Gainesville, Fla.—It is a long-standing tradition that between the third and fourth quarters of a Florida home football game, the crowd stands in unison, locks arms, sways and sings “We Are The Boys From Old Florida.”
It is a nice little tune that tells us that at Florida “the girls are the fairest, the boys are the squarest than any old state down our way……”
But when that song ends to fun, but polite, applause, the PA system cranks up to play what is NOW the unofficial anthem of Florida football.
Rocker Tom Petty was a native of Gainesville, Fla. and when he passed away in 2017 his “Won’t Back Down” was added to the proceedings:
“Well I don’t back down
“No I won’t back down
“You can stand me up at the gates of Hell
“But I won’t back down…..
On Saturday, with No. 7 Auburn serving as the invited guests, and with Florida holding at 17-13 lead at the third quarter break, the 90,584 who inhabited Steve Spurrier Field didn’t just sing Petty’s defiant anthem, they SCREAMED it. My friend Pat Dooley of the Gainesville Sun wrote: “ they wanted them to hear it in Waldo (a nearby town.)
Simply put, the University of Florida football team and the denizens of The Swamp where, Spurrier famously said, “only Gators get out alive,” sent a message here Saturday afternoon with a thorough 24-13 thumping of Auburn.
“Weeeeeeeee’re Back!!!!!” Bring on LSU (next Saturday in Baton Rouge). Bring on Georgia (Nov. 2 in Jacksonville). Feeding off the best home crowd in a long, long time, Florida’s defense made Auburn quarterback Bo Nix play like a freshman (three interceptions). And it was the defense that allowed Florida to overcome multiple turnovers and still maintain the lead for the entire game.
Florida coach Dan Mullen could not contain his glee.
“The Swamp is what it used to be,” said Mullen. “This is what the Swamp is. This is what we expect it to be.”
Florida not only weathered the turnovers (4), they overcame a major league gut check when quarterback Kyle Trask twisted his knee in a most ugly fashion in the first half. He left the field but returned to close out the game.
Auburn stayed within striking distance for most of the game but could not overcome a critical Nix mistake. With his team trailing 17-13, Nix drove Auburn from its own five-yard line to the Florida 10. Nix delivered a pass into the end zone and simply did not see Gator defender Donovan Stiner.
That interception and an 88-yard touchdown run by Florida’s Lamical Perine were the daggers to the heart of Auburn’s hopes of going 6-0.
So now what? The reality of playing in the SEC is that when you win a big game, it just gives you the opportunity to play in an even bigger one.
Let’s start with Florida. The Gators (6-0, 3-0 SEC) now get to go to Baton Rouge where they will match this defense against an LSU team that leads the nation in scoring a 57.8 points per game. The game will be in prime time (8 p.m., ESPN) and it will be wild.
But even if Florida loses to LSU, its path to the SEC East championship remains unchanged. The Gators will have conference games remaining at South Carolina, No. 3 Georgia in Jacksonville, Vanderbilt at home, and at Missouri. Win them all and the Gators are going to Atlanta.
Ditto for Auburn. It was a disappointing loss but it can be overcome. “ALL” Auburn has to do is beat No. 4 LSU, No. 3 Georgia, and No. 1 Alabama down the stretch. But the Tigers’ margin for error is now gone.
“When you turn it over four times on the road, in an environment like this, you’re going to have a tough time,” said Auburn Coach Gus Malzahn. “Now we have a break (this week). This team will respond. We’ve got a bunch of champions in that locker room.”
But Saturday belonged to Gators. Better put, it belonged to The Swamp. Its status as one of the toughest venues in college football for a visiting had waned, and waned significantly, since Urban Meyer left as coach. Saturday it was back. And just in the nick of time.