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What a shame it will be if America never gets to know the cast of characters that makes up the Florida football team. After laying waste to Georgia by a score of 27-0 last Saturday afternoon in Jacksonville, the 7-1-1 Gators have as legitimate a claim as anyone to being No. 1. Of course, they also have a more legit claim than any other team to the title of Public Enemy No. 1. As strong safety Roger Sibbald says, the Gators are the Gainesville Raiders of college football. They're the bad boys whom the NCAA has socked with charges of 107 misdeeds committed during the reign of coach Charley Pell, who was dismissed three games into this season. The NCAA could end up handing Florida three years' probation, two of which would include sanctions. An SEC executive committee will decide whether the Gators will be eligible to accept the Sugar Bowl bid that goes to the conference champion, should Florida win or share the title.
Here are just a few of the characters who will be missed if Florida is idle on Jan. 1. Start with freshman quarterback Kerwin Bell, the Throwin' Mayoan, who was voted the Gators' MVP in Saturday's game after producing 178 yards on just eight completions, including a 96-yard nail-in-Georgia's-coffin TD bomb to wide receiver Ricky Nattiel on the second play of the fourth quarter. Bell hails from the tiny (pop. 891) Florida town of Mayo, hold the jokes. Recruited by only a handful of Division II and III schools, he walked off his parents' tobacco farm and onto Gainesville's practice field last fall and was promptly redshirted. Through an unlikely set of circumstances, Bell subsequently worked his way up from fifth-string obscurity to the starting job before Florida's opener this fall. Since then, he has become the third-rated passer in the country, throwing for 1,380 yards and 13 TDs, and several Mayoans have new television satellite dishes, purchased specifically to watch their native son. "Not much else going on there," says Bell, flashing a grin that by all accounts never leaves his face.
Somewhat less countrified but no less endearing is 293-pound left offensive tackle Crawford Ker, who after the Georgia game greeted his fans in "my Magnum P.I. shirt," a brightly colored Hawaiian number that provided ample view of the arms and chest that help him bench-press 515 pounds. Ker, whose parents came from Scotland before he was born and settled in Philadelphia—"They got a Scottish brogue, I got a Rocky Balboa brogue," he says—spent last summer pushing a pickup truck a mile a day to build his leg strength. His friend Frank Byer sat in the back yelling, "Bill Fralic of Pitt! Bill Fralic of Pitt!" to fire up Ker.
A kindred spirit of Ker's is coach Galen Hall, whose performance is turning the "interim" that officially precedes his title into a profanation. A former Penn State quarterback (1959 through '61) who now looks more like a lineman—"He likes his beer so he blends right in with us," says Ker—Hall is 6-0 since being elevated from offensive coordinator after Pell was fired on Sept. 16.
Pell built this team (by hook and you-know-what-else), but Hall's success in keeping the Gators together cannot be overstated. He brought to Gatorgate exactly what Gerald Ford brought to Watergate—a refreshing change of style after five years of the uptight, secretive Pell. How can anyone not like a coach whose balding pate, mustache, paunch and slight lisp suggest nothing so much as your neighborhood auto mechanic?
"Maybe I am more relaxed than Charley, I don't know," says Galen Good-wrench, who joined Pell's staff last February after having spent 11 seasons as offensive coordinator at Oklahoma. A decision on whether Hall will shed "interim" from his title won't be made for at least a week, but he has been doing such a good job that the KEEP GALEN buttons circulating around Gainesville, including those being passed out by his wife, Elaine, have more than likely become superfluous.
Under Hall, the Gators have turned their troubles to their advantage. "The thing that separates this team from other Florida teams is its complete commitment to succeed despite adversity, this us-against-the-world feeling," says Georgia coach Vince Dooley.
"I see this season like a big brick wall that nobody thought we'd get over," says linebacker Alonzo Johnson, the Gators' big-play man on defense. "Losing Coach Pell, the NCAA violations, injuries, those things. But all along we knew we could climb it, even if no one else did. And now we've got one leg over."