College football programs are often associated with just a single idea. Penn State is known for its plain-looking uniforms, Notre Dame for its Touchdown Jesus, and Texas A&M for its 12th man. On and on the list could go.
However, if Florida football was reduced to just a single idea, the identifying characteristic of the program wouldn’t be the uniforms the team wears, or an image from the campus on which the team plays, nor would it have anything to do with the behavior of the fans.
The true brand of Florida football is this: No program dominates rivalry games more than the Gators.
Earlier this year Florida beat Tennessee for the 11th consecutive season, and Saturday it will try to beat UGA for the 20th time in the last 26 years. Vanquishing rivals is simply what Florida does.
What makes the dominance over Tennessee and UGA so impressive is that the imbalance in the rivalries has continued even as the Florida program struggled overall in recent years. The Gators lost a total of 13 games in the 2013-14 seasons yet still managed to beat the Vols in both of those years and still beat UGA last year.
The tradition of winning in these kinds of games speaks to the competitive nature of the legendary names that have recently been associated with the Florida program. It is said that Steve Spurrier was driven to beat UGA as Florida’s coach because UGA had beaten him so much as a Florida player. Spurrier then developed a taste for beating Tennessee based on the importance that game took on in the early ‘90s when it quickly emerged as the seminal contest in the newly formed SEC East.
Urban Meyer then followed Spurrier’s footsteps when he became coach at Florida and expressed his own message of how important rivalry wins would be to the Gators program. Meyer’s players clearly listened. His Gators not only got the best of Tennessee and UGA, but Florida was also 5-1 against Florida State during the Meyer era.
Now the baton at Florida has been passed to Jim McElwain, a coach who has some experience with rivalries of his own. As a head coach at Colorado State, McElwain’s teams beat in-state rival Colorado twice in three years. Before that, McElwain beat Auburn three times in four years as offensive coordinator at Alabama.
Yet nothing from McElwain’s past truly prepared him for the expectations that Florida fans have for him in games like the one his Gators will play against UGA. In what is known as the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, Florida knows it has more than two decades of history on its side. And on Saturday, the fans will be looking to McElwain to add another chapter to the legacy of success for the Gators in this series.