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Thursday September 13, 2012 Gators great Steve Tannen cast in role as SEC "legend"

Updated: 6:52pm, September 13

Steve Tannen GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- After his All-America senior season as a safety at Florida, Steve Tannen was a first-round draft pick of the New York Jets. That was just two years removed from Joe Namath’s famous “guarantee” in the Super Bowl III.

But before going to his first NFL training camp, Tannen got a chance to meet Namath through a mutual friend in his hometown of Miami, where Namath had an offseason pad.

Tannen and his buddy were waiting when the Jets quarterback pulled up in his sports car.

“I was so excited,” Tannen recalled Thursday. “I mean, I was going to meet Joe Namath. The guy was a legend.”

“Broadway Joe” climbed out of his car, tossed a hello toward the two and then said something else.

“Grab some of those groceries out of my trunk and take ‘em upstairs, will ya?”

A legendary moment, for sure.

For Tannen, now comes another.

Tannen, the first-team All-America defensive back off the 1969 Florida team that went 9-1-1, was announced Thursday as UF’s representative to the 2012 Southeastern Conference Football Legends class that will be honored Nov. 30-Dec. 1 during the league’s championship game weekend in Atlanta. 

A two-time All-SEC pick and the league’s defensive player of the year in ’69, Tannen left Florida tied for second in career interceptions with 11 and is remembered as his era’s version of Chris Rainey for his knack at blocking kicks. Tannen blocked four punts that resulted in touchdowns during his career, including one in the ’69 Gator Bowl that resulted in the decisive TD in a 14-13 victory over Tennessee at Jacksonville.

“I’m flattered,” Tannen said Thursday. “And it’s really kind of cool.”

Now 64, Tannen was surprised when he got the call from a University Athletic Association representative recently with the news that he would join the parade of past SEC stars on behalf of the Gators. Since retiring from the NFL in 1974, Tannen spent the better part of the nearly four decades in California doing a variety jobs, including some acting, before relocating to Gainesville three months ago.

“Out of sight, out of mind, you know?” he said.

The UAA rep actually apologized to Tannen for not having approached the former Gator great sooner. Tannen was a standout player who managed to grab his share of notoriety on a ’69 squad that was headlined by the “Super Sophs” (John Reaves, Carlos Alvarez, Tommy Durrance), most of whom played on UF’s high-powered offense.

That team opened with a 59-34 trouncing of No. 7 Houston and became just the third Florida team to start a season with six straight victories.

“We surprised a lot of people that year,” he said.

Tannen card Tannen’s five-year NFL career was marred by injury, but he did manage to intercept 12 passes -- including a team-best seven in 1972 -- and block three kicks, all with the Jets. 

In his post-NFL life, Tannen had bit parts in the motion picture “Capricorn One,” as well as the TV series “Lou Grant” and “The A-Team,” but also teamed with former Florida State football player Robert Urich in the made-for-TV film “Fighting Back” about Steelers running back and Viet Nam veteran Rocky Bleier.

Tannen played quarterback Terry Hanratty.

“Now that was fun,” he said.  

The next few months should be, too.

Tannen will be honored at Florida Field during the Oct. 6 game against LSU and two months later join the likes of Georgia’s David Greene, Tennessee’s Peerless Price and South Carolina’s Ko Simpson in the “Legends” line at the Georgia Dome.

“It’s nice they remembered,” Tannen said. “I’m honored to be a part of it.”

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