Gators Look to Bring Back the Glory Days

Urban Meyer
Entering his second year at Florida, Urban Meyer hopes to bring the bite back to the Gators. (Tracy Wilcox - Associated Press)
By Melanie Ho
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Florida Gators gathered in Gainesville and listened to a man a decade older tell tales of championship rings, storied rivalries with Tennessee and Georgia and winning in the Swamp and, given the Gators' difficult schedule this year, the necessity to win on the road.

As James Bates, a linebacker on Florida's 1996 national championship team, spoke before this season's crop of Gators, he saw something about the team whose roster includes Chris Leak, DeShawn Wynn, Dallas Baker, Marcus Thomas and Brandon Siler.

"I feel like they are the class of '92," Bates said, referring to the class that went on to win SEC championships from 1993 through '96.

This summer's story lines have mostly been rooted in examinations of Leak and second-year coach Urban Meyer, from Meyer's ability to vastly improve the offense or Leak's willingness and ability to adapt to Meyer's scheme. The story lines have also ventured into Leak's change from quiet leader to someone who is more extroverted as well as the possibilities of the Meyer-Leak relationship.

Bates turned to history.

"You've got Chris Leak and he's kind of quiet and he's taken a little bit of abuse because he's not screaming and he's not in everybody's face, but I can't remember Danny Wuerffel ever raising his voice so there are some similarities," Bates said. "One thing Danny did such a great job of was he was Coach [Steve] Spurrier's brain out on the playing field. If everybody's on the same page with the spread offense, if they can click the way Spurrier and Danny clicked, then it's scary how good this offense can be."

Surely, that Sunday night tale was about history, rivalry, privilege and excitement. It was also about toughness, especially on the road. The Gators have a schedule that includes games against Alabama, LSU, Georgia, South Carolina and at Tennessee, Auburn and Florida State. In 2005, Florida lost at Alabama, LSU and South Carolina. So while Bates was over at Meyer's house one day, Meyer asked him to talk about the road.

"James Bates would make a comment that after his career, all the SEC championships, the national championship, one of his great thrills, one of the great things about playing at Florida during those years was the ability to go in someone's home and beat them," Meyer said during July's SEC media day.

Siler listened to the stories told by Bates and legendary running back Errict Rhett. The junior linebacker stayed behind to speak with Bates.

"Anytime you get an opportunity to talk, to see what it's like, about how it was, you take it," Siler said. "I pretty much just asked him, 'How was it?' "

Back then, it was an attitude, a mentality and a feeling of closeness, that was just as important as lifting weights and running offseason sprints.

That sentiment is back with the Gators.

"Last year we had a lot of seniors and we didn't really communicate that much with the seniors," center Steve Rissler said. "But me and [Chris Leak] joke around a lot, he's close to me in the locker room and he gets along real well with all the offensive linemen."

The Gators are not without challenges. There have been some concerns, especially with the running game. Last year, Meyer ended up using a converted linebacker as his primary runner. There are also questions on the offensive line, as only Rissler returns (and shifts from guard to center). However, there exists a certain intensity around the Gators, a fire that maybe had been lacking in previous seasons. Some call it buying into Meyer's offense. Bates saw it as a determination to win on the road. He also saw it as a team rallying around its coach.

"The most Spurrier ever got on us was, 'Shoot, you guys are eating too many fried foods in the dining hall' and he was so laid back, but it worked," Bates said. Meyer "really gets on them, but I think it's going to be a team where they're believing in him and his coaching staff."

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