Too much untold in Netflix’s Florida Gators football documentary

The key word in Netflix’s documentary series on the Florida Gators“Untold: Swamp Kings” — is the first one.

Untold. Because even after three hours and three minutes of footage across four parts, much of the Urban Meyer era goes untold. Namely, the off-field issues that help make the Meyer days so historically compelling.

Though Tim Tebow is that era’s most famous player, Aaron Hernandez is the most infamous. He is barely mentioned. His murder conviction is ignored.

The first words of the series come from 2007 captain Tony Joiner yelling in the locker room. The show never mentions the fact that he’s serving a 25-year prison sentence for second-degree murder.

Even if you excuse those omissions because they happened after their college days, other exclusions make no sense. Cam Newton was arrested on a felony complaint that he stole a laptop. Star defensive lineman Carlos Dunlap was suspended for the ‘09 SEC championship after a DUI arrest. Both incidents had major on-field impacts. Neither make the show.

The series didn’t ignore the Gators’ off-field issues completely, but the incidents are often whitewashed. When Tebow describes a 2007 bar fight involving Hernandez, he explains how Hernandez was subjected to racist comments and “unfortunately then somebody got injured.” That’s a passive way to say Hernandez “sucker punched” a bar manager so hard he burst his ear drum because of a dispute over a $13 tab.

Meyer dismisses the broad concern over his program’s discipline early, saying Florida had a “militaristic” approach. He seems surprised that whenever one of his players “does something stupid,” it became a story. His remarks are largely unchallenged.

There’s more. Meyer talks candidly about how the immense pressure he put on himself strained his mental health. He washed two Ambien down with a beer to get four hours of sleep. But his hospitalization for chest pains at the end of the 2009 season is left out, even though the show had time for highlights of wins over Western Kentucky and Troy.

The domestic abuse allegations involving one of Meyer’s former assistants, Zach Smith, mushroomed into one of the biggest college football scandals in years and led to Meyer’s three-game suspension at Ohio State. That story began at Florida. Smith’s name never comes up.

Instead, the docuseries focuses on the field with insight and stories that most casual fans might not have known or may have forgotten. The behind-the-scenes training footage — grueling mat drills and midnight workouts — shows the hard work necessary to win a title.

There are frank admissions of internal tension. Two players were dismissed from the team during a brutal meeting on the airport tarmac after a loss at South Carolina in 2005. The locker room split against Mississippi State in 2009 because of a spat between Tebow and Brandon Spikes.

The on-field drama is intense as the Gators won two national titles in three seasons before falling short in ‘09 — a defeat that still bothers Tebow. The mental and emotional toll on Meyer is obvious; you can see the pain on his face over his decisions that allowed Ohio State to score on the opening kickoff of the January 2007 national championship … even though his Gators won by 27.

It’s impossible to cram every moment over six wild seasons into one docuseries, of course. But the Meyer era isn’t worth 183 minutes of your time because of the on-field success. It’s worth 183 minutes because of the on-field success and off-field controversy. The combustible combination of the two is what makes Florida’s 2005-10 run so fascinating.

Which makes it a shame that even after this hyped Netflix series, much of that story remains untold.

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