Back More Than Just Hope in Gainesville

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More Than Just Hope in Gainesville

By Jim Johnson
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There’s not just hope in Gainesville, anymore. There’s finally promise.

I walked into Ben Hill Griffin stadium this afternoon and in the elevator on the way up to the press box, I overheard a couple of guys talking about the attendance at last year's spring game.

The Gators reported about 48,000 for the 2017 Blue-Orange scrimmage. In reality, the number was closer to 30,000, and that's rounding up.

This was different. For the 45-50,000 they said came a year ago, there were genuinely that many souls in the building to see Dan Mullen's first "game" as head coach in The Swamp.

This time the reported number was just over 53,000. “We didn’t fudge the number one bit,” Mullen quipped.

“I was told last year that we never cracked 90,000,” Mullen continued. “When i was here before, for four years, we never went below 90,000.”

There's been an excitement drought since Urban Meyer left the program. Sure, in the run up to seasons past the fan base may have been able to manufacture some hope, but it was just that -- manufactured. Even the couple of SEC title bouts they found themselves in were more human sacrifice than football.

This, though, this is the real deal.

Manufactured or not, hope is fairy dust. Anyone can hope for anything. I hope I win the lottery. Promise, however, is rooted in something tangible. That's the difference.

Mullen rallied the old guard to stand by side, this afternoon. He put out an all-call to former Gator greats, and come they did. It was a homecoming of sorts, but, more than that, it was an example of what this program was and, above all else, can be again.

“There were a lot of SEC Championships, National Championships, Super Bowls, All-Americans, and All-SEC players on that sideline,” Mullen stated.

There will be no new titles in 2018. There probably won’t be too many All-Americans or national award winners, either. Not yet.

Still, one thing that will be back, and, in some sense, already is, is the fun. Tebow and Harvin were fun. Rainey and Demps were fun. Ahmad Black and Major Wright were fun… well, except to play against, surely. What’s not fun is ranking second to last, third to last, and fourth to last in the SEC in points per game over the last three seasons.

“I’m going to have fun. I’m competitive and want to win, but we’re going to have fun doing this,” Mullen affirmed.

There were no excessive celebration penalties called today. Guys punted the ball into the stands, had a dunk contest over the crossbar, and even played a round of Duck, Duck, Goose. The offense celebrated when the defense made plays, and the defense celebrated when the offense made plays (after the initial shock wore off).

I tweeted earlier today about how these spring games are like a refreshing glass of water in the desert that is the long offseason. Gator fans have been walking a much longer trek. Sure, they’ve played football on Saturday’s in the fall each year, but they haven’t played Florida football.

Dan Mullen isn’t bringing them a glass of water, he’s leading them to the ocean. There’s still a ways to go, but there’s finally a light at the end of the tunnel.

How we got here is beyond me. We’re talking about the University of Florida -- the flagship school of the nation’s premier football recruiting hotbed. Steve Spurrier, Tim Tebow, Emmitt Smith, Danny Wuerffel. It’s unacceptable. Florida should always be good, no matter what, forever.

Dumbfounding as it is, take solace in that it’s coming to an end.

Mullen talked about bringing the championship standard back to Florida and making football fun again. The former will have to wait, but the latter is already underway.

There’s not just hope in Gainesville, anymore. There’s finally promise.

Jim Johnson - Editor of Southern Pigskin, Producer of "Three & Out", and host of "Explosive Recruiting" on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. E-mail: Twitter: @JimJohnsonSP