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History of Heartbreak

It seems Auburn has a knack of spoiling Florida's season when the Gators are highly ranked - like today.

By ANTONYA ENGLISH
Published October 14, 2006


GAINESVILLE - As part of his effort to build traditions at Florida, Urban Meyer has tried to make sure the Gators have a strong appreciation for the past. He has held events to encourage former and current players to meet and interact, and spent the past summer teaching the history of the school's biggest rivalries.

The lessons didn't include Auburn. Somehow, the Tigers got lost in the shuffle, somewhere between Georgia and Florida State.

"This summer we did Tennessee, Georgia and then the team out west (Florida State)," Meyer said. "It's very in-depth - highlight videos, we have a speaker come in. I didn't do that for this one."

It's not like Meyer was trying to slight the Tigers.

But Auburn is no longer on the annual schedule; so it didn't rank as high on the lesson plan.

In retrospect, Meyer believes it should have been.

So he and his staff spent the week working on the Cliffs Notes version of the rivalry. If it's true that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it, the Gators need to be as familiar with this rival as possible.

The history of Auburn-Florida is filled with drama, ecstasy and often pure heartbreak for the Gators.

"By game time, we'll know the type of opponent we're facing," Meyer said.

Florida and Auburn first played in 1912 (the Tigers won the first six), then met annually for 58 seasons from 1945 to 2002 - splitting 29-29-1 during that span.

"We hadn't played in a few years, and you lose continuity with fans," Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said. "Now it rolls around every few years. You know a little bit about each other when you play every year. It's always been a big rivalry. It was one of those old Southern rivalries that you looked forward to."

Tonight, No. 2 and undefeated Florida plays No. 11 one-loss Auburn at Jordan Hare Stadium in a nationally televised game on ESPN. It's the first meeting between the two since 2002, but the significance of tonight, coupled with the history, isn't lost on the Gators.

"I heard some of the guys talking about it in the locker room, about how Auburn always plays Florida real close," junior defensive end Jarvis Moss said. "So we're looking forward to that same type of ballgame. Them playing hard, us playing hard, a slugout, and let the best team win."

Each of the last two games in the series was decided in the closing seconds, with each team winning one. Auburn is 24-8-1 at home in this series.

To add to the drama, the Tigers were undefeated and ranked No. 2 before a 27-10 upset by Arkansas last weekend.

"I've been there before (coming off a tough loss)," Meyer said. "I think they want to show the world."

While Tuberville has spent the week trying to keep his players from dwelling on last weekend's loss, Meyer and the staff have been trying to make sure the Gators stay grounded. Florida is 6-0 for the first time since 1996. The older players have heard the warnings and have been diligently policing the younger ones.

"We're talking to the young guys day-in and day-out telling them to just stay focused," senior defensive end Earl Everett said. "Stay focused on Auburn and let everything else go, just worry about Auburn. If we prepare and stay focused, everything else will fall into place. But it's probably easier said than done. A lot of people, on campus and off, they recognize you, they know you're a football player and they want to talk about the rankings and everything about how our season is going to go. So we just have to keep hammering on the young guys to stay focused and play ball."

The players admit the atmosphere around Gainesville has been unlike any other time during their tenure, but they insist they won't get caught up in the frenzy.

"When you're winning games, you're going to get a bunch of outside influences, a bunch of talk and a bunch of stuff going on," tight end Tate Casey said. "For us, it's just maintaining what we're doing, practicing hard and keeping our focus on our goals - to get to the SEC Championship Game is (our goal), and of course the only thing on our mind right now is playing Auburn. They lost last week, but we know what kind of team they really are, which is a great team."

At least they usually are when the Gators come calling.