The Montana sky just might be responsible for the University of Florida's Gators' stellar 6-1 performance this season. Despite last week's loss to Louisiana State, it's been mostly sunny weather for the team that has suffered a few tough years in recent history. Could new head coach Jim McElwain's fondness for stargazing be what's made the Gators "get up and go" this year?
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McElwain, who is originally from Missoula, Montana, knows that Big Sky country holds big promise for inspiration. However, unlike artists who look upwards for aesthetic guidance, McElwain turns his gaze to the stars to "chomp" down on ideas for new offensive configurations. Like many coaches, McElwain constantly seeks inspiration for fresh plays. McElwain just so happens to know that his native state's firmament offers something unique and not accessible to coaches searching for ideas in busy, light-polluted cities. McElwain's notion is elegant: Find 11 stars in the sky, observe their formation, imagine those stars as players on the field and see if it's a viable play.
Scientists agree that the sky's truly the limit when it comes to filling up a playbook. In an email to the Wall Street Journal, Neil deGrasse Tyson confirms that there is ample information contained in celestial maps. He told the WSJ, "In moonless dark skies, the unaided human eye can discern, on average, between two and three thousand stars randomly strewn across the sky …That number far exceeds the required eleven to field a football team. So there's no shortage of 'stellar' plays [McElwain] can conjure from the starry sky above him." This is not the first time Tyson has commented on sports. He's a longtime sports fan, an adept sports analyst and former star athlete.
Tyson's link to the world of sports shouldn't come as too much of a surprise, of course, as science and athletics go hand in hand. The geometry of the stars, while slightly more specific, makes a lot of sense to Tyson. He notes that in most celestial groupings of three stars, triangles appear. The WSJ points out the similarities in the triangle formation to McElwain's plays, "Many of the pass plays in McElwain's offense send three receivers into the middle of the field, creating a triangle that threatens the defense both horizontally and vertically." Essentially, McElwain creates his own constellations with his players on the field.
McElwain also found new stars on Oct. 21, when the Gators put out a campus-wide try-out call for kickers. Students were alerted to the opportunity via social media. From contriving plays from star formations to opening up kicker try-outs to some 216 students, it seems that the Gators are embracing out-of-the-box thinking to shoot for the sky — and perhaps a coveted bowl position this year.
Gator fans will hope that McElwain can use his astronomy-inspired tactics against the 5-2 Georgia Bulldogs at this year's Florida-Georgia game coming up on Halloween. The rivals will meet on Everbank Field in Jacksonville, Florida, for the annual epic clash. Perhaps Constellation Albert will shine over this year's "World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party," allowing the Gators to continue their season under [orange] and blue skies.