November 13, 2009
Tebow gazing from the proprietor of Tim Teblog.
Given some of the local media's scolding of the apparent legions of fans and media naysayers questioning the way the Gators are winning, you'd think Florida's next opponent was "The Strawmen." I'm not sure I see it. You can always find cranky fans on message boards, but the vast majority are pretty content with 9-0 and the BCS pole-position. And the "national" media obviously doesn't see it, given that Florida maintained its choke-hold on the No. 1 ranking in the AP, Coaches, Harris and aggregate of the six BCS computer polls.
However, there is an instructive lesson to be learned from the 2009 New York Yankees: Expectations are everything. The Yankees were under more pressure than any baseball team in history -- it wasn't enough to get back to the playoffs. They didn't spend all that money to win an American League pennant. They were in it to win a World Series championship, period. Anything less was failure.
And more power to them that they accomplished that -- even if it was "just" meeting expectations. Exceeding expectations is nice -- it's a pleasant surprise. And certainly not every fan (few teams' fans, actually) can expect a title of any kind, especially in college football. But if your team is that good, expecting championships is fine, even healthy. Does it lead to all sorts of bitter disappointment when you fall short of those expectations, like perhaps not appreciating the fine bowl invitation or perfectly decent 10-win season? You bet. But appreciating what you have is not a champions' mindset.
As a Florida fan -- as a college football fan -- I don't think it's unreasonable to expect that this Florida team will win the national title, or that the expectation has been in place since January. Florida fans should be used to it; the 2007 Gator basketball team had precisely the same expectations after returning its entire lineup from the '06 title run, and delivered.
This is the important part: The "how" doesn't matter, as long as the expectations are met. Who cares how Florida is getting it done? They're getting it done. So the offense doesn't look good while doing it? So the offense isn't meeting expectations of being some sort of 2008 model juggernaut?
The only stat that matters is "and-oh." As in "9-0." And "14-0." The 2007 Patriots were the greatest offense in NFL history, but they're only remembered as the biggest chokers in NFL history. Alternatively, think of the 2000 Ravens: Dominant defense, good-enough offense. Their legacy? NFL Champions. In college football, the same goes for Alabama in 1992, Tennessee in 1998, Ohio State in 2002 and, yes, Florida in 2006, all teams that frequently "won ugly," but ultimately won it all on the biggest stage.
Tim Tebow's legacy as one of the greatest players in college history has never been based on his ability to put up the absurd numbers that propelled him to the Heisman in 2007, or even to win another Heisman (although it's worth pointing out that, for better or worse, Tebow's mojo is still so strong that even in a "down" year statistically, he's still a top-five Heisman contender). No: Tebow's legacy remains entirely predicated on his ability to lead the team to a second straight national title, its third in four years, and Florida's first undefeated season ever, while they're at it.
(The Miami Herald's Jo Goodman had a pretty good blog post earlier this week about how Gator fans should enjoy this ride. It's a good reminder.) By all means, your expectation for this team should be "National title or failure." That's why all those recruits came to play at Florida. It's why Urban Meyer came to Florida over Notre Dame. It's why Tim Tebow and Brandon Spikes came back to school for their senior years. It's why Florida is the best college football program in the country right now.
Hell, that was a huge appeal for me when I converted to Florida fandom: The expectation that the team would compete for championships, every year. (And it's not like I carpet-bagged in for the Meyer Era; I started in Spurrier's final year, which meant I experienced every minute of the Zook debacle.) When your team is this good, expectations -- the highest expectations -- are not just normal; they are fair.
That goes for Florida, for Texas, for Alabama and for almost any other top-tier program. I can only imagine what it's like to be a fan of USC the past few seasons, when your team is arguably the best in the country but you find yourself locked out of the national title after midseason sloppiness.
What isn't fair is to complain about how your team is meeting those expectations. If Florida loses along the way? Absolutely, go ahead and gripe -- be epically disappointed. I know I will. But as long as they are winning -- which, appropriately, seems to be the focus from Meyer to Tebow -- that's all that matters. The ultimate comeback to anyone questioning "how" your team is playing: "And-oh."