A three-year starter for the Florida Gators who played under Steve Spurrier and Ron Zook, former guard Shannon Snell joined OnlyGators.com in 2012 as a football columnist to provide his unique perspective on the team. He has returned to continue sharing his musings through the 2013 season. Snell, who played in 46 games over four seasons and started 36 of those contests, was named a First Team All-American by Sporting News in 2003 and spent two seasons in the NFL.
Everyone has experienced déjà vu in one way or another over the course of their life. At the conclusion of Saturday’s game between Florida and Miami, I strangely found myself not nearly as upset or irritated as I normally would be after the Gators lose (especially when they do so in such a pathetic manner).
The interesting part was that I couldn’t help but notice the uncanny parallel between Saturday’s game and another that still sticks in my craw to this day – Florida vs. Tennessee in 2001 – a game I started at left guard. The similarities are quite scary, actually. For those of you that either do not remember the game or were not yet Florida fans, that 2001 contest was another simple reminder that it takes both offense and defense to win a football game.
There are no two ways about it – it is frustrating when one side of the ball is not “pulling their own weight.” This is the exactly same way I felt during and after our showdown with the Vols 12 years ago.
Our defense couldn’t stop Tennessee’s offense, which wasn’t actually that good. A trip to the SEC Championship was on the line as well as, ironically considering when I am writing this, a shot at playing Miami in the Rose Bowl for the National Championship.
We were originally scheduled to face the Volunteers on Sept. 15, but the game got pushed back to Dec. 1 due to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Both teams were 9-1 (6-1 SEC) entering the game, and the Gators had an 11-game home winning streak, too.
It is tough, even today, to express how discouraging it was to watch Tennessee running back Travis Stevens charge up and down the field that day with our defense unable to stop him. Every time UT scored in that game, UF’s offense felt like we had no choice but to match them and knew we may have to do it on every single possession. The defense was just not strong that day.
If you grew impatient and checked the box score by now, you’ll know that Florida lost that game 34-32 in The Swamp. Just unacceptable.
In the locker room after the game, you can bet I was pissed off. One, because I suffered a high ankle sprain, and two, I felt that the other side of the ball simply did not hold up its end of the bargain that Saturday. I never cried after football games that I lost – I always remembered it was just a game – but I did that day.
With as talented as that team was with the playmakers we had, it was a given that the Gators should have ended up in Pasadena, CA, for the Rose Bowl. And you can also bet that – for a long time – I blamed the defense for our shortcomings that day
It’s an unwritten rule among organized sports from the high school to professional level that you always speak of unity in the team when speaking with the media or anyone outside the program. No one is to point fingers because it creates unnecessary division among the team. Everyone is supposed to be on the same page realizing that each player and either side of the ball can have a bad day at any time.
But in my mind, I guess I was pointing fingers. I knew I didn’t play the best that day, and I know that I could have done more to help the team win the game, but it was hard to get it out of my head that the defense was to blame. It only seemed logical.
I’ve realized over time how idiotic it was to think that way.
My offensive line coach at UF, Jimmy Ray Stephens, once told me: “No one wakes up in the morning wanting to be horrible at what they do. People make mistakes and one day so will you.”
I’ve always been a vocal leader. I’ve always prided myself on that. But one should never, ever criticize a teammate’s performance no matter what the situation. When I had a bad game or did something wrong on a play, which happened more often than you might think or I want to admit, I would always hope a teammate was there to pick me up, not rip me apart. This is why you always hear the term “brotherhood” among football players. They bled, sweat and cried together, and they’ll have each others back no matter what. Just like family.
Looking at Saturday’s performance after years of reflecting on a similar experience, it is tough for me to be upset at Florida’s offense. The Gators moved the ball and did so quite well most of the game. There were some major mistakes, yes, especially from two players in particular, but crushing these guys is neither going to make you feel better nor help the team perform better.
I’m most anxious to see how Florida responds to the adversity that it has been presented with early in the season. The coaching staff has a dubious task of trying to keep these young men together and on the same page in order to keep separation from happening as a unit.
[ Editor's Note: In 2001, Florida regrouped and crushed Maryland 56-23 in the Orange Bowl, which was Steve Spurrier's final game as the Gators' head coach. ]
One of the most genius things I have heard head coach Will Muschamp say since he has taken over his team was when he railed against the defense for allowing 14 points to Miami in the first quarter. Was he actually disappointed in the defense? Sure. But he also knew the offense was going to get trashed by the media, fans and boosters for nearly two weeks heading into – oddly enough – the Tennessee game.
Muschamp was reminding everyone that football is a team game, not two units operating separately.
I also enjoyed what redshirt sophomore linebacker Michael Taylor said after the game when he was asked about the offense and the red zone mistakes. “It’s not really their fault,” he said. Asked to elaborate, he added, “If we don’t let Miami score, we win.”
If only I thought like that 12 years ago.