David Whitley: Urban Meyer's 2008 Gators were great, but it came with a price

That 2008 team was definitely great. As for upstanding, even Gator fans have to feel a little queasy when the topic comes up.
Jun 20, 2014

 

Urban Meyer is usually a man with all the answers. He just provided one for those wondering which was the best college football team ever.

The 2008 Florida Gators.

Since he brought it up, Meyer inadvertently raised a bigger question.

Was it worth it?

The '08 Gators won a national championship, but its success was largely provided by players who are as familiar to police as they are to fans. That hardly makes them unique, as recent Publix surveillance video out of Tallahassee can prove.

When it comes to winning, America's institutes of higher football decided long ago to make a deal with the devil. Meyer's been quite willing to compromise, though I don't blame him.

The ultimate fault lies with fans who'd rather have a great team than an upstanding one. That 2008 team was definitely great. As for upstanding, even Gator fans have to feel a little queasy when the topic comes up.

"The best team to ever play the game," Meyer proclaimed.

To put that statement in context, he said it at a youth football camp last weekend. It wasn't the point of Meyer's seven-minute pep talk, but the reason he thinks 'O8 was great was telling.

That team was like a wild animal.

"You can't reason with a wild animal," Meyer said. "They protect each other. Have you ever tried to negotiate, evaluate or take a play off? If you're a wild animal, that doesn't happen."

Despite charges that the starting tight end turned out to be a serial killer, I'm not going to call that team a bunch of wild animals. A healthy percentage attended class, ate all their vegetables and, in Tim Tebow's case, qualified for sainthood.

But 12 starters (that's a majority for you World Cup fans unfamiliar with American futbol) were arrested in college, or have been since leaving Gainesville. Or they've been suspended for violating NFL drug policies.

The cases range from serious (Chris Rainey, aggravated stalking) to silly (Jermaine Cunningham, misdemeanor battery when he allegedly threw paper cups at a sandwich-store clerk). Cunningham also led the team (if not nation) with 14 career traffic tickets.

Maurkice Pouncey had only seven. He and brother, Mike, kept their noses relatively clean while Gators and have gone on to NFL fame. Well, they did rankle people when they showed up at a birthday party last summer wearing "Free Hernandez" caps.

Maurkice apologized, but Mike never did. Perhaps he was busy dealing with the bullying accusations that gutted Miami's 2013 season.

The Hernandez he wanted freed is Aaron, of course, currently charged with three murders. Remember what their old coach said about wild animals protecting each other.

Meyer isn't responsible for the Pouncey's hat collection or Hernandez's alleged crimes or Joe Haden failing a drug test in Cleveland, but those actions speak to the kind of character he brought to campus. So what did you expect?

Meyer was hired to win titles. That requires players, and it's not exactly news that many of the best players are not exactly the best citizens. Ideally, they grow up, get their diplomas and make everybody proud.

Failing that, we'll settle for them staying out jail. When that happens, we rationalize by saying every school does it. As much as Florida fans tisked-tisked when Janoris Jenkins kept getting busted for marijuana possession, it was worth it to have him covering LSU's receivers.

Give Will Muschamp credit for finally booting Jenkins. In fact, the Gators have gone almost a year now without an arrest. If only they'd stop losing to Georgia Southern, it would show you can win big without the help of lawyers who specialize in getting charges reduced and making arrests disappear.

Right now, those places are rare. Stanford? Duke? The service academies?

Come on, who wants to be Army?

We can debate whether Florida 2008 was the best team ever, but there's no doubt it was Meyer's masterpiece. He collected a crazy amount of talent, honed its animal instincts and left a mark on football history.

It also left quite a few on Gainesville's police blotter. And six years later, the age-old question is revived.

If that's what it takes to for your school to have the best team ever, wouldn't you rather be mediocre?

There's no need to respond. Meyer and every other coach already know the answer.

 

Log in or sign up to post comments.