GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Only two of the Southeastern Conference’s 12 incumbents were slated to play both of the league newcomers, Texas A&M and Missouri, this season.
Florida and Alabama are those two teams, with the Gators, having already played and beaten A&M, getting their next look of the SEC newbies this weekend.
And their first look at Missouri in nearly 46 years.
More on that later.
In honor of the Tigers’ inaugural foray to Florida Field, we went looking for UF ties to the state if Missouri.
Spoiler alert: There aren’t many.
For example, a scan of the UF football data base found just eight letter-winners in school history to hail from the Show Me State. And to be quite frank, they’re not exactly a who’s-who of gridiron Gator greats.
Remember offensive lineman Glenn Neely? Didn't think so. He was a senior captain from Olive Branch, Mo., on Steve Spurrier’s first team in 1990. He was benched at midseason.
And he just might have been the Missouri cream de la cream (though we’ve included the other seven at the bottom, if you’re curious).
In the interim, we’ll show you our list of “Show Me” UF connections.
1966 Sugar Bowl: Missouri 20, Florida 18
The Tigers scored all their points in the first half to dig Spurrier (the quarterback, not the coach) into a big hole. Spurrier, then a junior and pictured above, led the Gators to a trio of fourth-quarter touchdowns, but Coach Ray Graves calling for two-point tries each time. Each time the Gators failed to convert, including after the final TD with 2:08 to play, falling two points shy of a huge comeback. Who knows if the circumstances would have been different had UF just kicked the PATs? Spurrier passed for 352 yards in the game, going 16 of 23 for 198 yards and two scores in the fourth quarter alone.
One of the greatest walk-on stories in UF sports history, Eckstein (cover boy above on Sports Illustrated) did not hail from Missouri. He was an undersized, overachiever from Sanford, Fla., when he showed up in 1995 to play baseball for Andy Lopez and became one of the best, most popular and classiest players ever to grace Perry Field. Didn’t stop there, either. In 2006, the St. Louis Cardinals shortstop was named World Series MVP after collecting hits in seven of his last 15 at-bats, including three doubles in Game 4 on the way to a five-game defeat of the Detroit Tigers. Worth noting: In 2011, when the Cards were on their way to another championship, Eckstein came back to and threw out the first pitch of World Series Game 6 against the Texas Rangers. The Cards, down 3-2 at the time, won that game -- and Game 7.
A power forward from St. Louis Chaminade, Lee played in 127 games for the Gators (starting all but one his final three seasons) and left in 2005 with 1,436 career points -- currently 17th on the school’s all-time scoring list -- and 869 rebounds (sixth all-time). As a senior, Lee helped lead the Gators to their first SEC Tournament championship, grabbing a school-tournament record 17 boards in a win over Kentucky in the title game. He shot 58.1 percent for his career, played in four NCAA tournaments, averaged a double-double as a senior and was a first-round pick of the New York Knicks. In 2010, Lee signed an $80 million free-agent deal to play for the Golden State Warriors.
First-team All-America defensive end as a senior in 1994, Carter was taken with the sixth overall selection in the ’95 draft by the St. Louis Rams just four months after the franchise relocated from Los Angeles. In ’99, Carter garnered All-Pro honors in the same year an unknown quarterback named Kurt Warner took over in the preseason and led the team to a Super Bowl title. Carter had 17 sacks that season, his best of a 14-year career during which he never missed a game (224 straight) and retired as one of just 29 players in league history to record at least 100 sacks in their career.
The Edward Jones Dome
Carter certainly played a lot of games in there, but the building makes the list for hosting a certain UF team for two games in 2007. That would be Billy Donovan and the Florida basketball team, which went to St. Louis as the defending national champion and No. 1 overall seed in the ’07 NCAA Tournament, and promptly dispatched of Butler (in the Sweet 16 round) and Oregon (Elite Eight) to reach its second straight Final Four -- on the way to a second straight NCAA title, of course.
Florida fans only had him for one season, but “Real Deal Beal” was a living double-double, as in great player, great kid. He was the Gatorade National Player of the Year at Chaminade -- that’s known as a “pipeline” -- and started every game in 2011-12 on his way to becoming the first Florida player to be named first-team All-SEC as a freshman. Beal averaged 14.8 points and 6.7 rebounds, but took his game to the next level in leading the Gators in scoring, rebounding and 3-point shooting during the team’s run to the Elite Eight. His postseason proficiency rocketed Beal’s draft stock. In June, the Washington Wizards took him with the No. 3 overall pick. tying for the second-highest a UF had ever been drafted. On Tuesday, Beal made his NBA regular-season debuting, scoring eight points in loss at Cleveland.
The foremost authority on Gators history was born in Omaha, Neb., but was raised in St. Louis, graduated high school there and came to UF as a student in 1951. Twelve years later, Carlson became sports information at Florida and in helping publicize the exploits of Spurrier’s 1966 Heisman Trophy-winning season also upped the profile of SIDs across the nation. Carlson, now 79 and a member of the UF Lettermen’s Association Hall of Fame, remains a valuable resource in the UF communications department.
The successor to Bob Stoops as Spurrier’s defensive coordinator came from Missouri. When Stoops left in January 1999 to become head coach at Oklahoma, Hoke was a fallback hire after a failed courtship with Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster. What caught Spurrier’s eye about Hoke was how the Tigers jumped from 84th in the nation to 22nd in scoring defense and 76th to 21 in total defense. He was also coordinator of Mizzou’s special teams, which blocked 23 kicks in his five seasons. Hoke remained at UF through the 2001 season, then became defensive backs coach for the expansion Houston Texans. He’s held the same post with the Chicago Bears since 2009.
Another St. Louis area basketball product, though not from Chaminade. The 6-10 forward played at Hazelwood Central, but finished his high school career at Harmony Community, a prep school in Florida. From there, he signed with the Gators, scored 1,333 points (that’s 24th all-time) and grabbed 771 rebounds. His 142 games in a UF uniform are tied (along with classmate Chandler Parsons) for the second-most in team history.
She’s the only active UF athlete from Missouri. Damico, from Gray Summitt, Mo. is a sophomore utility infielder-outfielder for Coach Tim Walton’s softball team. She was Missouri Gatorade Softball Player of the Year as a junior and the summer before arriving on campus won a gold medal as a member of the USA Softball Women’s Junior National Team that played in the world championships. Last year, she hit .209 in 55 games, including 38 starts. Prediction: She’ll be pulling for the Gators this weekend.
Remaining football letter winners from Missouri (with their seasons and hometowns in parenthesis): Jerry Bilyk (St. Louis, 1952-54); Bob Mueth (St. Louis, 1952); Ray Midden (1955-57, St. Louis); Phillip Johnson (1989, Clinton); Darrell Lee (2000-03, Kirkwood); Nick Fleming (2005, Kirkwood); Samuel Johnson (2010, Eureka).