Update (3/5/18): This week, linebacker Shaquem Griffin has been making headlines for his performance at the NFL combine. As the Bleacher Report notes, Griffin ran the 40-yard dash in 4.38 seconds despite weighing 227 pounds and put up 20 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press while using a prosthetic on his left arm (his hand was amputated at age four after a rare condition prevented his fingers from developing fully). With Griffin’s accomplishments gaining national attention and (hopefully) bringing him to the NFL, we thought it was worth looking back at his Walt Disney World appearance in January where he and his fellow UCF Knights enjoyed a victory parade to celebrate a perfect season.
For years, Super Bowl champions have declared that they’re “Going to Disney World!” With that precedent, it’s no wonder that hometowners the University of Central Florida Knights would celebrate their perfect football season and Peach Bowl win with a parade in Magic Kingdom… but there’s more to the story than that.
It may be confusing to those not familiar with the workings of college football that a team that went undefeated are somehow not the national champions. Yet, that’s the situation the Knights find themselves in. Adding insult to injury, the Knights beat the Auburn Tigers in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl — a team that previous scored wins over the two actual national title contenders, the Georgia Bulldogs and Alabama Crimson Tide. Given this perceived irony, the Knights have made headlines for declaring themselves national champions anyway, hanging a banner with the title, selling merchandise, and giving their coaching staff bonuses. In the mind of many, this parade helped further that narrative, although this isn’t the first time the team has visited the Magic Kingdom and Disney was careful to say the team was celebrating a great season, a major Bowl win, and the student athlete’s exceptional graduation rate.
Champions or not, UCF fans flooded Main Street on Sunday, cheering on players and coaches with the help of cheerleaders, the UCF marching band, and others. One of the star players featured atop a float was linebacker Shaquem Griffin, joined by quarterback McKenzie Milton. Later, as the players were set to speak with local and sports media, Griffin was spotted taking selfies with fans. When he finally got around to giving those press interview, Griffin spoke about how much the fans’ support had meant during the season — all the while being surrounded by homemade signs, jerseys, and smiling faces.
So while ESPN commentators are split on whether UCF’s claim to a national title is petulant or valid, it’s clear that they have some strong supporters. Congratulations to the Knights on an undefeated season and a fantastic academic year.