‘Untold: Swamp Kings’ Recap/Review: Netflix’s Florida Gators Documentary Is A Swing And A Miss

Sports documentaries are the current rage. Netflix itself has many documentaries in this genre, and two of its flagship shows are considered some of the best. We are talking about The Last Dance and Drive To Survive. These two documentaries set a benchmark for how compelling stories about sports and the people involved should be presented for the world to enjoy and understand.

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Untold: Swamp Kings is all about the famous American college football team called The Florida Gators, which at one point was considered the most successful team and bragged about having some insanely talented star players and a highly motivated coach named Urban Meyer. The documentary begins with the Florida Gators football team hiring Urban Meyer. The first episode is about Urban as well as Tim Tebow, who joined the team as a rookie player.

Tim Tebow, who has a brilliant voice, talks about his journey from being homeschooled to being surrounded by people and learning to work as a team player. It was the first time he experienced school life, and there was no turning back for him. Tim Tebow’s goal was to be good at sports, which could qualify him for a scholarship to get into a university. His name and game became popular among scouts from across the country because of his dedication to the game. The boy finally chose Florida University because he wanted to work under Urban Meyer, who had become a well-known face in the American college football circuit.

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The documentary also speaks about other star players such as Brandon Siles, Brandon Spikes, Brandon James, Dallas Baker, Percy Harvin, and Ahmad Black. All of them happened to have gone through their own struggles and had reasons to make football an integral part of their lives. Some speak about having tough parents to deal with, while others talk about living in ghettos and wanting to get away from a life of violence. It is a proud moment to see them come from tough backgrounds and strive for better lives through their sheer hard work and love for the game. The documentary also focuses on how Urban Meyer made a great contribution to the team by making their exercise routine the most exciting part of the pre-game charades. They had to go through intense workouts to earn the team jersey. These regimes became routine. Every rookie and experienced player enjoyed it because it helped them get closer to their goal of winning the National Championships.

All four episodes in detail talk about various games the Florida Gators played with many teams that they considered their nemeses at various junctures. Their wins gave them a high, while losses put them in misery. But it gave them the motivation to be the best next time. Unfortunately, this modesty did not last much longer. One of the episodes takes us through understanding how fame allowed the players to make many bad decisions. Some were arrested for burglary and other petty crimes.

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Sometimes they were the perpetrators, and in other cases, they became victims of their fan following. Avery Martin, one of the up-and-coming players on the team, was let go because he was caught in possession of drugs. Urban Meyer speaks deeply about having to choose between letting go of Avery or making him stay and helping him overcome his drug addiction. Sadly, Urban had to choose the former. Avery Martin, a year into his suspension, was unfortunately found dead due to a drug overdose.

Urban Meyer and Tim Tebow are the highlights of the documentary and speak in detail about the most famous matches the team has played against their favorite teams and won. Alabama, Tennessee, Ohio, Georgia, and Auburn are some of the many memorable matches discussed in detail. 

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Urban Meyer was known to be the tough master, while Tim Tebow was known to be the good kid who never drank much alcohol or partied with other team members. Tim Tebow was the epitome of a good kid. Throughout his tenure with the Florida Gators, he remained a team man through and through, even though he was the face of the team. Conflicts are something that is also covered by the documentary, and it is interesting to see them prosper despite many setbacks.

The documentary also spoke in depth about their two national championship wins, which were the highlights of their careers. The 2006 and 2008 seasons under Urban Meyer were considered some of the best the country had seen in a long time. It was interesting to watch how American college football became a different beast to deal with when this team achieved a pinnacle of success that no other team at that time could reach. The documentary ends on a high and a low, where the last win is expressed with a lot of happiness and contentment. Meanwhile, a colossal loss after that led to many changes in the team, starting with Urban Meyer’s resignation over health and family concerns. The makers speak about how the Florida Gators’ original legacy was never restored, and only a few went on to become star players on NFL teams. Urban Meyers was able to take the Ohio team to a National Championship victory, while Brandon Siles and Tim Tebow did not achieve greatness with other teams. A bittersweet ending to the documentary is apt because all good things must eventually come to an end.


Florida Gators Documentary Is A Swing And A Miss

This brand-new addition to the Untold series by Netflix tells the story of the most celebrated American college football team, the Florida Gators, and how it prospered under coach Urban Meyer. Directed by Katherine English, the documentary was released on August 23, 2023.

Through four episodes, with each having a run time of 45 to 47 minutes, the makers try to tell us the story of the seasons between the early 2000s and 2009 and how the Florida Gators climbed up the ladder by winning most of the games under their newly hired coach, Urban Meyer. His hard work and unorthodox methods allowed the team to reach a pinnacle of success that has been witnessed by few teams in college league history.

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The documentary tries to make the audience understand how college football recruitment works and its craze all around the United States of America. But the context is lost in many places because not many outside the USA know how the college football league works. The jargon and terminologies used in this documentary are accessible only to Americans. The documentary, right from the start, does not offer anything about the history of the college football league. Makers straight away jump into explaining Urban Meyer’s inclusion in the team, which is rather an inconclusive start.

The documentary relies mostly on the footage provided by the networks, coupled with interviews with Florida Gators star players. They recall their memories of matches that changed the trajectory of the team. The direction by Katherine English is decent, but as mentioned above, because it is not a global sport, understanding the cultural significance and context is difficult. The makers could have given a better explanation of who the players are and what their contribution is to making the college football league the most watched tournament in the country. The interviews give only enough insight into selected games. College league games, though, close plenty of bridges caused by racial disparity. Many players from various backgrounds talk about their inability to afford university fees. They must resort to acquiring legitimate sports scholarships to be able to get a decent education. Makers here try to make a point about the economic issues of the USA, but that topic is simply not discussed.

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A lack of depth was apparent in the commentary about the games they’d played. The documentary did not create any tension about the ups and downs the Florida Gators faced. Since the show is also meant for people outside of America, a sense of grittiness would have made it engaging till the end. Each episode could have been 15 minutes shorter because a lot of the narrative is repetitive. The overall tone of the documentary series is tedious, as if the makers do not have enough subjects to speak about. It was brave of the makers, though, to talk about how fame misled many players into making mistakes with legal repercussions. The series did speak about the rigorous training methods used by Urban, and we feel that was a bit glorified to justify their wins. There is also an emphasis on masculinity rather than the game. It makes one wish there was a dedicated series on any of the sports played by women to understand the dynamics that go into making a successful team. The comparison study would be interesting.

The documentary felt more about Urban Meyer and Tim Tebow than the Florida Gators because the narrative revolved around their achievements. It felt like the makers were trying to overshadow the contributions of other players. Tim Tebow’s popularity is also a point of concern. A teammate talks about Tim receiving a crazy amount of attention because of his skin color, which seems like an unfair comment. The said footballer forgets that Michael Jordan and Mohammed Ali are the most celebrated athletes in America. The makers failed to create enthusiasm throughout the entire narrative and relied too much on dramatization, a key ingredient used in the USA to make people want to watch sports.

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We wish there had been more to this documentary on the Florida Gators from the Untold series. We wanted to see more conflicts and complexities faced by the team members. The mental health aspect was hardly touched upon. Untold: Swamp Kings is a swing and a miss. It caters to only those who have a certain nostalgia for this game. Otherwise, you can skip this.


Smriti Kannan
Smriti Kannan
Smriti Kannan is a cinema enthusiast, and a part time film blogger. An ex public relations executive, films has been a major part of her life since the day she watched The Godfather – Part 1. If you ask her, cinema is reality. Cinema is an escape route. Cinema is time traveling. Cinema is entertainment. Smriti enjoys reading about cinema, she loves to know about cinema and finding out trivia of films and television shows, and from time to time indulges in fan theories.

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Untold: Swamp Kings is a swing and a miss. It caters to only those who have a certain nostalgia for this game. Otherwise, you can skip this.'Untold: Swamp Kings' Recap/Review: Netflix's Florida Gators Documentary Is A Swing And A Miss