Thursday August 29, 2013 'Mr. 2K Two Bits' (Errict Rhett, that is) and I go way back
Updated: 11:46am, August 30
Updated: 11:46am, August 30
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Many inside “The Swamp” on Saturday won’t know much about Errict Rhett. Frankly, some will never have heard of him.
There’s a reason Rhett was chosen to be the first celebrity “Mr. Two Bits” and the decision was rooted far more than in Rhett being Florida’s all-time rushing leader -- No. 5 in Southeastern Conference history, in fact -- with 4,163 yards.
[Perspective: When Rhett left UF, only two players in league history had more yards -- Herschel Walker and Bo Jackson]
Rhett was one of the most beloved players of the Steve Spurrier era. Not just for what he did on Saturdays, but what he did every day of the week. E-Rhett loved game day, that's for sure, but he also loved practice days and the time around his teammates.
He was a jokester, a smack-talker and an all-around character, which makes him a perfect pick to lead off what could become a wonderful new tradition at Florida Field.
Those traits also made me write this blog.
Twenty years ago, Rhett was about to start his senior season at UF. The summer heading into the 1993 season, the Gators were getting broken in by a new strength and conditioning coach. His name was Rich Tuten and he had some very ... um ... out-of-the-box ideas for training his players.
Like pulling teammates in homemade sleds.
In the brutal morning sun. On the track infield. From one end to the other.
At the time, I was the UF beat writer for The Tampa Tribune and went to Tuten, a burley fellow who went on to win two Super Bowls training the Denver Broncos, to write a story about his unusual techniques. When I was done with the interview, he hit me with a suggestion.
“If you’re gonna write about us, you need to come out and do it,” he said.
The easy thing would have been to decline, but sure enough I was out there the next morning -- with my cleats. And as soon as Tuten, off in the distance, saw me get out of my car, I heard him scream my name.
“LET’S GO, HARRY!”
Which brings me to Errict Rhett ... my training partner.
Tuten paired me with the senior tailback, one of the strongest players on the team and whose reputation for busting his backside in workouts was legendary. I was probably 175 pounds at the time, so Tuten wasn’t about to put me in his little sled for Rhett's turn. Instead, Tuten plopped himself down in the box -- all 250 or so of him -- and Rhett went at it.
Up (facing forward).
And back (backward).
Then it was my turn.
Tuten put the Rhett, probably 215, in my sled.
For the next 20 minutes or so, I sort of felt like Bill Curry in one of those early September trips to Gainesville back in the day. You know, as in 73-7. Or 65-0.
Truth be told, I would get fired if I wrote some of the things Rhett said to me along the way -- those 100 yards -- as he dug his fingers into the ground so the sled would not move no matter how hard I tugged and yanked.
One exchange I recall very well.
Me (groaning): “Rhett, why are you doing that, man?”
Rhett (grinning): “That’s for you writing that [#&*%] about me fumbling twice at Mississippi State last year.”
Me (laboring): “You did fumble twice at Mississippi State last year.”
Rhett (laughing): “Yeah, but you didn’t have to write that [#&*%].”
And deeper the fingers dug into the sod.
But I made it. Up and back. There was no way I wasn’t going to finish.
Rhett finished, too. Finished phenomenal career, that is, about five months later. He went on rush for 1,289 yards his senior year, as the Gators won the Southeastern Conference Championship and smashed unbeaten West Virginia 41-7 in the Sugar Bowl.
That night in New Orleans, Rhett finished with 105 yards and scored three touchdowns to earn MVP honors in his final collegiate game.
I love the guy -- even though he helped turn me into a Dead Sled Man Walking. And I think Rhett will see this new “Mr. Two Bits” opportunity -- and the fact he's the first -- as a great Gators honor and dive into the role with the same passion he dove over the Georgia defense in the pouring rain (some out there remember) his senior year.
Can’t wait to see it.
All for E-Rhett, stand up and holler!