By MARTIN FENNELLY
TALLAHASSEE — There is the Iron Bowl.
And there is the Irony Bowl.
Leave it to Ron Zook to leave his finest hour for his final hours.
It figures. It figures that the man who could beat Georgia, but not Mississippi, who turned Outback Bowls into bloomin’ disasters, would erase 18 years of history on the way out the door.
On this night of all nights, 10 years after the Choke at the Doak, Florida won in Tallahassee for the first time since 1986. Steve Spurrier’s Gators never did that.
Ron Zook’s Gators did.
Zook, with a pink slip in his back pocket, was carried from the field on the shoulders of kids who never gave up on him, even as everyone else did. Win one for the Zooker. A 20-13 shocker. What a lovely parting prize.
On this night of all nights. On the night Bobby Bowden Field was christened, on the night Bowden was immortalized on stained glass, his field belonged to that sinner against orange and blue, that stain on Gator greatness.
Ron Zook Field.
On the day he was hired, Zook told us, again and again, as if he had to, that he wasn’t Steve Spurrier.
Strange then, that on this night of all nights, he finally became Spurrier, if just for a moment.
I take that back. Not even the impending head mastermind at South Carolina would have gambled like this.
Going for it on fourth-and-inches from his own 26.
Up by just seven points. Less than three minutes left.
Only a crazy man would try it. Only a man with nothing to lose. Only a man sure of his fate, at peace with it even, would skip, skip, skip to my Lou.
First down, Florida.
Bowden will be haunted by this headless Gator forever. Zook, one foot in the grave, up on shoulders after bringing the Seminoles to their knees. Being cheered by some of the same fans who hated him. I hear that frat house is going to throw a kegger for him.
If he hadn’t already been fired, he would have saved his job.
The deed is done.
You can’t get around the games Zook should have won, but didn’t. Or the sight of him losing it in those losing fourth quarters, racing around the sidelines with a five-alarm fire going on in his head. But you can’t get around this, either:
“I love these players,” Zook said.
They loved him back Saturday.
“We won it for Coach,” Gators running back Ciatrick Fason said.
They drove 97 yards for their first touchdown — 112 yards if you count the ground they had to make up for penalties. They made the big plays. Jarvis Herring’s interception sealed it.
They deserved it.
FSU did not deserve to be rescued.
Not with an offensive game plan that should be locked forever in a broom closet, which should be renamed for Jeff Bowden, who will soon assume his new duties as assistant coach in charge of cleaning Daddy’s window.
Ron Zook was never the favorite son in Gainesville. He was always the hard worker who wasn’t quite genius enough, good enough, Spurrier enough. And he’s no Urban Meyer. That’s for sure.
All Ron Zook could do after he was fired was have T-shirts made. His players wore them under their jerseys. He wore one, too. The words on the front were simple, but brimming with emotion, like the man himself.
Saturday, on this night of all nights, Ronald A. Zook, who was never Stephen Orr Spurrier, stood victorious on Bobby Bowden Field.
He didn’t stand for long. The beeves of his offensive line reached for him and lifted. They carried him all the way to the tunnel, and the light at the end of it.
Ron Zook rode out.