There is something magical for me about the middle of August each year and no it is not the hot weather or even the thunder showers that seem to pass our way each evening. It is all about Florida Gator football and the knowledge that another season is getting so close you feel it in just about everything you do.
Where Did It All Begin?
Over the past 15 years I have been around enough Florida Gator fans to know they all remember their first Florida football game experience and who the opponent was. For me it was the 1962 Gator Bowl game with a heavily favored Penn State team who came to Jacksonville to take on the Gators. I was ten years old.
Now, being honest here I do not remember many details of that game, other than the upset win for Coach Ray Graves and his Gators, but I do remember enough to know that I watched the game on TV and since I have watched every game that I could.
That is where the magical part comes in.
As a fan of the Gators your life events are remembered and earmarked as to what may have been happening in the world of Florida Football at that time, or even soon to come.
University of Florida season opener 1969 you say? I was sitting in a friend’s new 1968 Dodge under his carport, he was not a football fan, so he was working on another car while I sat and listened on the radio. Remember the old Chrysler products you could turn the radio on with no key as long as you turned on the flashers and hit and held (for three hours) the brake pedal down.
Run, Lindsay, run in 1980? No, I will not go into details here, but we all knew where we were and the pain we felt, again.
November 1984 my youngest son was born and an hour after my wife and I had our steak dinner in Memorial Hospital in Jacksonville I was at Backyard at Robert E. Lee watching Emmitt play a state playoff game against my alma mater. No, Lee did not win, but Emmitt did not get 100 yards and it even went to overtime. Even then Emmitt was on every Gator’s mind.
January 1997 Sugar Bowl, FSU and 52-20 I was having to work. My replacement was to be there right at game time, but I was only five minutes from work and was the only officer on the property so I could not just leave. Game time neared, no replacement. I called and he said he forgot he had to be there for me (he was an Alabama Crimson Tide fan), but he did get there in just a few minutes. I got home right at kick off to enjoy the game with my youngest son, the one that was born right before that day when Emmitt did not gain 100 yards in a high school game…
With that win, Florida Gators football changed forever. Some may argue it changed with that first SEC Championship in 1984, 1990 or 1991, but for me, it was 52-20.
I can remember vividly buying some of those commemorative magazines after that 52-20 win. What makes the memory vivid were quotes from fans who had lost loved ones before the Gators had ever won a SEC title, much less a National Championship. Then there were those older Gators that were not just happy that it happened in their lifetime, but they were relieved it seemed that they did get to experience the pinnacle of football fandom joy, butt-stomping a rival to win a title.
In the early spring of 1997 I was “only” 45 years old and got sick. Now, obviously I was not dying sick as evidenced by being able to type this story out, but I was in and out of the hospital many, many times. I did not work the rest of the year.
One of the things that weighed on me, and putting it in perspective it did not weigh me down, but I often wondered if I would get to enjoy the 1997 season. I thought about those older Gators who were relieved they had seen the ultimate Gator win and many of those nights that it was just me and the hospital walls you think all sorts of things like that…
However it does seem that while we all love winning as much as we did in 1996, we do not handle the losing as well.
Since that ultimate moment the Florida Gators have had two more. So I know that I am fortunate enough as a Gator to have enjoyed all three, but the last two have been different.
As each season has rolled around as I get older I wonder if I will be around for yet another year of Gator football. No, it is not worry as I do not worry over my mortality, it is going to happen one day that I miss a season, but I want to enjoy as many as I can with all those other pleasures that life affords me,
But still, there is football and it is only seventeen days away…..then a new memory to help me remember what is going on in my life.