It’s an orchestrated effort outside of the Gators’ practice field every night. Practice usually ends around six o’clock with the players filing out and walking from the field to the stadium, along side the O’Connell Center. Maybe about a quarter mile walk. Along the first half of that quarter mile, there are numerous autograph and picture seeking fans, all waiting to get a glimpse of the Gators and of Tim Tebow.
It’s a little bit confusing when you first walk up because there are all these people standing around, but they’re about 50 yards away from the gate of the practice field. I walked over there to find a female student athletic department assistant named Amy armed with a radio holding the fans at bay.
“You have to stay behind this pole,” she said as people were trying to surge forward.
Remember when the University issued a plea to students to stop asking Tim Tebow for his autograph on campus? Amy was there to keep these folks in line until practice got out. They were holding jerseys, footballs, sheets of paper, orange and blue posters, whatever, looking for an autograph. Matt Kingston, my photographer and I were given strict instructions to stay behind the pole. “You can take video,” she confirmed with somebody inside the practice field, “but you have to stay back here. And no interviews. That’s by Gate 1.”
“There are a lot of rules here,” I joked with Matt just as the players came pouring out of the gate.
Ryan Stamper and Brandon James both stopped to say hi, recognizing a familiar face from Jacksonville. Both have had big roles in the Gators success in the past two years. Tebow stayed on the practice field for at least an extra 20 minutes working on throws of different trajectory and velocity as well as distance.
Having covered an NFL team along with major college football concurrently for the last 15 years, the contrast in the media covering the two is dramatic. The NFL media is older, more cynical, wisecracking and judgmental. The college media is much younger, much more a bunch of fans and much much more deferential to the people they’re talking to.
Especially the coach.
The dozen or so media outlets covering Florida football during the week follow Urban Meyer around like lap dogs. The questions are all softballs, technical stuff that can’t go into a story but rather would qualify as “insider” info that they can use to impress their friends on campus. Half of them are asking questions trying to impress Meyer with their knowledge of his team. It’s a lay-up for Meyer every day. I guess that’s why when I asked him a question about motivating his team this week he was a bit startled.
First it was an unfamiliar voice and I’m pretty sure I asked him an actual question something like, “Is it a challenge to motivate this team in this stretch with them knowing they’re going to that game in December and who their opponent is going to be?” He literally did a double take and then very directly answered, “not this week. Not with who we’re playing.”
It was a mild reference to Steve Spurrier but without much emotion.
“Is it because of this particular team, the leadership this year, the guys on this team?” I followed up with. “We have good leadership on this team,” Meyer said without adding anything.
By the way, I’m sure Tim stopped to sign some autographs. In fact, my friends Joe and Liz were able to get Tim to stop for a photo for their Christmas card: