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We are the boys from old Florida, F-L-O-R-I-D-A…
Who ever would have thought or imagined that football in Florida would have wound up becoming the industry that it is now? Before recruits went down to the Sunshine State and would be deluged in seafood, strippers and cash payoffs, generally becoming an all-encompassing way of life for many, football was started at the University of Florida with a modest group of nameless, faceless college students. And to celebrate the sport's centennial anniversary at the school, a DVD has been produced, recounting the history and legacy of the program, along with its future.
Narrated by sports announcer Harry Kalas, Gridiron Gators starts off recounting the early days before guys like Steve Spurrier helped make the sport what it is. Starting in 1906, the team started out well, and played other schools like Auburn, Alabama and Georgia, which also helps to explain how some of the rivalries between schools have been formed, along with the big rivalry for the school, with the Gators and the Seminoles of Florida State. The Auburns, Alabamas and Floridas of the world helped to form the Southeastern Conference, which evolved into a powerhouse of collegiate competition.
While Florida was good, they weren't necessarily clearing the hurdle to get to the upper echelon, until a coach named Ray Graves in the 1960s came along and helped elevate them to further success. Graves met a young Tennessee recruit in Spurrier, who was being wooed by several other big name SEC schools. Graves managed to convince Spurrier to come to Florida with the attraction of year-round golf, and Spurrier's accomplishments as quarterback helped propel the team to another level of success, including a memorable win against Tennessee that helped earn him a Heisman trophy. The school followed this performance with some erratic years of failure, before a funny thing happened in 1990.
After the school suffered some NCAA rules violations, Spurrier came back to the school to head up what later became known as the "fun and gun" offense, where Spurrier's quarterbacks would pitch the ball, and his speedy wide receivers would run under the ball to catch it. He helped launch the school's nickname for its 90,000 seat stadium, calling it "The Swamp." Spurrier's team responded immediately to his changes and philosophy, appearing in several SEC Championship games and major bowl games. The team eventually managed to appear in the NCAA Championship Game, but was brutally demoralized by the University of Nebraska. The following year in 1996, the team played with a mission and eventually found its way back into the Championship Game again, this time playing the rival 'Noles. This time, luck was on the Gators' side, where they won the game and the title.
Gridiron Gators encompasses this history over one hour and 27 minutes of recollections by Spurrier, Graves and other notable Gator football alumni by NFL Hall of Famers Emmitt Smith and Jack Youngblood, not to mention a decent receiver turned announcer who goes by Cris Collinsworth and a running back with a persistent groin problem (fantasy football owners know what I'm talking about) in Fred Taylor. There is also interview footage with more memorable alumni and Gator cornerstones like Chris Doering, James Bates, Danny Wuerffel and Carlos Alvarez. Oh and The Bachelor Jesse Palmer also lists UF as an alma mater. The footage starts off a little bit on the light side, going through everything up to 1990 within the first 50 minutes, while the remainder of the feature focuses on the '96 Championship team. Obviously since more television footage became available in the '70s and '80s, there's going to be more included from that era. Some of the school's traditions are discussed in detail, including "the Swamp," the environment at a Gator game (a camera following the team out onto the field and sidelines is admittedly quite thrilling to watch), and yes, the commercial with Keith Jackson is true, Gatorade was invented for the team back in the '60s, and the team managed to win one of many Bowl games subsequently. Yes, the school gets a cut of Gatorade sales, so if you ever want to level the playing field with the Florida schools, you'll start drinking equivalents.
All in all, Gridiron Gators is a solid look at the school and the players that helped build the stadium, brick by brick. Fans of the team and alumni of the school will enjoy this look back through history, and are undoubtedly looking forward to the future that the team has now.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
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