Top 12 for 2012: Off the Field Stories of the Year

For as much as the Florida Gators accomplished on the field in 2012 (check out Monday’s post), the Gator Nation was making plenty of news off of it as well. From crazy occurrences and strange decisions to receiving major awards and being involved in the biggest sports stories of the last 12 months, Florida was spread all over the sports landscape in 2012. Below are OGGOA‘s Top 12 Off the Field Stories of the Year.

12 » A WACKY YEAR, INDEED
For every major story and exciting moment that occurred in 2012, there were plenty of instances in which Gators fans could not do anything but shake their heads, furrow their brows or shrug their shoulders at something they just saw or heard. Below is a list-within-a-list of the 10 most absurd moments of the year (sorted chronologically). Don’t worry, the rest of these stories are much shorter, so keep reading.

(1) Right in the middle of spring practice on Feb. 17, with coaches raving about team chemistry and noting massive improvement from the previous year, junior safety Matt Elam tweeted out a picture that looks like junior defensive end Dominique Easley riding his scooter inside the Florida football facility and around the Gator Head the players touch before heading out to the field each week. (2) One week after playing his last game as a member of the Gators basketball team, then-senior point guard Erving Walker found himself in trouble with the law when he was charged on March 30 with two misdemeanors for allegedly stealing a taco from a street vendor and evading police in Gainesville, FL. (3) Need a lesson on how to turn off an employer? Veteran wide receiver Jabar Gaffney went off on an epic Twitter rant on April 12, sending out derogatory statements about his wife and cousin (fellow former Gators star cornerback Lito Sheppard) only to claim three hours later that his account was hacked. (4) What better way to honor your favorite player than to get your hair cut and designed to look like him? That’s what San Antonio Spurs fan Patrick Gonzalez did for forward Matt Bonner. Gonzalez’s hair cut nearly got him suspended from school on May 16, but it also got Bonner’s attention and resulted in a pair of tickets and a meeting at a playoff game. (5) After some rather mundane barbs went back-and-forth between Florida head coach Will Muschamp and Texas A&M Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin over the summer, Mayor Nancy Berry of College Station, TX decided to post a comedic video of her poking good-natured fun at the former Texas defensive coordinator on June 1.

(6) Hours after taking home the first NCAA Outdoor Championship in program history on June 10, Gators track & field suffered a serious scare in the air when its plane suffered a cracked windshield at 37,000 feet and underwent a rough landing in Tuscaloosa, AL. The windshield shattered after the plane landed but everyone was OK. (7) How do you answer a quarterback controversy and answer questions about which signal caller is going to start the first game of the season? Start both of them! That’s what Muschamp did on Sept. 1 when sophomores Jacoby Brissett (quarterback) and Jeff Driskel (wide receiver) both came out with the starting offense on its first play from scrimmage against Bowling Green. (8) With Muschamp leading the team, he is sure to find his way on this list at least once per year. In a 13-day span, Muschamp made headlines by being himself. After Florida defeated LSU at home on Dec. 7, he decided to celebrate by crowd surfing over his own players in the locker room. Two weeks later, at halftime against South Carolina, Muschamp vented his frustration about the officiating to Brady Ackerman of the Gator Radio Network. He saw an official walking by as the teams headed to their respective locker rooms and made sure to make it known how upset he was at some of the calls in the first half. “Well, we just gotta continue to capitalize on what we’re doing and OVERCOME THE ADVERSITY ON THE FIELD!” (9) With ESPN’s College GameDay in Gainesville for the South Carolina game, having former Gators swimmer Ryan Lochte on set as the guest picker was an easy and obvious decision for the network. Never did ESPN guess that he would find difficulty in reading off the list of picks provided for him. (10) Why is Chad Johnson in Gainesville … and why is he meeting with Florida? Those were questions fans asked on Nov. 2 when it was revealed that the NFL free agent wide receiver – fresh off being embarrassed on national television when he was cut by the Miami Dolphins after being arrested for allegedly hitting his wife – had shown up in town and was taking pictures with players on the team one day before UF took on Missouri.

Continue Reading » Top 12 for 2012: Off the Field Stories of the Year

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Reports: Jaguars ready to link up with Tim Tebow

Updated on Sunday at 11:30 a.m.

As it is clear that quarterback Tim Tebow will no longer be a member of the New York Jets come 2013, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported Saturday that “league sources say it is a virtual certainty” the former Florida Gators star “will land a job back home with the Jacksonville Jaguars.”

Tebow, with one year left on his rookie contract, reportedly plans to request a trade or outright release at the end of the season, a move that the Jets will undoubtedly honor as the team no longer wishes to have him on its roster.

The door would then be open for Tebow to join his hometown Jaguars, which were also involved in trade discussions for him this past offseason.

UPDATE: On Sunday, NFL.com‘s Ian Rapoport reported similar details, noting that a team source conceded Tebow “will be a Jaguar” in 2013. He also said a trade is possible if Jacksonville wants to ensure it acquires him; the compensation would be “peanuts” and not anything significant.

Rapoport’s news is coming directly from the Jaguars, not Tebow’s contingent. He also points out that the jobs of the head coach and general manager are in jeopardy, but Tebow’s acquisition would occur regardless of who is running the team from the front office.

After acquiring future Hall of Fame signal caller Peyton Manning, the Denver Broncos fielded calls for Tebow and got high levels of interest from New York and Jacksonville. Each team offered a fourth-round pick and $3 million for an advance that had already been paid to Tebow, prompting Denver to give him the ability to choose his new home.

Tebow ultimately picked the Jets because conversations with the team’s executives and coaching staff led him to believe he would have a better opportunity to play right away and potentially win the starting quarterback job down the road. Instead, he barely saw the field in 2012 and was passed over this week when head coach Rex Ryan chose to bench Mark Sanchez and start third-stringer Greg McElroy in his place.

The Jaguars’ interest in Tebow is two-fold. In addition to being an extremely popular hometown hero whose presence would help fill the EverBank Field and bring life to a down franchise, Tebow could also compete for the starting job with 2011 first-round draft choice Blaine Gabbert and veteran Chad Henne.

Continue Reading » Reports: Jaguars ready to link up with Tim Tebow

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Gators on SI’s most memorable moments of 2012

Sports Illustrated on Friday released “The 112 of ’12,” a list of its best sports moments, memes and memories of 2012. Four spots on the list have at least some connection to the Florida Gators. clicking here.

OGGOA will be releasing our annual “Top 12 for 2012″ lists on Dec. 30 and 31.

No. 22 – TEBOW TIME IN OVERTIME
Tim Tebow had an uncanny knack for lifting Denver to unexpected late victories over the course of the 2011 season. ‘Tebow Time’ hit its head-scratching crescendo in the playoffs. In his first postseason start, Tebow threw for a career-high 316 yards to lead the Broncos to an implausible 29-23 overtime win over Pittsburgh on Jan. 8 in the AFC wild-card round. After blowing a late 10-point lead, the Broncos won on the first play of OT when Tebow hit Demaryius Thomas for an 80-yard score. It was the shortest overtime game in NFL history (11 seconds).”

No. 42 – U.S. WOMEN WIN SOCCER GOLD
“It seemed unlikely the Olympic women’s soccer tournament would replicate the excitement of the 2011 World Cup. But the U.S. women made it a gold-medal run to remember. In the semifinals, aided by a controversial, rarely enforced six-second call on Canada’s goalkeeper, the Americans outlasted the Canadians 4-3 in one of the greatest matches in Olympic history. The U.S. rallied from 2-1 and 3-2 deficits in the second half to force extra time. Then Alex Morgan scored on a header in the waning seconds of added time to send the U.S. to the gold medal match, a 2011 World Cup final rematch with Japan. The U.S. exacted revenge, winning 2-1 for its third straight Olympic gold.”

No. 88 – THE FACES OF FLORIDA’S WILL MUSCHAMP
“Say this for Florida football coach Will Muschamp: He’s not afraid to express his emotions. They don’t call him “Coach Boom” for nothing. His facial expressions — starting with the intense death stare on his first Florida promotional poster — are a sight to behold. From the referees to his own players, it’s never a good idea to be on Muschamp’s bad side. But for the Gators, it’s working. After a disappointing 7-6 record in his first season in Gainesville, Muschamp has completely reshaped the 11-1 Gators in his own image: a tough, defensive-minded group that climbed to No. 3 in the final BCS standings and nearly found its way into the national title game.”

No. 98 – WILL GRIER THROWS FOR … 837 YARDS?!?
“This fact is indisputable: Will Grier, a junior quarterback for Davidson Day School in North Carolina, had the greatest passing day in high school football history in November when he threw for a ridiculous 837 yards and 10 touchdowns in a 104-80 playoff victory over Harrells Christian Academy. But his numbers won’t be recognized by the National High School Sports Record Book because of a confusing technicality, as Raleigh’s News and Observer explains. The recognized national record is 764 yards by David Koral in 2000. Either way, Grier was a top target of some of the nation’s premier college programs: the four-star 2014 recruit committed to Florida on Dec. 19.”

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TWO Tebow BITS: injured ribs, Denver support

1 » The New York Jets imploded once again Thursday evening, and head coach Rex Ryan stuck to his guns and refused to make a quarterback change. In addition to not replacing Mark Sanchez with Tim Tebow, Ryan did not even play the former Heisman Trophy winner in Thursday’s game, though he apparently had a good reason for doing that. Tebow revealed after the contest that he fractured his ribs two weeks ago against Seattle and was not in the best shape to play. He had to “do a little bit of talking just to dress” on Thursday but “was ready to go” if the Jets needed him for any reason. “It was not ideal, but I just wanted to be there for my teammates and do whatever I can to help,” Tebow said. He did not know his ribs were broken until the middle of the week and played in last week’s game against St. Louis ignorant to that fact.

“As the week went on, it seemed to get progressively worse. He practices and things, but a couple of days ago, I noticed him and could tell he was hurt,” Ryan said. “His breathing was different. I was standing there and I was like, ‘I’m not going to play this kid.’ I wouldn’t play my son in that kind of situation.” New York could have listed Tebow as inactive and brought the third-string quarterback up but decided to have him on the sideline as he had practiced as the backup all week long. Tebow being deactivated is certainly possible for the team’s Dec. 2 game against Arizona, though it would certainly be surprising if he let that happen and did not convince his coaches to let him dress.

2 » Though his Jets teammates may have slammed him, anonymously, a week ago, Tebow received plenty of support from some of his former Denver Broncos teammates, who spoke with the Denver Post and offered up praise for the guy who helped turn their season around last year. “He was one of my all-time favorite teammates,” said future Hall of Fame cornerback Champ Bailey. “One of the best teammates I’ve ever hard. Just because of the way he handled everything. It’s not easy being him. Still not, obviously. He might not be able to stand back there and throw the ball like some, but he plays with a lot of heart. You can’t knock a guy who tries that hard and puts that much into it.” Bailey continued, “I’m not going to lie to you. He did rub off on people. He is an inspiring dude, and I think that’s why his fan base is so big. He’s passionate about everything he does.” Wide receiver Eric Decker agreed with Bailey’s position. “I respected the guy,” Decker said. “His passion for the game, what he did on Sundays – it wasn’t always the most conventional way, but it was a win. A lot of guys bought in and trusted more.”

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FOUR BITS: Olympics, Brissett, Tebow, Harvin

1 » The Florida Gators official announced on Thursday something that has been long rumored – the team will honor current and former University of Florida student-athletes that participated in the 2012 London Olympics at halftime of the team’s home game against the LSU Tigers on Saturday. Featured at the event will be swimming medalists Ryan Lochte and junior Elizabeth Beisel as well as track & field medalists Christian Taylor and Will Claye, who make up just four of the more than 20 athletes and coaches being honored at halftime.

2 » Could sophomore quarterback Jacoby Brissett be on his way out the door? It’s possible, says Dwyer High School head coach Jack Daniels, who recently spoke with the Palm Beach Post’s Matt Porter. In a series of tweets sent out Thursday, Porter notes that “Brissett is all-in this season [and has] no plans to transfer” yet also notes that West Virginia and South Florida are potential destinations. “He’s making the most of a situation he’s not happy with, but he knows that’s his team right now,” Daniels told Porter. “If he doesn’t get his chance, I’m pretty sure he’s leaving.” Brissett getting “his chance” would probably only occur if starter and classmate Jeff Driskel went down with some sort of injury or pulled a 180 and began regressing dramatically.

3 » Despite quarterback Mark Sanchez playing horribly through the first four games of the season, New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan is not planning to insert Tim Tebow as his starter any time soon and said as much during media availabilities this week. But while Ryan may not be ready to make a chance, team owner Woody Johnson could insist on it, especially if the Jets continue playing this poorly. NFL.com reporter Jeff Darlington wrote this week that New York must embrace the inevitability of Tebow starting, a move that could very well turn the team’s season around. Also interesting about Darlington’s piece is the opening two paragraphs, which detail the lack of support Tebow had with the Denver Broncos from the get-go.

They marched one by one through the second floor of the Denver Broncos’ training facility, each quarterback stopping first in offensive coordinator Mike McCoy’s office to hear the same message that would then be echoed like a corporate line from coach John Fox.

“Stay ready,” McCoy told Kyle Orton and Brady Quinn, a story relayed by one team source and corroborated by another. “We’re not sure how long this is going to last.”

4 » Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin has already done some amazing things in his young NFL career but still managed to add another honor this week when he was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Month for September. Harvin, whose franchise-record 105-yard kickoff return for a touchdown last week undoubtedly fueled his receiving of the award, did not receive any honors last year after racking up the awards during his rookie campaign in 2009. He is currently averaging 74.75 yards on 7.5 receptions per game this season but has yet to find the end zone as a receiver or rusher.

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Cut day a mixed bag for six former Gators

NFL franchises were forced to reduce their rosters to 53 players on Friday as the 2012 regular season draws closer. Six former Florida Gators were impacted by decisions their respective teams made with the results different for each player.

Receiving the good news were New York Giants safety Will Hill and Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Deonte Thompson, a pair of undrafted free agents who performed so well in training camp and during a preseason that they earned roster spots on their respective teams.

Hill, who went undrafted in 2011 and did not play in the NFL last season, was signed early in the offseason by the Giants and impressed the coaching staff so much (both on and off the field) that he will not only make the team but also see extensive playing time. He registered 15 tackles (12 solo) and a sack in four preseason games.

Thompson joined the Ravens along with former Gators quarterback John Brantley, who was cut early in the offseason. He led Baltimore in receptions, receiving yards in the first and fourth preseason games (scoring a touchdown in each) and had kickoff returns of 42 yards and 63 yards in the two games in-between.

Dealt the first bit of negative news was New England Patriots running back Jeff Demps, whose season is over after the team placed him on injured reserve. Demps signed with the Patriots two weeks ago and played in the team’s final two preseason games. He took nine carries for 55 yards, caught three balls for 31 yards, returned three kicks for 63 yards and brought back five punts for 65 yards.

He supposedly injured his knee during practice, but it was not at all believed to be serious. New England placing him on injured reserves keeps him under the team’s control (he signed a three-year contract) and gives him the entire season and offseason to get into football shape and learn the playbook. The move is basically a way of stashing a player by circumventing the waiver wire process.

Though New York decided to keep Hill, the Giants chose to part ways with veteran defensive tackle Marcus Thomas on Friday. Thomas signed a one-year deal on Aug. 16 but has now been cut just two weeks later and will look to catch on with another team.

Also looking for new homes now are tight end Cornelius Ingram, who spent the entire offseason with the Denver Broncos but was cut loose on Friday, and linebacker Brandon Hicks, who was hoping to catch on with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Other prominent Florida players who are also currently free agents include Brantley, wide receiver Jabar Gaffney, DT Gerard Warren, tackle Phil Trautwein, defensive end Bobby McCray, DE Derrick Harvey, DE Jarvis Moss, DE Justin Trattou and cornerback Lito Sheppard. LB Andra Davis and RB Earnest Graham are close to retirement.

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FOUR BITS: Brown, Dunlap, Hernandez, Caldwell

1 » Out of the NFL last season, former Florida Gators defensive end Alex Brown decided to call it quits and will make it official on Thursday when he signs a one-day contract with the Chicago Bears and retires from the league. Brown, who will sign his final contract on the day of Chicago’s first preseason game, was the No. 104 overall pick in the fourth round of the 2002 NFL Draft by the Bears and became a start defender for the team. He registered 411 tackles, 45.5 sacks, five interceptions, 43 pass defenses and 17 forced fumbles over his nine-year career, the first eight of which he spent in Chicago. “This is pretty special,” Brown told the Chicago Tribune of the Bears offering him a one-day contract to retire. “It shows a level of respect. I appreciate the club and I think they appreciate what I was able to do while I was here, representing the team and their brand as far as the Chicago Bears. I did it and I did it proudly. I tried to play football the right way. I hope people always felt I played my butt off and played the game the right way and kept my nose clean off the field.”

2 » Another former Gators defensive end, Carlos Dunlap, has been coming on strong in his third training camp with the Cincinnati Bengals. Dunlap is looking to have a breakout year in his third NFL season and is putting all he can into camp this time around. “As a pass rusher you want to be at the top. I haven’t done that yet,” he told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “Whoever is at the top is not always the same, but I want to be up there with the best of them and crack that 10 [sacks] number. I was coming off the bench before and now I’m going to be a starter. That should help me get in a rhythm during the game.” Dunlap is being tasked with remaining healthy and being an every-down player; he has been showing the coaching staff that he can be exactly what they need going forward. “So far he’s been very good and done everything right,” defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer said. “Last year it took him about four days before he got started going down. Right now he’s still going in the right direction, so that’s a good sign.”

3 » The New England Patriots may have just re-signed tight end Rob Gronkowski to a huge contract but it is TE Aaron Hernandez whose role the team is desperately trying to expand. According to ESPNBoston.com, Hernandez has been “on fire” and “explosive” to start training camp. Not only is he hauling in plenty of passes, Hernandez has been used as a punt returner by the Patriots and is also staying late after practice to take hand-offs from quarterback Tom Brady. Hernandez is even receiving love from often frosty head coach Bill Belichick, who kissed him on the elbow (picture) last Friday. “I had a little bruise on my elbow and I was whining about it, and he was just showing me the love of a father figure and gave me a kiss on the elbow,” he told the Boston Globe. The love Hernandez truly wants to see is in the form of millions of dollars handed to him as a contract extension, though that may not be coming for quite some time.

4 » One former Florida offensive star may no longer be with the Denver Broncos but that is not stopping one of the team’s newest acquisitions, wide receiver Andre Caldwell, from shining. According to the Denver Post, Caldwell is getting along famously with new QB Peyton Manning thanks to his speed and sure hands; he may even be in line for a starting job. “There’s a place for me in this offense to make big plays to help this team win,” he said. “When Denver made that move at quarterback, this spot became a No. 1 priority.” Caldwell had some great moments but was never a consistent producer with Cincinnati, something that he hopes he can become in Denver now that a lingering injury is no longer a problem. “I mean, two years went by. I kept getting treatment. It kept not getting better and finally the pain got so bad I couldn’t even really sleep through the night,” he explained. “So I finally went to see a specialist, and he checks me out and said, ‘You’ve got a sports hernia, and it needs to be taken care of.’ Right then, I just felt that relief, like a huge weight was off. I know I can be one of those impact guys and now my body’s right. I’m with this team, with this quarterback. This is big.”

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FOUR BITS: Wambach, Harvey, Jackson, Rainey

1 » U.S. Women’s National Team striker Abby Wambach is indeed a “G,” not due to the fact that she is one of the faces of Gatorade but rather because she used her “guile and gamesmanship” to help the United States achieve a 4-3 extra-time victory over Canada in the semifinals of the 2012 London Olympics on Monday. Wambach told Yahoo! Sports on Tuesday that it was her subtle urging that led the referees to call a rare delay of game penalty on the Canadian goalkeeper, who was holding the ball in the penalty box for up to 15 seconds at times when rules state the ball should be out after six seconds. “I wasn’t yelling. I was just counting,” Wambach told Dan Wetzel of her decision to run next to the referee while heading back down the field. “Probably did it five or seven times.” And of the play in question in which the referee finally blew her whistle? “I got to 10 seconds right next to the referee and at 10 seconds she blew the whistle.”

Canada, of course, believes they were robbed in the match. (The call resulted in an indirect free kick inside the box; a handball was called on the kick and Wambach tied the match 3-3 on a penalty goal.) Though Wambach admits that the call is rare, she notes that it is well within the rules. Her subtle pestering of the referee almost assuredly helped the call be made when it ordinarily might not have been. “Yes it’s uncharacteristic,” she said. “But the rules are the rules. You can say it’s gamesmanship, you can say it’s smart, but I’m a competitor. We needed to get a goal. They’re trying to waste time; I’m trying to speed it up. [...] I think making the referee aware of a situation, there’s nothing wrong with that. At the end of the day, the ref made the decision on her own.”

2 » A former No. 8 overall pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars, former Florida Gators defensive end Derrick Harvey was cut from his third team over the course of a year when the Cincinnati Bengals let him go on Sunday. Harvey, who signed with the team just four months ago, was released before participating in a single preseason game. After being released by the Jaguars last July, Harvey was picked up by the Denver Broncos but barely played last season and spent most of it as a healthy scratch on game day. His NFL career may very well be over.

3 » The commitment of three-star offensive lineman Octavius Jackson (Moultrie, GA), who is unranked by Rivals, to the Florida Gators last week came as a surprise to many considering the team has few open slots remaining and a number of highly-rated prospects on its board. The Gators, however, knew exactly what they were doing by brining Jackson on board and it appears as if they were early to what may become a very crowded party. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Jackson received “last-minute pleas by Alabama and Florida State” before committing to Florida. He already had a firm scholarship offer from Vanderbilt in his possession. “People have missed on him,” said Rush Propst, Jackson’s high school coach. “His only true offer until a few days ago was Vanderbilt, and they couldn’t believe nobody elsewas on him. Neither could I.”

4 » Running back Chris Rainey is turning heads in Pittsburgh Steelers training camp, a fact that should come as no surprise to Florida fans whose necks were often sore from watching him run in Gainesville, FL. USA Today’s Jim Corbett wrote a few days ago that “Rainey has been the Steelers’ buzz guy since he began flashing during organized team activities, and he’s carried it over to training camp.” Almost everyone from the team’s president on down believes Rainey can make an instant impact with Pittsburgh this season though head coach Mike Tomlin is being a bit more cautious considering how early it is in the process.

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