GAINESVILLE — It has been about three decades since Leonard George last visited Florida Field. He came with his longtime friend, Willie Jackson, to watch a game in the 1990s before going off the grid, leaving many to believe (including the UF Alumni Association) that he had died.
George, a standout at Jesuit High, signed with the Gators in 1968, three days before Sarasota native Jackson. They became the first African-American football players on scholarship at Florida. So it was only fitting that George and Jackson made history together again — some personal history.
The two were honorary captains for the first time on Saturday night as their No. 10 Gators topped seventh-ranked Auburn 24-13.
“Oh, man, it felt so good,” George said. “Let’s revenge that one loss to Auburn in 1969. That’s how I felt.”
George, who recently moved back to Tampa after a 20-year absence, discovered that most of his high school records had been broken by current Gators running back Malik Davis.
He got the chance to watch the redshirt sophomore live Saturday night, with Davis getting five carries.
The moment he met the fellow Jesuit alum was all the more special.
“I don’t know about meeting the guy who broke my records, that’s the dang thing,” George joked. “But really, it’s a pleasure because I know he came from where I’ve been and he did a lot at that time. Now, with the Gators he’s also doing a lot. It’s like me looking at myself in the (past) and looking at myself forward.”
A measure of revenge
Lamical Perine put an exclamation point on the game Saturday night, running 88 yards for the fifth-longest touchdown in Florida history. No Gator had that distance since Emmitt Smith scored on a 96-yarder against Mississippi State in 1988.
Oh, and Smith — who joined the College GameDay crew as the ESPN show’s celebrity guest — was in the building for this one. “(Smith) came up to me after the game and told me I did a great job running the ball and getting through adversity,” Perine said.
To make the moment even sweeter, Perine told reporters at media availability earlier in the week that Auburn thought he wasn’t fast enough for their program during his recruitment. Ouch. He ran for 130 yards against the Tigers — the sixth time he has gone over the 100 mark in his collegiate career.
“I knew I had to make these big-time plays for my teammates,” he said. “I just felt like (the Tigers) weren’t very interested in me at the time. I showed them today. It brought tears to my eyes.”
The 12th man
Coach Dan Mullen made multiple comments after Florida’s 38-0 win over Towson — which had the lowest home attendance since 1990 with 79,126 — about needing the Swamp to be at its best, meaning fans in their seats by kickoff, screaming themselves hoarse for the entire game.
At times Saturday, the sound inside the Swamp was near deafening. Early on, Auburn freshman quarterback Bo Nix had to tell each lineman individually what the play was because of the noise. At one point, the Tigers were forced to call a timeout as the play clock hit zero on third and 1.
Saturday’s attendance (90,584 strong) was the best of the season and 160 short of 10th best ever.
Signs, signs, everywhere signs
There were plenty of signs to go around on the Plaza of the Americas on Saturday morning for College GameDay.
Here are some of the best ones we saw: