For a lifelong Gator fan whose nemesis (and biggest rival) over the years was Georgia, how’s this for the perfect birthday present: A game ball from Florida’s overtime victory over Georgia, presented by UF coach Urban Meyer.
That’s what happened to my father on Monday, on what would have been his 88th birthday. In a wonderful and greatly appreciated gesture, Meyer opened his weekly Monday press conference by presenting a game ball to me in honor of the real Robbie Andreu, who died on Oct. 21.
Words can’t express how much this means to my family — and what it would have meant to may Dad, who was on the Florida freshman football team in 1941 before leaving school to enlist in the Army Air Corps shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7 of that year. He flew 35 missions in a B-17 over Europe as a bombardier (he nearly had to parachute out once with the rest of the crew when an engine was hit and caught fire). He returned to UF after World War II on the G.I. Bill and earned his UF law degree in 1949. He spent the rest of his life in his beloved hometown of St. Augustine, practicing law and later becoming a county judge. And he was (and actually still is) a Florida football season-ticket holder dating back to the early 1950s.
No one loved the Gators more than my Dad (he even painted his car orange and blue in the 1980s and drove it until it was falling apart, then replaced it with another Gator car). And no Gator fan suffered more over the years. I remember sitting in the living room with him after Georgia ruined yet another season for the Gators in 1975. He kept saying over and over, “I’ll never live to see it, I’ll never live to see it.” And he was talking about the Gators winning the SEC, which they had never done to that point. I remember saying to him, “You’re right, you probably won’t. I probably won’t either.”
But, of course he did live to see it — and much more. In the last 20 years of my Dad’s life, Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer and a lot of great players made him one happy Gator. During that time, he saw the Gators win eight SEC titles and three national titles (one in person).
I only wish he could have seen what happened Saturday in Jacksonville. And what happened on Monday in Gainesville, when Meyer handed me that game ball in his honor. He would have been thrilled beyond words. One thing’s for sure, that football will be treasured for many years to come by those my father left behind.
From my Dad, from all of us, thank you, Urban Meyer.