Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Grossman and Ex-Gators All the Rage

From the best sports writer out there Mike Bianchi (although I did start to rethink this title when he doubted that Florida belonged in the BCS game):

It had to be this way.

Even though Rex Grossman, one of the most castigated quarterbacks in the NFL, faced Drew Brees, one of the most celebrated quarterbacks in the NFL, you knew this is how it would end.

Even though Brees completed 16 more passes for 210 more yards, you just knew.

Even when Grossman was on his way to a subpar 11-of-26 passing day, you just knew.

You see, perceptions and statistics and reputations don't matter in today's sports world, where Gators karma supersedes all else. You know it, we know it, even Grossman knew it before leading the Chicago Bears to a 39-14 annihilation of the New Orleans Saints in the NFC title game Sunday.

When asked before the game about the massive amount of University of Florida kismet and karma currently enveloping the sports world, Rex grinned a giddy Gators grin.

"Yeah, I'd love to tap into it," said Grossman, the first UF quarterback to ever take his team to the Super Bowl. "There's a lot of good things happening with the Gators. We [Gators] have the No. 1 football team and the No. 1 basketball team. I'm excited about being affiliated with that university."

Lions and Tigers and Bears -- and Gators. Oh my. No matter what we try to do to escape the infinite, incessant, imperishable Gators lovefest, we just can't. Baseball, basketball, football -- they're everywhere. The entire sports world is crawling with Gators -- chomping, chanting, chiding Gators.

The football team won the national championship.

The basketball team won the national championship.

UF alumnus David Eckstein won the World Series MVP for the St. Louis Cardinals.

Former Gators Udonis Haslem and Jason Williams were integral parts of the Miami Heat's march to the NBA championship. Even Gators grad Emmitt Smith won Dancing with the Stars.

I don't know about you, but my money is on Gators golfer Chris DiMarco to win the Masters. And if Bull Gator Bob Graham decides to un-retire and run for president, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama don't stand a chance.

"It's unbelievable," said Bears defensive end Alex Brown, who played at -- yep, you guessed it -- the University of Florida. "If you're a Gator, chances are something good is going to happen to you."

Grossman may be the most unlikely Gators success story of them all. Less than a month ago, Chicago fans booed him unmercifully and the Chicago media called for Bears Coach Lovie Smith to bench him.

"Blind Faith in Rex Will Cost Lovie," blared one newspaper headline.

"Hey, Lovie, Quit the Pampering, Dump Rex," bellowed another.

"Grossman Must Go," shrieked yet another.

Wrote one Chicago columnist: "To say he (Grossman) looks like a deer in the headlights would be an insult to the deer." Brown, Grossman's friend since college, laughs now at the many Rex revilers.

"Rex is taking us to the Super Bowl," he told a group of reporters in a jubilant post-game locker room. "What bad things are you guys going to write about him now?"

His teammates have rallied around Rex; his coaches have stuck by him. Lovie Smith has been around the league a long time and says he's never seen a quarterback savaged in the media like Grossman.

It's true. When you think about it, has there ever been more criticism heaped upon a young quarterback who led his team to an NFC-best 13-3 record? Even though Grossman is in his fourth year, he is a rookie in many ways. He was injured for most of his first three years and this is first full season.

"Redemption?" Grossman said when asked the inevitable question about answering his critics. "That's for you guys to write about. It doesn't get any better than this right now. It feels great to be NFC champions. This is huge." No, this is inevitable.

This is incredible.

This is unavoidable.

This is just the way it is in a sports world that has utterly and completely gone Gator.