With their resounding win over Ohio State in Monday's BCS National Championship, the Florida Gators became the first U.S. college in history to hold the titles in men's basketball and football at the same time, an incredible feat by any measure.

There is no more fabled story in sports, except maybe that of the triumphant underdog, than the seemingly unbeatable individual or team. Roger Federer cannot even claim to have done what Rod Laver did (twice) in winning the tennis Grand Slam; Steffi Graf topped that with four majors and the Olympics in 1988. Tiger Woods hasn't matched Bobby Jones' 1930 golf Grand Slam. It has been nearly 30 years since a horse won the U.S. Triple Crown; the Treble is a rare feat at the top tier of club soccer; no team has ever won more than two consecutive Super Bowls. But has the result by Florida - for one team or individual to hold two major championships in different sports, without crossover of champions like Carl Lewis as a sprinter and jumper - ever truly been achieved before?

The U.S. college sports system is unique in that it is the world's most elite amateur competition for young athletes, attracting stars across a plethora of sports and receiving intense media coverage which sees the college game often overshadow its professional equivalents. This is no more the case than in men's football and basketball, where games are routinely broadcast to millions of fans and are picked apart as much as NFL and NBA playoff matches. With hundreds of different universities and colleges competing at the Division 1-A level, and the ever present powerhouses like Duke, North Carolina, UCLA and UConn in hoops, winning a championship requires not just skill but also luck and timing, particularly as the best players from each team are inevitably tempted by the riches of the professional ranks.

Besides, the college system works to ensure that a school must produce a nearly flawless season to win it all; one loss is the difference between the trophy and also-ran status. In basketball, a team must win every game it plays in March Madness to survive the knock out format designed to cut down pretenders and unearth true winners. In football, you needn't bother thinking about your place in history unless you come very close to the unbeaten regular season demanded so that you can just enter the debate about who will earn a place in the National Championship battle. Becoming the best team in the country is a rare honour, and many of the greatest coaches in college may win just two or three titles in their careers. For one school to hold both these crowns simultaneously is an astonishing thing, as shown by the fact that this is the first time in history it has been done.

What the Gators have managed must rank as one of the best years in sport for an organisation in recent memory. The football team navigated through the SEC, the most competitive conference in the nation, and played against even more established and historically dominant programs with the finest players and coaches (witness Nick Saban leaving the NFL to coach the University of Alabama, a public school, for US$32 million!). In both sports, Florida has beaten Ohio State teams with much greater expectations placed upon them, and in the process has upstaged two bonafide talents - Heisman Trophy winner Trop Smith and Greg Oden, consensus selection as #1 pick in the 2007 NBA Draft and as a "once in a generation player" - while only having one player (Joakim Noah) among its ranks who is generating any real buzz of his own.

The 2006 run of the University of Florida Gators will not enter the type of sports folklore as Lance Armstrong's Tour de France dominance, the Michael Jordan era in Chicago, or the skills displayed by Pele's Brazilian teams in the 1950s and 1960s. However, it must be recognised as possibly the best ever record compiled by a single team across multiple sports in a single year. And who knows whether this argument will seem any stronger by 2008, as the Gators have legitimate chances to defend their titles in basketball and football over the coming year.


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