People make sports special.
The upsets, the touchdowns and the fancy plays are all very exciting, but it’s the human interest element that continually draws us in.
Now seems as good a time as any to say it: I told you so.
That’s what made Florida’s 27-19 victory over LSU different on Saturday. The people.
The upset in the Swamp was obviously the Gators’ most important victory of the Dan Mullen era and as close to a dogfight that we’ve seen from Florida this year.
But there was something different in the atmosphere that night.
You could see it in the coaches.
Mullen couldn’t contain his pre-game excitement as he bounced up and down with his players before the team took the field. He was caught on camera with that same passionate fervor after a fourth-quarter, game-clinching pick-six by safety Brad Stewart. Mullen was seen flailing his arms up and down so vigorously that he knocked his white visor cap from his sweat-soaked head onto the ground.
But he didn’t care. Neither did defensive coordinator Todd Grantham in the moments after the game when his orange visor juggled on his head as he excitedly pumped his fists at the stands.
You could see it in the players.
No one cowered during the game when things went awry. Their postgame celebration of singing songs and hyping each other up and their coach was an ode to that.
“It’s a testament to our whole team. I mean, you could see how tired we were, those long drives that we had, the whole team’s tired, but that’s part of the mental endurance and physical endurance you have to have throughout a football game,” quarterback Feleipe Franks said. “When it boils down to it and the game’s on the line, what team is going to flinch. The team that doesn’t flinch is the team that is going to pull it out. Our guys didn’t flinch and we went out there and we executed what we’ve been practicing to do.”
You could see it in the crowd.
Gators fans had filled the Swamp with a noise so vicious it affected their own players.
“At one point I had the headset on and couldn’t hear Coach Johnson talking,” Franks said. “Usually I can hear him really well. I said at the top, our fan base was crazy tonight. That’s always a good thing. It always helps, when they do things like that.”
And when he took a knee to make the victory official, Franks headed straight to the Gators’ student section where the Florida fans remained. He had the ball still clutched in his arms as he embraced the ones he said made the win possible.
“It feels so good just getting the Gator standard right,” he said. “Our fans, just running to the fans because those are our guys, people that are helping us out in the Swamp.”
Maybe it was the efficiency of the running game, Mullen’s timely trick play call or the execution of Grantham’s defense that won that game on Saturday.
But it was ultimately the people, their effort, their passion that affected the outcome. And that could be the difference for this program moving forward.
Alanis Thames is a sports writer for The Alligator. Follow her on Twitter @alanisthames and contact her at [email protected]