Gators Have National Championship Ties to Tampa Bay

Tampa hosts college football’s national championship game for the first time on Monday night. The Gators have won three titles and Tampa Bay was well-represented each time. The Gators have deep roots in Tampa, site of Monday night’s College Football Playoff national championship game. (Photo: Jay Metz/For UAA Communications) GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Florida State, Ohio State and Oklahoma. New Orleans, Glendale and Miami Gardens.

Probably not going to take most Florida fans long to connect those dots. Those are the opponents and locations the Gators reached the pinnacle by winning national championships in 1996, 2006 and 2008.

On Monday night in Tampa the 2016 national champion will be crowned at Raymond James Stadium, where just six days ago the Gators capped their season with a 30-3 win over Iowa in the Outback Bowl. It’s Alabama against Clemson, a rematch of the 2015 national championship game won by the Crimson Tide.

Tickets are in high demand. Can you imagine if the Gators were in Tampa this week instead of last week? It would be one of the toughest tickets to get in Gators football history. Florida head coach Jim McElwain at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium. (Photo: Tim Casey/UAA Communications) Florida head coach Jim McElwain , who is 19-8 in his two seasons, immediately recognized the importance of Tampa in recruiting. He is serving as an analyst for the SEC Network during Monday night’s game.

Last spring on a speaking tour in Tampa, McElwain stressed the importance of recruiting the city and surrounding area to the program’s success.

"It’s arguably the closest major city,” he said. "The ease of these people’s friends, family being able to get to the Swamp, them being able to get home easily. Obviously for us it’s first and foremost. We try to do as good a job as we can do to our surrounding areas, and try to get the ones that fit for us and fit for them."

While the Tampa sports scene is full of options with the Bucs, Lightning and Rays at the professional level, it’s also a hotbed for college sports. The hometown USF Bulls are coming off an 11-2 season and now have a new coach in Charlie Strong, the former UF defensive coordinator and a longtime recruiter in the state.

There are also plenty of FSU and Miami who call Tampa home. However, the Gators have the deepest roots in the city. On each of Florida’s national championship-winning teams, the Gators’ roster featured several players from Tampa Bay.

Tampa Bay Times columnist Tom Jones was a guest on the Paul Finebaum Show this week to discuss the national championship game. Finebaum asked what college program moves the needle the most in terms of fan and media interest.

"It’s definitely a Gators town,” said Jones, who has covered sports in the Tampa Bay market for more than 25 years.

Former Gators receiver Louis Murphy can attest to that. Murphy grew up in St. Petersburg across the bay from Tampa and was a member of Florida’s 2006 and ’08 national championship teams. […]