GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Former Gators tight end Ben Troupe is being inducted into the Florida-Georgia Hall of Fame on Friday.
Troupe played for UF from 2000-03 and spent five years in the NFL, four with the Tennessee Titans. Playing the Florida-Georgia rivalry was one of the highlights of Troupe’s football career.
“Being from the state of Georgia, I didn’t grow up a Florida Gators fan,” Troupe said. “I actually turned a game (on) one day and I saw big Erron Kinney catching a pass in the Florida-Georgia game. I said, ‘Man, I’d love to be a part of that.’ It’s like the Super Bowl during the season.
“Take nothing away from Tennessee, Florida State and LSU, but this rivalry is special. It’s recognized by the entire college football landscape. It’s on a neutral site and it’s always the CBS game. Now I look back and it feels like a dream.”
The climax came for Troupe in 2002. UF was 5-3 and unranked in the AP poll for the first time in more than a decade, while the Bulldogs were No. 5 with their sights on a national title run.
Steve Spurrier had dominated UGA the previous 12 seasons with an 11-1 record, but now first-year coach Ron Zook was roaming the sidelines.
“We were the team picked to lose and Georgia was the heavy favorite,” Troupe said, “but that was the greatest thing that could’ve happened to us. One thing about that game is the records don’t matter and the rankings don’t matter.”
The Gators lost their leading receiver, Taylor Jacobs, in the first quarter to an MCL injury. But quarterback Rex Grossman, the runner-up for the 2001 Heisman Trophy, was able to adjust with Taylor out and completed a career-high 36 passes for 339 yards.
“You take away your best threat and there’s not a go-to No. 2 receiver, so everybody benefited from him getting hurt,” Troupe said. “Rex really spread the ball around and it got the defense off balance because they hadn’t game-planned for me and (tight end) Aaron Walker.”
Troupe and Walker combined for eight receptions for 111 yards and each scored a touchdown. Troupe’s was the game-winner.
With Georgia leading 13-12 in the fourth quarter, Florida went on 10-play, 89-yard drive. On third-and-2 at the 10-yard line, Grossman lofted an end-zone pass to Troupe in the end zone.
“I remember Thomas Davis was right over the top of me playing safety,” Troupe said. “Now he plays linebacker for the Carolina Panthers, which shows you how athletic he was in college. I was able to get a real good swim move off the line and Rex threw up a jump ball to me.
“I was happy that I came down with the pass, but I was also happy to get a break. I was so tired on that drive.”
Grossman converted the two-point attempt and the Gators held on for a 20-13 upset. Troupe said his TD catch was one of the top 5 plays of his career, but that’s not what he remembers most about that game.
“We ran this ghost screen at least 15 times,” Troupe said. “I was at the point of attack as the lead blocker and they couldn’t adjust to it all game. Then the great Terrence Edwards of the Georgia Bulldogs, he dropped a wide-open touchdown. Terrence Edwards doesn’t drop anything.
“And (Florida safety) Guss Scott, a Jacksonville native, returned an interception for a touchdown. Think about that. I was more excited for him in that moment than I think he was.”
Georgia finished the 2002 season 13-1 and won the SEC championship, but the loss to Florida cost the Bulldogs a shot at playing for the national championship.
“And that was the year they were finally supposed to beat us,” Troupe said. “When you look at Mark Richt’s face at the end of the game, he’s thinking, ‘How did I lose to these guys again?’
“If I ever get an opportunity to meet Mark Richt, I can see him looking at me and saying, ‘People like you are the reason I’m not at Georgia.’ ”
Troupe has already been reminded of Georgia’s heartbreak by one member of the 2002 Bulldogs.
“I was in Brunswick, Ga., for a wounded warriors celebrity basketball game in 2012,’ Troupe said. “A player from that team walked up to me and goes, ‘Thanks a lot Ben.’ I’m like, ‘Thanks for what?’ He said, ‘Because of you, we didn’t go to the national championship.’ Then he asked for my autograph.”
Troupe’s college career took off after his game-winning touchdown. The following year he caught 39 passes for 639 yards and 5 touchdowns as a senior, earning him a second-round selection in the 2003 NFL Draft.
“Legacies are made or broken in the Florida-Georgia game, so I was grateful to have a nice play,” Troupe said. “I never cared about numbers, accolades or things that came with the came. I just played the game for the love of it.
“But to me, the highest individually is to be considered a Hall-of-Famer at any level, whether it’s collegiately, professionally or high school. So for my name to go down in this rivalry, it’s surreal.”