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A Georgia Bulldogs Fan Assesses Urban Meyer's Tenure with the Florida Gators and Adjusts to Life Without "Corch"

All the federales say
They could have had him any day
They only let him slip away
Out of kindness, I suppose

Townes Van Zandt, "Pancho and Lefty"

That's why we took the damn field. Now if you want to crown them, then crown their ass! But they are who we thought they were! And we let 'em off the hook!

Dennis Green, October 16, 2006

My opponent has a first name.
It's U-R-B-A-N.
My opponent has a second name.
It's M-E-Y-E-R.
Oh, I'd love to beat him Saturday,
And, if you ask me why, I'll say:
"'Cause Urban Meyer works today
For F-L-O-R-I-D-A."

T. Kyle King, July 20, 2005

(Sorry for the profanity in that second one, but these are times that would make even Mark Richt cuss.)

Last summer, I read Barbara Strauch’s The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain, which is subtitled The Surprising Talents of the Middle-Aged Mind, but which as easily could have been subtitled Everything Kyle is Doing Wrong. Strauch’s insights into the perks and pitfalls of middle age are what caused me to start taking vitamins and aspirin (for the anticoagulants), start eating Greek yogurt and drinking orange juice (for the antioxidants), and start trying (albeit, in the wake of Thanksgiving, largely failing) to do up to 30 minutes of aerobic exercise a day. Among the many benefits I am seeking by making such lifestyle changes is an increased ability to concentrate . . . an ability I, like most 42-year-olds, no longer possess to the extent I did when I was, say, 24.

Despite knowing that it is a perfectly natural phenomenon, I have no patience whatsoever for my brain’s tendency to slip into standby mode. Once, when I was driving a familiar stretch of road---to or from work; I forget which---I heard the Righteous Brothers’ "You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’" come on the radio. I turned it up and sang along; my limbic brain took over, allowing my hands to steer the car along a route they knew by rote and lyrics that had made it into long-term memory years before to return; I was only technically conscious through any of it; when the song ended and my mind snapped back to attention, the image hovering in my thoughts was of the ball rolling through Bill Buckner’s legs in the 1986 World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Mets, and I wondered: From where the heck did that thought come?

The question bothered me enough that I actually took the time to trace it back to its origin. Why was I thinking about Buckner’s error in the ‘86 World Series? Because Dwight Gooden was the Mets’ ace that season. Why was I thinking about Dwight Gooden? Because he was nicknamed "Doc." Why was I thinking about the nickname "Doc"? Because it was the nickname of John Henry Holliday. Why was I thinking about Doc Holliday? Because Val Kilmer played him in the movie "Tombstone." Why was I thinking about Val Kilmer? Because he was in "Top Gun." Why was I thinking about "Top Gun"? Because that was the movie in which Tom Cruise and Anthony Edwards went up to Kelly McGillis in a bar and sang . . . the Righteous Brothers’ "You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’." If I hadn’t taken the time to figure all that out, I wouldn’t have slept for days.

A very good trial lawyer of my acquaintance once told me that, in a courtroom, a quick mind beats a thorough mind. Well, mine is a thorough mind; I must wait for my brain to arrange data in certain ways before I can process information. I have never been to Laos---heck, I’ve never left the country, and I was past my 30th birthday before I had ever set foot in a state that didn’t have a star on the Confederate battle flag---and I’ve never worked as a roofer, but those are only two of the many reasons why I am literally incapable of writing something like this. This is not an insult to either of us, but rather an acknowledgment that Spencer’s brain and mine simply work differently.

Among the data that have helped me to fit the easily explicable yet incongruous reality of Urban Meyer’s impending absence from the Florida sideline into the ordered reality with which I am acquainted are the insights provided by RedCrake, which placed Coach Meyer’s career in Gainesville in the context of a continuum that provides stark demarcations with a fair (but, unfortunately, apparently only fair) degree of regularity.

One need not take anything away from Urban Meyer’s litany of achievements with the Gators to note that, national titles notwithstanding, the Steve Spurrier era was on a level different from that seen since. (If you got to pick your national championship game opponents, wouldn’t you rather face Ohio State and Oklahoma squads from the 2000s instead of Florida State and Nebraska outfits from the 1990s?) Certainly that was the case in the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, which, honestly, is the only aspect of the Sunshine State Saurians’ success that really concerns us here.

The Evil Genius’s 11-1 record against the Red and Black, while impressive enough on its own, falls far short of telling the complete story. That tale must be writ with figures such as these: 38-7. 45-13. 52-14. 52-17. 47-7. 38-7. Those are the final margins of the 1990, 1991, 1994, 1995, 1996, and 1998 series meetings between the Bulldogs and the Gators, respectively.

I looked them up just to make sure I remembered them correctly---that middle-aged brain thing again---but I didn’t need to do so; those scores are seared indelibly into my heart. The majority of Darth Visor’s Cocktail Party wins were certifiable blowouts, and nine of his eleven series victories came by double-digit margins. Only one of those games was truly close, when Ray Goff’s best team fell to Steve Spurrier’s worst team by two points. Even had the infamous time out not occurred in the controversial 33-26 contest in a rain-soaked Gator Bowl in 1993, Georgia still would have needed a successful two-point conversion to win, and the odds of "One Play Away Ray" having two straight plays go his way in Jacksonville are too remote and depressing to contemplate. Never has there been a dominant run on a par with Coach Spurrier’s over the Bulldogs.

Coach Meyer’s wins over the Red and Black were of a different character altogether. The blowouts of 2008 and 2009---the first fueled by retribution for the previous year’s end zone antics; the second, by the simple fact that Florida was the markedly better team---were the exception rather than the rule. Close contests in Jacksonville had become the norm during the Ron Zook era, when all three games between the old rivals were settled either by a touchdown or a field goal, and Urban Meyer did not change that reality.

In 2005, when D.J. Shockley was lost for a single game, the Gators ground out a 14-10 victory, despite being shut out for the final 51 minutes of the contest, in an outing in which Georgia led in first downs, rushing yards, passing yards, punting average, kickoff return yardage, time of possession, and third down conversion percentage. In 2006, national championship-bound Florida claimed a 21-14 victory over a faltering Bulldog squad, thanks to an Orange and Blue fumble recovery returned nine yards for the decisive score on the opening play from scrimmage in the second half. In 2010, Aaron Murray had his worst game in a Georgia uniform, resulting in a 34-31 overtime loss to a Gator unit that had the benefit of an extra week of preparation.

Even if the Bulldogs had reaped the benefit of every bounce during the Steve Spurrier era, the Evil Genius still would have gone no worse than 9-3 against the Athenians. Urban Meyer easily could have been 3-3 against Georgia. Now that the ‘Dawgs have faced Coach Meyer for the final time, we will have to live permanently with that reality. As embarrassing as the Steve Superior era was for Georgia, there really was nothing we could have done about it; the years since have been a period of missed opportunities in Jacksonville, where the Red and Black very well could have reduced Urban Legend to Urban Myth.

While many among the Gator faithful maintain that a 7-5 season did not diminish Coach Meyer’s legacy at Florida, the difference that year made was the difference between Urban Meyer being Knute Rockne and Urban Meyer being the coach who restored the status quo. Against Georgia, he did not even do that; he maintained the status quo of the Ron Zook era without ever re-establishing the status quo of the Steve Spurrier era. Urban Meyer was a much better coach than Ron Zook, but the truth is that the last two Florida skippers were guys we beat only once each, but we had no business having a losing record against either.

The proper measure of Coach Meyer’s greatness on the sideline is now the subject of debate, whereas, before, it was not in doubt; suddenly, it is open to question whether he was who we thought he was. Unfortunately, this much is clear in Bulldog Nation: we should have had him many days, and we let him off the hook, and now we are back to square one, hoping against hope that the next guy will be the guy we can beat, wishing our rivals’ mansions would crumble while we struggle to put our own house in order.

Go ‘Dawgs!