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Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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No laptop can spoil this moment
By JOHN ROMANO
Published December 3, 2006
ATLANTA - The team is flawed. The game was a mess. The BCS system is a travesty. On the other hand, the night was perfect.
So reflect on that for a moment. Step back and appreciate the dreams that were fulfilled and the legacies that were forever changed.
Soon, the night may be remembered for all the wrong reasons. For computers and polls. For debates about money and politics and injustices.
But in the hours that Florida and Arkansas played on the Georgia Dome turf, the night was everything anyone could have imagined.
Just as they did against Tennessee, against Alabama, against South Carolina, the Gators came from behind to beat Arkansas 38-28 in the SEC.
And, just like that, the frustrations of a half-dozen seasons fade away. And a place in university history is secured.
"I'm not too concerned about style points," Florida coach Urban Meyer said. "I'm concerned about 21 seniors who went and played their hearts out and won 12 games."
The reward was in the trophy presentation at midfield. It will be in the SEC championship rings passed out in the new year. The reward was in accomplishing what they set out to do.
But will the BCS offer its reward with a national title game against Ohio State?
"We should be talking about going home tonight and packing," UF president Dr. Bernie Machen said. "Instead we're talking about style points and polls.
The Gators, ranked No. 4 in the BCS standings coming in, will surely move past USC, after the Trojans fell to UCLA. The question is whether they move past Michigan, which lost 41-38 to Ohio State two weeks ago.
Here is one way to look at it:
When USC beat Notre Dame last week and Michigan was idle, the Trojans passed the Wolverines with a .0319 swing in the BCS standings.
The Gators are .0319 behind Michigan.
"I have great confidence the University of Florida is going to get that opportunity," Meyer said. "I really do."
They are not the most talented team in the nation, but that should not be a consideration. What matters is the Gators have won 12 of 13 games. What matters is they have won an SEC title for the first time since 2000.
What matters is they have earned the right to play.
"You've got to let us play," tight end Cornelius Ingram said. "We play in the best league in the country. They've got to let us in."
You want to argue? You could point out Florida went 3-1 against teams currently ranked in the BCS top 25 while Michigan went 2-1. You could argue any number of ways, but the point is arguments are for lawyers and not for college football games.
The BCS is a joke and a sham. You ask college football players to risk bodies and dreams on a weekly basis, but you deny them the opportunity for a shot at the national championship because of computer programs?
Tell me, what are the most corrupt sports out there? Boxing? Figure skating? How is college football any different?
It is a sport that does not get decided until a bunch of people you've never heard of, working in secrecy, tell you who has a chance to be champion.
This is not a rant in favor of Florida. This is for Michigan, too. And Louisville. And Wisconsin. And Boise State. This is a rant for college football.
"I don't know how the system works, but I know in my heart that this team worked to put ourselves in a position to play for the national championship," UF quarterback Chris Leak said.
Yes, the Gators have too many penalties, their pass defense is shaky and the running game could use an actual running back. The placekicker is not dependable, and the quarterback can get flaky.
But those are details. They do not tell the story of who these Gators are. They do not explain what makes this team among the most special in school history.
In nearly every dire moment this season, the Gators were the tougher, the cooler, the more impressive players on the field.
When it was over, a group of players enjoyed a celebration unlike any they have ever known. One by one, receiver Dallas Baker called out the names. And a dozen teammates sang the same response.