Having spent six years in San Antonio, what worries me as a longtime Gator fan is that today’s Aggies are the Gators of the 1970s and 1980s. I ran across this article that compares the Aggies of today to the Gators right before the “Rise of the Gator” that Bear Bryant prophesied, that Florida was the sleeping giant about to be awakened.
What Bear Bryant meant was that in the late 1970s, the Florida economy was booming, richer people were moving in, the athletes were getting better, and the high school programs were becoming self-sustaining hotbeds of future NFL talent. He foresaw that the University of Florida football program was on the verge of something special. If it were not for the Charley Pell and Galen Hall NCAA infractions it would have been the Florida Gators taking advantage of the Florida economic boom of the 1980s, not Miami and FSU. Gator fans know the story well, that the SEC coaches conspired to expose Florida of its transgressions, with former Gators QB and HC Doug Dickey–who was chased out of Gainesville a few years earlier–leading the charge to knock down Florida. Despite those stumbling blocks, the Florida Gators are the most successful college football program of the past thirty years, beginning roughly in 1980 with the turnaround that occurred from 1979 to 1980, from 0-10-1 to 8-4. 1980 is widely considered the year of “the rise of the Gators”, or the fulfillment of that Bear Bryant prophesy. Some will say that the rise of the Gator occurred in 1990 with Steve Spurrier, but all he did was right the ship that Charley Pell and Galen Hall had led astray.
By the time Spurrier fulfilled the Bear Bryant prophecy of “waking the sleeping giant”, Miami and FSU had gained a decade of momentum. Spurrier had to do more with less against those two schools. He always had problems beating those two schools, especially on their turf–they had more future NFL talent than the Gators. The Gators may have been coached better, had better facilities, and had a better fan-base, but they were getting by with walk-ons like Chris Doering on offense while the ‘Canes and ‘Noles were doing well with a bevy of NFL talent. Florida’s only fast-track to the NFL in that timeframe was on defense, and with one faithful Gator running back, Emmitt Smith.
Now look at Texas A&M. They are are football program on the up-and-up, while the Texas Longhorns are plateauing or possibly plummeting. The Aggies will be snagging Texas talent that would have gone to Texas, Baylor, and Texas Tech in favor of the opportunity to play in the best conference in the world. That is the SEC, in case you have not figure that out. On top of that, as the economy in the state of Florida is declining right now, the economy in Texas has been virtually recession proof over the past few years. The talent in Texas is only going to get better. This may be the tail end of Florida being the nexus of football talent gravitating towards the University of Florida, and the beginning of Texas being that nexus of talent, with all the best athletes gravitating towards Texas A&M.
The Florida Gators have enjoyed being the most successful football program over the past 30 years, and they have done it free of NCAA sanctions. After the Gators faced back-to-back NCAA infractions in the 1980s, the University of Florida made it a priority to keep the program clean. It also became important to do a better job of mixing homegrown Florida talent with the best out-of-state talent it could muster. It will become more important for the Florida Gators to beat the Aggies, and maybe snag some of those Texas athletes in addition to homegrown Florida boys, at least in the short term. In the long term, I am afraid that 2012 is the year of the rise of the Aggies. The population of Florida is declining, and the economy in the state is tanking. Now that Texas has a foot hold in the SEC, I can see the Aggies drawing power away from the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Florida Gators. A&M has more money in its fan-base, it has a richer fan-base, it has a much larger television market, and it now has momentum after symbolically usurping the throne from Alabama in its 29-24 victory this season.
The Florida Gators may be the most successful football program of the last 30 years, but the A&M Aggies will likely be the most successful program of the next 30 years.
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