Feeling sad for Johnny Brantley

Today is the time when I choose to shed my journalistic skin. Objectivity be damned.

I am very sad for John Brantley IV.

After playing the best competitive quarter of his college football life, Johnny’s dreams were dashed on the lush green grass of Florida Field Saturday night where they had been seeded almost a generation ago.

Just when it seemed his time had finally come, when all that blessed/cursed talent was unzipped on the game’s first play, a 65-yard touchdown pass to the almost-forgotten Andre Debose, fate stole it away. To that point he had completed 70 per cent of his passes.

Everybody wants to know: How badly is Johnny Brantley hurt?

Injury information these days around the Gator program is more tightly sealed than Fort Knox.

As I write this, we still don’t know the complete medical report on Brantley. Common sense tells you if you watched him writhing in pain, clutching his right leg, and then limping off, that this wasn’t just a bruise or tweaked ankle.

So far all we have is speculation. Even Will Muschamp said after the loss he didn’t know and hadn’t talked to doctors. In his weekly TV show, all Muschamp would say is: “We’ll see how it goes here as far as our medical staff goes and into work this week.”

Second-hand sources of the family told me Sunday that Brantley’s career didn’t appear to be jeopardy; still others that they thought he might be able to rehab the injury and get back on the field.

JBIV had been born this job and this moment as the son of a Gator quarterback and the nephew of a UF linebacker. After eschewing his heritage and committing to Texas, he finally got it “right” by signing with Urban Meyer. It took him a long time to claim his birthright, but surely that was meant to be.

All things in the Gator Universe seemed in their rightful place the day that Johnny B. came home.

Nobody paid more dues than JBIV, waiting for three seasons behind the Greatest Gator ever before inheriting the starting job in 2010. We all know what went down there in Urban Meyer’s sayonara campaign and a season of offensive discombobulation.

If there was a football god, however, we all felt like he was smiling on Brantley when Charlie Weis came to Gainesville packing his big, fat, juicy playbook designed for a quarterback with an NFL arm.

There were reports of a rehabilitated, rejuvenated Brantley all spring and all summer and, yes, it did reflect in his body language. The plays worked. The offensive transition was beginning to look successful.

Now, if Weis could just figure out how to get some of those wide receivers in the flow.
And then — BOOM! — it all came together in that one glorious explosion on the first play against big, bad Alabama.

Finally, the Johnny Brantley we all knew was there.

I had seen him do it as a 10-year-old quarterback in the Marion County Youth Football League founded by his late grandfather, John Brantley Jr. I had seen him to it as the Gatorade Player of the Year and state championship quarterback of Ocala Trinity Catholic.

And now we had finally seen him do it at the highest level of college football on a wannabe-magical night at The Swamp.

“I told you so!” we all wanted to chirp, as Debose sprinted into the end zone and Brantley danced on the green grass of home.

Then Dame Fortune did a 180-degree turn. Just as it felt like we were seeing the birth of a long-delayed career, in that moment when Courtney Upshaw fell on Brantley it felt like we may have been watching the end of one.

Alabama won the game 38-10. On life’s scoreboard for the star-crossed quarterback, who always refers to himself as “a regular dude from Ocala,” it must feel like 212-0 — and not in his favor — with more bad news on the way. LSU.

Buddy Martin’s Sports Page can be heard weekdays 5-6 p.m. on WOCA.com or at 1340AM and 96.7FM in North Central Florida.

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