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Gators Hope to Halt Draining of The Swamp

By Matt Smith
SouthernPigskin.com
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The Gators have lost 16 times in Gainesville in the 2010s, and currently ride a three-game losing streak in SEC home games. For perspective, Spurrier only lost three SEC home games in his entire tenure at Florida.

For six decades, Florida’s home football stadium was known as, fittingly, Florida Field. The Gators won much more than they lost at home, but there was nothing all that special about the venue and environment. In 1990, it became Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, after Griffin, an alumnus and donor of the university. The name doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but business is business.

Today, most casual college football fans don’t know the home of the Gators as either of those two names. It’s simply “The Swamp”. It didn’t become The Swamp until 1992, however, when then head-coach Steve Spurrier coined that name because, as he said, “only gators get out alive”.

In the ’90s, The Swamp became one of the most hostile venues in college football. Florida lost only four games there in that entire decade, and just five during Spurrier’s twelve seasons in charge of the Gators. That dominance continued under Urban Meyer, who lost just two games there in his first five seasons while leading Florida to a pair of national championships.

Since the end of the last decade, however, The Swamp has taken on a previously unforeseen level of hospitality. The Gators have lost 16 times in Gainesville in the 2010s, and currently ride a three-game losing streak in SEC home games. For perspective, Spurrier only lost three SEC home games in his entire tenure at Florida.

It’s been 70 years since the Gators dropped four straight SEC home games, but if the No. 22 Gators can’t upset fifth-ranked, 5-0 LSU on Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS), it will happen for the first time since the late 1940s. Adding on a loss to Florida State last season, it would make five straight home losses to Power Five opponents.

It’s not the Gators who have been getting out of The Swamp alive lately. It’s been Tigers and Aggies and Wildcats and Seminoles.

First-year head coach Dan Mullen, who lost his only SEC home game so far with the Gators – three weeks ago to Kentucky – hopes The Swamp can again become what it was under Spurrier and under Meyer when Mullen was an assistant, starting on Saturday.

“I expect there not to be an open seat anywhere,” Mullen said Monday. “I expect to see people on their feet. I want it like [the late 2000s].”

It was LSU who started Florida’s SEC home skid with a 17-16 win 52 weeks ago thanks in large part due to a missed extra point by the Gators. Due to a scheduling swap as a result of Hurricane Matthew in 2016, the Tigers return to The Swamp on Saturday. Tigers head coach Ed Orgeron got what was at the time the most important win of his LSU tenure, as they entered last year’s game at 3-2 and off of an ugly home loss to Troy.

“When we got out there, it was probably the hottest place we’ve ever been,” Orgeron recalled. “I remember the heat. I remember telling Coach Jenkins to go easy, I was afraid he was going to pass out it was so hot. But I remember that and then I remember the leadership on our football team came through that day. I remember them missing the extra point and guys like Rashard Lawrence and Devin White saying we're going to win this football game regardless.”

The Gators followed that defeat to LSU a week later with a 19-17 loss to Texas A&M in their final SEC home game of the year. The loss to Kentucky made it three straight, and at that time it seemed all but certain that the streak would reach four with LSU looking like a national title contender.

Road wins the last two weeks at Tennessee and Mississippi State have changed the mood, however, and now Florida fans will arrive at The Swamp on Saturday not just hoping for a victory over the Tigers, but expecting a victory. Despite a down decade, two of the last three top-five teams to come to Gainesville have lost, including No. 4 LSU in 2012 – six years to the day from Saturday’s game.

It might not be the ‘90s again in Gainesville, but there’s at least hope that the glory days may return before too long. Making The Swamp again a place where only the Gators get out alive is the next step in the process. That step could be taken on Saturday.

Quotes courtesy of FloridaGators.com and LSUSports.net

Matt Smith - Matt is a 2007 graduate of Notre Dame and has spent most of his life pondering why most people in the Mid-Atlantic actually think there are more important things than college football. He has blogged for College Football News, covering both national news as well as Notre Dame and the service academies. He credits Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel for his love of college football and tailgating at Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn for his love of sundresses. Matt covers the ACC as well as the national scene.