2010 – How Florida and Cincinnati Met in the 2010 Allstate Sugar Bowl
In Sugar Bowl lore, this will always be referred to as the “Goodbye Game.”
Participants, and the people who got them to their berths, were all waving farewell in the run-up to the 76th edition of New Orleans’ postseason game.
The University of Cincinnati, which went 12-0 in the regular season – and came within one second of playing for the national championship in Pasadena – was in one corner. The Bearcats hoped against hope that Nebraska could upset of Texas in the Big 12 Championship Game. Texas escaped with a 12-10 victory after one second was put back on the clock after an incomplete pass. The Longhorns used the time to kick the game-winning field goal.
That put the Bearcats, ranked third in BCS standings, in the Allstate Sugar Bowl – but without their coach, Brian Kelly, who announced he was leaving Cincinnati for Notre Dame.
Obviously, this was the last hurrah of Florida senior quarterback Tim Tebow, who it was said impacted college football like no one since Red Grange. Tebow, dubbed “Superman” by Florida fans, had 8,803 yards of total offense and generated 146 total touchdowns in his four years at Gainesville; he was also a part of two national championship teams and seemed headed to a third in a season in which the Gators were ranked No. 1 from the start until the SEC Championship Game. When No. 2-ranked Alabama upset Florida 32-13, the Gators, now ranked fifth, were picked to represent the SEC in the Sugar. That’s when Coach Urban Meyer (Cincinnati, Class of 1986) announced, first, that after the Sugar Bowl he was stepping aside for health reasons, then amended that to say he was only taking an indefinite leave of absence.
This was all on top of the fact that after the Sugar Bowl long-time Gator defensive coordinator Charlie Strong, considered one of the backbones of the Florida program, was going to become the new head coach at the University of Louisville.
Even Cincinnati interim coach Jeff Quinn was a short-timer, filling in for Kelly in the postseason after having been named the new head coach at the University of Buffalo. And, almost as important to the Bearcats as Tebow was to Florida, quarterback Tony Pike was to make his final curtain-call after passing for 2,300 yards and 26 touchdowns in the 2009 season. Finally, receiver Mardy Gilyard, who caught 80 passes for 1,150 yards and 11 touchdowns and nearly single-handedly lifted the Bearcats to the Big East title with a spectacular performance in the clinching victory over Pittsburgh, would also wrap up his career in New Orleans.
This pair were the jacks on which the Bearcats’ offense, which led the nation in passing efficiency (166.19), and accumulated 3,844 yards, rested.
Whew. There would be a lot of tears and handkerchief-waving at this Sugar Bowl.
“It’s football musical chairs,” Bearcats free safety Aaron Webster quipped of the game that would also be his last, being a senior.
Despite the distractions, there was a pre-game sense that perhaps there might be some disappointment for each team that neither one would be playing for the national title. “As much as the Florida players talk about their legacy, well, we have a legacy, too, as the winningest class in UC history,” said Bearcat center Chris Jurek. “And there’s no better way to gain respect than by going out and beating Tim Tebow and the Florida Gators.”
Tebow said, “This is still big for us. We already knew it was the last game for the seniors, and who knows what’s ahead for Coach Meyer? We can finish 13-1 and go out the right way, especially after what happened against Alabama. You’re going to see a focused team and a driven team.”