I remember exactly where I was the last time Ole Miss played Florida in football.
These were the days of Raycom Sports covering the SEC, way before the SEC Network came along. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t get Raycom as a kid growing up in New Jersey, but I was able to stream the game live on ESPN360.com (which is now ESPN3). So anyway, there I was, a 14 year old kid, watching the game at my desk in my room, not really expecting much anything to happen other than a Gator blowout.
And so I was absolutely stunned as I watched the second half. Following a huge run by Dexter McCluster, an 86 yard bomb from Jevan Snead to Shay Hodge, a blocked extra point by Kentrell Lockett and Marcus Temple stuffing Tim Tebow at the line of scrimmage on a 4th and 1, Florida had lost, and I slumped over at my desk in absolute shock. The fact that the Gators went onto win the national championship following a now legendary promise by Tebow wound up overwriting the frustration of the loss, of course, but it left me (and a fair amount of others) steaming and desperately craving an opportunity for a rematch with the Rebels- to pound them into the dust, of course.
Seven years later, we’ve finally got that rematch. And as recently as yesterday, I was stoked at the prospect of getting some revenge:
The last time Ole Miss came to the Swamp,they ruined what would've been a perfect season.
— InAllKindsOfWeather.com (@AllKindsWeather) September 29, 2015
However, after posting that graphic on all the site’s social media handles yesterday, I thought about it further, and asked myself the question: what, exactly, would beating Ole Miss be getting revenge for?
The script has been flipped to mirror the pre-game build up of the 2008 game, to a certain extent. Florida’s the huge underdog a decent amount of the way into rebuilding mode, and Ole Miss is the current national powerhouse coming off a huge previous season and a great start to the current one.
But the script also differs tremendously in one way: there is exactly one person who was involved in the 2008 game that will also be involved with this game, and that’s Ole Miss running backs coach Derrick Nix. Literally nothing else about these teams are the same as when they were seven years ago. The players are all different. The coaches are all different, other than Nix. The offensive and defensive philosophies are different. These are two completely different teams than the ones who squared off that day in Gainesville, and while it’s not that stunning a revelation, it’s important to remember when we’re talking about getting revenge.
Since none of these players or coaches at Florida were on the sidelines in the 2008 game, there should be no desire for any sort of revenge. They weren’t Gators when that game happened, and the current Rebels coaches and players were not Rebels when that game happened, either. And more importantly, this team still has a lot of work to do in terms of getting to where they want to be as a football program. The Gators’ offensive line, while talented, is also extremely young, and got manhandled by Tennessee last week. And now they face an Ole Miss front that’s exponentially better. Florida’s defense also missed some 30 tackles against Tennessee. The penalties have to go. The dropped passes need to stop. And so on. That should be the focus.
And for fans, it’s really a similar concept. I’m friends with a couple of the Ole Miss players from that 2008 team, including Hodge, but I don’t know too many other Ole Miss fans. Say Florida does stomp the Rebels. Say the Gators win 49-3 (this is very unlikely, granted). Are we as Gator fans going to spend our time taunting the Ole Miss fan base, or are we going to celebrate the fact that we just beat a really good team- which almost certainly isn’t going to happen without tremendous one week improvements by the offensive line and the defense- and are likely headed into the top ten? Should I be happier that I have the ability to harass Hodge over the result of a game he had nothing to do with, or should I celebrate the fact that my favorite team is off to a 5-0 start for just the fourth time since 2001?
I don’t think any of this will be a problem for the Gators, truth be told. I doubt many of the players and coaches care or even knew before this week that Ole Miss scored a stunning upset in the Swamp seven years ago, and if they did or do, I’m certain that Jim McElwain will make them realize that there are higher priorities. There are fundamental things that need to be cleaned up, and the players and coaches know this better than any fan. So that’s what I’m looking for this weekend. I want to see the number of missed tackles, stupid penalties and dropped passes cut down significantly, and I want to see the offensive line at least hold its own against the nasty Rebel front.
And if those things happen? Maybe, just maybe, I’ll get the result I’ve been craving since the moment Tebow got stuffed and I slumped over at my desk in shock: a win over Ole Miss.