything you were to opposing fan bases, but also whole lot more successful - individually and from a team stand point.  Never at a lost for words, I mean honestly, he stood up against the President himself…not Bernie Machen, but George W. Bush…he was vocal on and off the court.  He was a leader, even if in unconventional ways.  Should parents glorify their children’s aspirations to model Joachim’s often uncontrollable behavior? I would not go that far.  Although, the names of many other people come to mind when I consider whom I do not want my children to imitate their lives after.  None the less, if you were a fan from any other SEC school, 2004-2007, then you would probably disown your child if he or she wanted to be the next Joakim Noah.  Where as many fans despised Matt Walsh because he was cocky, arrogant, and entirely unsuccessful, Joakim was a hated target because he was out spoken and successful, as well as possessed a fiery attitude that would anger opposing teams and crowds, but more importantly, generate a park plug that ignited his teammates.  Did I mention his girlfriend was more attractive than Walsh’s too? Shhhhhhhhh.  Let’s just be thankful other schools didn’t have access to any Playboy spreads as they did with Lauren Anderson.  I guess Jo’s looks did not help his cause in Rupp Arena either. 

         Whatever the case, there exists two moments that ultimately led many a Gator fans, myself included, to begin contemplating the notion that Joakim just might supersede Spurrier as “The Face of UF Athletics.” 

         The Macarena, the Soulja Boy? Forget about those dance crazes.  Joakim’s dance on national television following UF’s third straight SEC tournament title will go down as the funniest thing I have ever seen in my life time…EVER.  I still watch it right before I begin work everyday as testimony to the good sometimes not taking life so seriously can produce.  The only negativity that event produced was my jealousy for Coach Donovan knowing he experienced these types of things “everyday” as he told Bill Raferty.

        What other event provides an intriguing look into Joakim’s charisma? Win or loss, Joakim made sure to go out with a bang as a media presence for UF prior to the dismantling of OSU…for the third time that year…in the 2007 title game.  Really, whoever the news reporter was that informed Joakim of Ron Lewis’s remarks following OSU‘s defeat of Georgetown, did he think Jo really needed any ammunition? Well, if he did, the result was Joakim lighting up.  “Oh My Goooooooooooooooooooooooooood. Are you serious? Noooooooo. He’s bad man.”  Joakim, I don’t know if UF will ever be so blessed to have a figure and a spirit like you again and you just might be too crazy to win this event, but you will forever be the face of a team that will go down in NCAA history as being one of the best of all time, at a school where it’s Basketball program will always come in second…or at least 1B. I miss him even as I write this; I am not going to lie.  However, it would not take long before another athlete would rival both Joakim’s status and Spurrier’s as faces of the program. Not surprising, he makes his home in the Swamp.

3. Of course, I am talking about Dee Webb.  Just kidding.  Some call him Superman, some Chuck Norris…some claim these two figures don’t even sniff the ground that this next figure walks on.  Of course, I am talking about Tim Tebow.  For Pete’s sake, Chris Leak brought a National Title to Gainesville.  Yet many fans still pleaded for Tebow mania to become more prevalent that year.  He was given wings and a halo the minute he arrived on campus and he has not disappointed. 

         His media highlights? Well, most recently, and the topic of many a reporters comparing this speech to the likes of “Win one for the Gipper” or Lou Gehrig’s historic farewell to Yankee fans, the now famed “You will never see…” promise Tebow bestowed upon us with following the Ole’ Miss debacle.  Unfortunately for Ole’ Miss, that day will hardly be remembered for their inspiring and season-defining win, but rather the beginning of an unprecedented run in sports that was sparked by Tebow taking responsibility for the loss and his insistence to make up for his team’s play that day.  The tears that Tebow shed, made me laugh at the time…I admit.  I apologize not only to Tebow, but to God, as well because I feel strongly that God’s work in some crazy way might have been at work that day.  Consequently, Tebow would include God at the end of that speech, as he does as a precursor and conclusion to every interview.  Tebow’s speech certainly put to rest any inspiration that may have been derived from Matt Walsh’s tearful speech following the loss to Villanova that knocked the Gators out of the 2005 NCAA Tournament.  All Walsh could muster through his tears was how he…HE…not we…hoped that his days of playing with his “best friend” Roberson were not over.  He couldn’t have cared less for how Gator fans felt of yet another early exist from the Big Dance.  Then again, he probably does not understand how thankful we soon would be that he did choose leave early, paving the way for the new starting backcourt…the CHAMPIONSHIP backcourt…of Lee Humphrey and Taurean Green.  The only reference Tebow made to himself in his speech was a direct apology to UF fans, which included his heartfelt and committed assertion that he will work harder than ever before to make up for that loss.  All he has done since then is prove to us what we once felt was impossible, that the notion that a more diligent and purposeful work ethic than what Tebow exhibited leading up to the Elemis game could even exist.

         What about his Heisman speech in 2007? While not one of the most emotional or inspiring speech ever presented at that ceremony, it just might be one of the most dedicated presentations to a winner’s school ever provided.  However many times Tebow said “I just love being a Gator” might only be outdone by the number of times Allen Iverson questioned the importance of practice under Coach Larry Brown.

         Tebow is a media darling and one can only wonder how many of the beautiful female reporters that have interviewed him have conjured up lustful thoughts of fantasies which include Tebow.  To be honest, Tebow could probably take anyone of them out to dinner, too.  He doesn’t even think like that, though, which goes even further in explaining the charisma of this young man.  You can dislike and spew venom at Spurrier and Noah if you‘re from an opposing school, but honestly, watch out if you choose to do so with Tebow.  Tebow very well might contain a power only outdone by the God he loves so much and so willfully attributes much of his success too. 

         This column holds no sexual or sport biases and as stated earlier, it would only be natural that three finalists for this award would spawn from one of the two sports that receive the most spot light.  So, with all due respect to the following athletes - Heather Mitts (Honorable Mention for this award), Danny Werfel (whose absence from this list clearly underscores the special nature of the three finalists),  Abby Wambach, Dana Torres, Neal Walk, Corey Brewer with his dashing smile, Rex Grossman, Emmitt Smith, Ryan Lochte, Jack Youngblood, Erin Andrews, and Mr. Two-Bits - and the many others of loving and endearing UF athletes of the Gator Nation, Tebow, Spurrier, and Noah were three of a kind.  Now I leave it up to you to decide who the ultimate winner would be. Enjoy!

© Copyright 2008 GianLuca Natale (ktalaimo382 at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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