Sunday November 2nd, 2008

"That wasn't right. It was a bad deal. And it will forever be in the mind of Urban Meyer and in the mind of our football team. ... So we'll handle it. And it's going to be a big deal." -- Florida coach Urban Meyer in his biography, Urban's Way

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- So which moment was it? At what point during Florida's 49-10 World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party drunk-tossing of Georgia did the Gators make the Grand Gesture to "handle" Georgia's infamous Stomp of 2007?

Did the moment come in the offseason, when Florida strength coach Mickey Marotti hosted workouts that required players to do 42 reps at each station one for each point Georgia scored in a 12-point win last year? Was it when Marotti added sets of 188 push-ups and 188 crunches so they didn't forget the 188 yards Bulldog Knowshon Moreno gained in last year's meeting? Maybe the moment came after those workouts, when they dragged themselves back to their lockers, ready to puke, and found pictures of 70 Georgia players bounding like pogo sticks to celebrate their first touchdown last season.

The Gesture may have happened that long ago.

Butch Rowley, the jack-of-all-trades former walk-on who smothered Georgia's ill-advised onside kick in the second quarter, has known Meyer since Rowley walked on at Utah in 2004. Rowley knows Meyer treats rivalry games differently, and that especially goes for the rematch of the only rivalry game Meyer has lost since coming to Florida before the 2005 season.

"We have countdowns for each one," Rowley said. So how long did the countdown to Saturday's game run? "Three hundred sixty-five days," Rowley said.

That's compelling, but the moment definitely took place Saturday at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium.

Maybe it happened on Georgia's second play from scrimmage, when Moreno took a handoff from Matthew Stafford, ready to shred the Gators for the second consecutive year. Moreno had barely touched the ball when ... BOOM! Florida middle linebacker Brandon Spikes -- the player who barely could bring himself to watch a tape of last year's game, who couldn't even look at himself in the mirror afterward -- shot through a gap and obliterated Moreno at the line of scrimmage.

Spikes lay on top of Moreno for a second. He swore later that he didn't say anything too raunchy. He just wanted to keep Moreno on the ground for a moment. "He likes to get up all fast and stuff all the time," Spikes said. "I just let him know I was there."

After Georgia punted, Spikes and cornerback Joe Haden spoke on the sideline about the play. Haden provided the following transcript.

Haden: "Spikes, good hit." Spikes: "I'm going to do this the whole game."

Later, Meyer would say competition at practice has forced Spikes to evolve, forced him to lead. Those daily trials have forged Florida's No. 51 into the player who sets the tone for his teammates. "We play," Meyer said, "like 51 plays."

No, Spikes' hit couldn't have been the Gesture. It came too early. Georgia still had a chance, still had some of that mojo that made the Bulldogs everyone's preseason No. 1.

The Gesture didn't come when Florida quarterback Tim Tebow crashed into the previously stomped end zone from two yards out in the second quarter to break Emmitt Smith's school record for rushing touchdowns. It also didn't come in the third quarter, when Haden stepped in front of A.J. Green just as post turned to post-corner, intercepted Stafford and returned the ball 88 yards to the Georgia 1-yard line to set up a Tebow touchdown run that gave Florida a 21-3 lead. It might have come when 300-pound defensive tackle Terron Sanders scooped up a Moreno fumble, spun around and stiff-armed Stafford and rumbled 20 yards to the Georgia 10, but that looked like pure joy -- not vengeance.

In fact, the only acts that smacked of vengeful face-rubbing were a pair of timeouts Meyer called with 44 and 30 seconds remaining. When someone asked about them, Meyer said he wanted to get tailback Emmanuel Moody a few more carries. When everyone laughed and someone rephrased the question, Meyer clammed up. "We're just trying to win a game," he said. "Just trying to win a game." And then he changed the subject. "We tackled very well on defense," he said.

Georgia coach Mark Richt, who may change his tune if his biography gets published this offseason, took the high road Saturday. "The rules say you get three timeouts each half," Richt said. "And they used two of them." With that, Richt probably dispatched his strength coach to design a workout with 49 reps per set.

So maybe Tebow made the Gesture during one of those timeouts, when he walked along the sideline cheering along with Florida fans, who would have called the stadium half full. Georgia fans, most of whom left early in the fourth quarter, would have called it half-empty.

But that wasn't it, either.

The Gesture happened a few minutes later, when all the Gators stood on the very earth Georgia stomped, raised their helmets and sang the fight song as their band played. According to the scoreboard, they'd handed Georgia its second most lopsided loss in the history of the rivalry. According to the SEC East standings, Florida had reduced its magic number to clinch the division to one. According to the polls that will appear Sunday after the havoc wrought by Texas Tech's upset of Texas, the Gators should feel free to continue dreaming about a national title in spite of that loss to Ole Miss on Sept. 27.

As they stood there, helmets in the air, they knew. They had handled it. And it was a big deal.

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