December is one of my favorite months. Temperatures are cooling, cookies are baking, and the college football playoffs are just around the corner.
This year’s Alabama team is the unanimous favorite to win the title come January. They are easily the best team of 2016, and possibly one of the best teams of all time.
In 2008, that title belonged to the Florida Gators. I grew up in Florida and am a third generation Gator, so I’m a little biased when it comes to college football, but I think it’s safe to say that their 2008 defense was one of the best ever. They had been dominant in every game but one, a 31-30 home loss to the Ole Miss Rebels early in the season.
At that point, I had been working as a photo assistant with Bill Frakes for just over a year. I had been to the Super Bowl, Kentucky Derby, Final Four, Olympic Games, and was taking a semester off, interning for a few credits and working as much as possible.
I remember the morning of the shoot. It was a brisk December day in Gainesville. Sports Illustrated sent Bill for an early morning portrait shoot with the Gators defensive line and linebacking corps before their matchup with the vaunted Oklahoma offense led by quarterback Sam Bradford.
Anyone that has ever met Bill knows that if it’s even a little cold, he has a hoodie on. His hoodie of choice that morning was a bright green University of Oregon Track and Field hoodie, likely picked up on a chilly night at the USATF championships in Eugene, OR.
As soon as Bill began taking pictures, Brandon Spikes - the leader of the Gator defense - looked at him with a perplexed expression and asked, “Bill, man, did you go to Oregon?”
Bill looked at him confused. “No,” he answered. “Why?”
“Man,” Spikes answered loudly above the chuckles of the others, “you’re wearing an Oregon hoodie.”
Bill looked down at his sweater and laughed. I don’t think he even realized he had put that on before he came.
“Someone please get this man a Gator hoodie,” Spikes said to the UAA staff member on the shoot.
“Where did you go to school,” Spikes asked?
“You don’t want to know,” Bill answered.
“Come on, man,” AJ Jones (16) added, ”Just tell us where you went."
The others chimed in with encouragement.
“What,” Spikes rejoined, taunting him, “are you embarrassed?”
“Fine,” Bill said, with a knowing smile, “I went to Ole Miss.”
The groups exploded in “Oooohs” and “Oh mans” and a lot of laughter. Ole Miss was their only loss that year. They were the one team who almost kept the Gators out of the title game.
“That’s cold,” Spikes said back to him. “You should have lied.”
After a few more minutes and a few more poses, Bill told them he was done and thanked them for coming out so early in the morning.
“We ain’t done yet,” Spikes told him. “Get that Gator in here for a new profile pic,” he said pointing at me.
The guys motioned me over, and I squeezed behind Carlos Dunlap (8) and under the massive shoulder of Brandon Spikes.
“We gotta level out that bad Ole Miss juju,” AJ Jones said to the approval of the rest of the defense.
And they did. The Gators went into Miami and beat Oklahoma 24-14 in the national championship game.
The Alabama Crimson Tide might be the team to beat this year, but my team will always be the Florida Gators.