GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida offensive lineman Tyler Jordan is from Jacksonville. That’s where his family still lives and where his thoughts were late last week as Hurricane Matthew barreled toward the state’s northeastern coast on Friday.
Members of his family saw the destruction of the storm up close, and he along with other teammates from similarly-affected areas all carried a bit of anxiety while trying to check in back home as people everywhere tracked the storm on television.
“The whole Friday night, Friday afternoon, I kept calling them kind of as the storm was approaching. They finally called me around lunchtime (Saturday). They said the power got knocked out,” Jordan recalled Monday. “They had a bunch of debris down in the backyard, but nothing too serious. They got their power back the next morning around 10 o’clock. I had some other family who lived probably 10-15 minutes away from me there, they were sitting in a room as a tree fell down into the room, took out part of their brick fence and pretty much totally damaged the whole room.”
Coach Jim McElwain had spoken earlier in the day, responding sharply to the outside criticism lobbed at Florida and the SEC for the conference’s decision to postpone the Gators’ Saturday game with LSU.
Jordan and his teammates shared their own thoughts on the reaction from social media critics and others questioning why the game was indefinitely postponed despite the weather clearing nicely in Gainesville by Saturday.
“I think the number was 52 total players were in that area where there was the hurricane warning. Then, a bunch of people outside of that. I think you’ve really got to look at the big picture. Some of these people are saying that we dodged the game. That’s not true,” Jordan said. “You’ve got to look at the big picture. Nineteen people died, 2.5 million were affected. Then other people around, like families from other areas have people — like me, my whole family is in Jacksonville — who were affected by that. But we all want to play and I know the SEC is going to do their best to schedule the game.”
Florida center Cam Dillard, who is from Michigan, echoed those sentiments while noting that he could tell the storm was weighing on the minds of many of his teammates with families closer to the coast.
“We were prepared to play. But you know, lives are more important than this game. It’s a game, and you’ve got to think about people’s lives. You’ve got to think about how many players on our team were affected. You’ve got to think about how many of their family members were in harm’s way and, you know, I feel like that’s what the SEC focused on and that’s what they took into consideration,” Dillard said.
“… You could definitely tell guys were bothered that they weren’t home with their families or that they weren’t doing what they needed to do. But we invited their families to come up here to Gainesville. Gainesville was sort of a safe haven for them to get away from the hurricane coming.”
Quarterback Luke Del Rio was eager to make his return to action last Saturday after missing two games with a knee injury, but he understood the decision.
Del Rio, who spent a number of years in the Jacksonville area when his father was the head coach of the NFL’s Jaguars, had called out one national college football analyst on Twitter late last week for what he felt was an insensitive comment about the Gators’ role in the game’s postponement.
He too felt those criticizing the decision were lacking proper perspective.
“We’re all obviously upset that we didn’t get to play. We came here to play teams like LSU, but it was bigger than a game last weekend. It wasn’t about a football game. It was about the safety and the health of my teammates’ families and families of Floridians and everybody across the East Coast really, down in Haiti,” Del Rio said. “Football seems so trivial when you look at the big picture and you see people are dying. Football can come after that.”
Backup quarterback Austin Appleby, meanwhile, said he mostly tried to avoid what was being said on social media.
Moving forward, he said he and the Gators are hopeful the game will get rescheduled.
That has proven a tricky situation, but the message from Florida on Monday — from athletic director Jeremy Foley to McElwain to the players — was that they want the game to get played.
“We know that we’ll play anybody anywhere anytime,” Appleby said. “And we were excited to play, and we were really upset not being able to play, but we understand why what happened happened. A lot of the support, the things that make a game go on, with the police, with all the things that are going on, it’s not just two teams rolling out there and you play. There’s a lot of other things going into it and you’ve got to do what’s best for the state of Florida. Sometimes it’s a little bit bigger than ball.
“I’m confident and from what I’ve read they’re going to do their best to get the game rescheduled. I know that our locker room is really, really excited to have the chance to play them.