A four-part documentary on Urban Meyer’s Florida Gators? Sounds like a script for plenty of salacious tales.
Aaron Hernandez. The Pouncey twins. Off-the-field incidents.
Then there’s Tim Tebow, the devoutly Christian, Heisman-winning quarterback who was one of the most popular college football players of his era.
I tuned into Netflix’s “UNTOLD: Swamp Kings,” which premieres Tuesday, ready for a four-part series that would be tabloid-worthy in recapping the Gators from 2005-10.
I was wrong.
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Director Katharine English said it’s very much on purpose that two of the biggest names from those teams — Hernandez and Tebow — aren’t the primary focuses.
There are memorable moments, such as the family of former Florida linebacker Brandon Siler meeting Meyer for the first time — but not much about some of the more notorious parts of that era and the aftermath.
Amidst what looks like a chaotic environment, the Gators won two national championships. English said the goal was to shed light on other parts of the program from that time. The wrongs are featured, but not focusing on anyone in particular for too long.
“There had been a lot of negative press about the team and obviously not all of it would ring true with the players themselves,” English said. “And they didn’t really want, and nor did we, a rehashing of previous stories.”
That’s why there isn’t much on Hernandez, the talented tight end who won a national championship with the Gators, but his pro career ended when he was arrested and convicted of murder. His death in prison in 2017 was ruled a suicide.
Tebow is in the film, but there was an effort not to make the series about him.
It’s not that he isn’t highlighted. You can’t tell the story of these Gators without Tebow. He participated in the series, but not focusing more on him ties back to a theme from that era — the media focusing on him all the time.
That was a source of tension on the team. Not that Tebow chased the media, but he had a story the media loved. A home-schooled, devoutly religious player with seemingly nothing to smear on his reputation was leading a team to championships. He was a sophomore when he won the Heisman after the 2007 season. His values, morals and how Tebow existed, even as arrests and off-field incidents followed the team, would make for a compelling story.
Tebow, however, preferred not to stand out.
“(Tebow) kind of didn’t want to be foregrounded at all,” English said. “He wanted to stand shoulder to shoulder with his team. He’s sort of quiet, self-effacing. … I think that was good for us because we didn’t want to foreground Tim either. We felt that it was very much a team experience and we wanted to hear from the team and to make space for everybody, not just him.”
Meyer’s role in building the program is looked at from the lens of him being an SEC outsider reviving the Gators.
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He discusses the health issues that led to his eventual departure in 2010. But it’s how he built the team that is revealed in workout films that is eye-catching.
Videos of players wrestling each other on mats or players slapping their teammates’ arms as they try to lift weights are shown. Players discuss incidents where teammates were punched over not completing parts of workouts.
It’s the kind of footage that gives credence to those who believe Meyer created toxic environments.
“We heard rumors there were some tapes and about six months, maybe eight months into the production, we found them and we started logging them,” English said. “And obviously they were a complete game changer because the footage is just very visceral, very compelling.
It’s almost like verité footage where the camera is in the middle of the huddle as the team runs out onto the field or its face ups of the guys working out and crying or throwing up or whatever it is, I mean, it’s an extraordinary record of that time.”
The Gators’ run ended when Meyer left citing health reasons in 2010. That he’d emerge again two years later as Ohio State’s coach has always made some skeptical of whether health was the real reason Meyer stepped down.
Cynics could say the health reasons were a cover for questions about the Gators’ run-ins with the law and whether Meyer did enough to curtail those situations.
Meyer’s last stop as a coach was in 2021 with the Jacksonville Jaguars in the NFL. He was fired before the end of the season, accused of abusing players and creating a toxic environment, again.
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When it came to the Gators, English said it was a “privilege” the normally private Meyer opened up.
“I think he was ready to talk about his emotions, about leaving,” English said “ And it is obviously a raw time for the fans, but also for him. And I just think we were fortunate that he wanted to share those reflections.”
(Photo: J. Meric / Getty Images)