The Florida Gators, A Love Story

It was 1985 and, even though I was just a little boy in fourth grade, I lived in a constant fear of nuclear war. What can I say? Even at ten years old I read the newspaper and watched the news. I didn’t really understand the finer points of nuclear brinksmanship and the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction. Consequently, I convinced myself that human annihilation was imminent.

But that year I met one of the great loves of my live and it saved me from this morbid childhood fixation on nuclear catastrophe.

On December 2, 1985, my Mom and Dad let me stay up late to watch Monday Night Football. On that night the Miami Dolphins played the Chicago Bears to defend the perfect record of the 1972 Dolphins. Dan Marino squared off against the ferocious Bears defense and Walter Payton to defend Miami’s place in history. The drama of the moment enveloped me.  Miami’s victory in that game suddenly replaced my fears of a nuclear holocaust worries with a new focus – football.

Growing up, I watched game after game. I played football in middle school and high school.  I was pretty good at it, too.  However, football for me remained in the friend zone; I stayed close to it and appreciated it like any good friend but that’s as far as it went.

What I came to discover, it wasn’t football. It was me. My path in life simply hadn’t led me to “the one”.

Of course I dabbled in a relationship with this other team from Miami and that relationship looked pretty good for a while; now, I realize how childish and vapid that courtship was.

It lacked substance. I based it all on looks, on the success of the team at the time and how popular it was with the other kids at school. While a youthful fling, I regret that it detained me too long from getting to my one and only.   However, the day that would change my life slowly approached.

October 15, 1994 was a cold and overcast day. We usually don’t equate falling in love with chilly, gray and cloudy days.  Floridians fall in love in the sunshine in the warmth of spring on a sandy beach surrounded by palm trees.

Still, on that most auspicious day, shivering and wishing the sun would peek out from the gray clouds, I walked into the Swamp for the first time to watch Florida play the Florida Gators play the Auburn Tigers.  Now, I’d kept time with other stadiums before.  I had seen the Dolphins play on Monday Night Football at Joe Robbie Stadium.  I had seen Georgia Tech beat Nebraska to win a share of a National Championship in 1991 at the Citrus Bowl.  I had seen several games in the Orange Bowl with that “other” team.

The Gators were ranked No. 1 in the country and 16-point favorites over 6th ranked Auburn.  However, Auburn was riding the country’s longest active winning streak.  Terry Dean, the senior signal caller was having a career year and there was talk that he might be Florida’s second Heisman Trophy winner behind his coach Steve Spurrier.  How good was the Gators’ defense?  Could the prodigal son Spurrier take this program to the next level?  Could the Gators win a National Championship?  The storylines and dramatic arcs were all out there to follow.  I simply went to watch a football game I never expected to fall in love.

At the moment I emerged out from under the stadium and took in the field and frenzy of our fans I knew this stadium was different. If you have ever been in love, you know what came next. Time slowed down.  My eyes took in the enormous sea of orange and blue that wrapped around the stadium and reached towards the sky.  As the clock ticked down before the game, energy built and surged through the Gator fans building them into a frenzy.

Then the Gators took the field and the stadium exploded into an envelope of sound.  That primal roar of pent-up emotion filled every nook and cranny of the Swamp with noise. A raw and foreign atmosphere infused with emotion; unlike anything I had ever seen. The crowd felt like a living and breathing monster that would devour that team clad in white pacing the sideline below me.  People who talk about passion don’t know it like I know it. Like a Gator fan knows it.

In those seconds the cold melted away and I suddenly I felt warm with passion. How could I be cold? I was falling in love.

Unfortunately, all the best love stories include heartbreak that must be overcome – if only to prove to the Universe that the love is true.

Auburn running back Stephen Davis ran through our defense all day like he had a jet pack surgically implanted in his back. Terry Dean’s Heisman Trophy hopes evaporated on four first half interceptions and a second half benching in favor of Danny Wuerffel.  The Gators undefeated season and No. 1 ranking disappeared with 30 seconds left on the clock as Frank Sanders leaped up with Michael Gilmore wrapped around his legs and caught a ball from Patrick Nix for a touchdown.

As Sanders came down with the football, I can only remember hearing the din of the Tigers below me shaking their navy and orange pom-poms in victory. The 85,562 strong Gator contingent in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium went deathly silent as the reality set in that the monster we created failed to devour that team clad in white.

For a second, it felt like nobody even drew a breath. It was as if we all agreed that breathing would make that awful moment real.

I shared that moment of heartbreak with everyone in the stands and watching that day.  As we finally drew in that breath, we all said good-bye to the best chance many Gators had seen at a mythical National Championship and those chances don’t come around very often; none of us knew if we would ever get that chance again.

Far more eloquent people than I have spoken on the madness of love. But on that day, I knew true love. I had an unspoken connection to that moment, those fans and the Florida Gators.  For better or worse, I knew that the Gators and the University of Florida would be my “one”.

After almost 20 years, the memories of that feel so real that sometimes when I reflect on them I feel like I’m living it all over again.  I can almost reach out and touch them.

As the masses flooded out of the stadium that day I heard thousands chanting that it was “Great to be a Florida Gator.”  Somehow, inside that moment of despair, I smiled and knew that the future held many rewarding chapters to come. I knew that this story, this marriage, would never end.  I knew new memories would heal the disappointment of that day and the others that would inevitably come just as they do in any relationship.

There would always be new storylines, new players to follow and coaches to dissect.

On January 2, 1997, my faith was rewarded as I watched the final seconds tick off as the Gators played against Florida State at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. We won our first National Championship.   However, even during that moment, I recalled the disappointment of that cloudy and chilly day in October 1994.  It made that triumph so much more meaningful. Last season I held on to the memories of all those good times in the midst of my most challenging season with my love.

For better or for worse, right? That was my vow. That is my vow.

See, no matter the previous season’s record, each autumn brings an opportunity to fall in love all over again. Now I wait impatiently for a date with my true love. Soon I’ll see the latest incarnation of the Florida Gators take the field in the Swamp against the Idaho Vandals.  The anticipation builds with each day, as it has with every previous season. It’s a chance to feel again like the boy I was in October 1994, even if that spirit is now housed in the body of a paunchy, middle-aged man.

And somewhere out there in the future is an old man that will share the memories I’ll gain this season.

One day, that old man will reflect back on how silly he was to be worried about our offensive transition under Coach Roper. By the time he’s an old man he won’t spend his days ruminating on wins or losses or why Michael Gilmore was in man coverage on Frank Sanders at the goal line. He’ll know his time is better spent reflecting on how lucky he’s been to experience the passion of a true love that’s spanned a lifetime.


Previous articleFive things we learned from open practice
Next articleFlorida Gators Recruiting: Heading into the Season on Track, part 2
Christopher has followed Gator football since he stepped on campus in January 1994. After getting degrees from the University of Florida in 1997 he attended law school at the University of Florida Levin College of Law and graduated in 2000. He currently owns a construction business with his father and two brothers and practices law in Stuart, Florida. He brings plenty of experience to his writing as an arm chair quarterback and professional second-guesser with the extraordinary ability of hindsight. Christopher enjoys his free time reading, writing, and spending time with friends and family. Follow him on twitter @clscammell.


  1. Great read. It brought back memories of my first experience and exposure to Gator football. My family had just moved to Jacksonville, FL from Arkansas in 1956 when I was 10 years old. I was at that impressionable age and because I had attended one Arkansas game with my Dad, I kind of was a Hog fan. That is until a guy my Father worked with gave him some tickets and he took my brother and I to see The Gators play Ole Miss in the 1958/59 Gator Bowl game. It was kind of a boring game and I believe we lost something like 7-3 , but I was hooked and I had not even been to Gainesville yet. That would come years later. The pageantry and watching 5’10” – 147 pound QB Jimmy Dunn play made quite an impression on me. I never made it to actually see a home game until years later, but enjoyed listening to the late great Otis Boggs on the radio. I eventually bought season tickets back in 1975 after attending many games prior and have had those tickets ever since. Go Gators!

    • Go Gators! Thank you for sharing, one of the great things this board has allowed me to do is to hear stories about the Gators from other Gator fans. I love to hear about all the great Gator games of the past. I think history is something we should curate and cultivate; it helps us keep perspective. We live in a world where everything is about NOW and the future…

      Thank you for sharing your memories…I am sure we are both looking forward to getting this newest chapter started!

  2. That was the first college game my now wife of 19 years had ever been to. After that TD pass I told her she was banned from Florida Field but after we married in 1995 she rolled off an impressive string of wins.
    Great story.

    • I am happy that the catch didn’t cause any long-term effects; however, if she was in attendance at the 1996 Fiesta Bowl you might want to keep her away from games in person.

  3. as a high school freshman in ’85, my parents agreed to let me pick the Dolphin game of my choice that season if i maintained a 4.0 while playing on the football team. it just so happened that the first monday night football game was the infamous Bears Monday night that came up after my first semester. still is burned in my memory as one of the most enjoyable experiences I have ever had at a sporting event. Don Shula on the PA system telling the crowd to sit down because McMahon could not hear the snap count was priceless…the fans only screamed louder (and crowd noise was accepted by the NFL rules committee that following off-season)

    unfortunately I too was at Auburn ’94 and can only remember Terry Bowden’s burning words “that one glorious day in Gainesville” when describing that game years to follow.

    great memories and i cannot agree more with the feelings you felt as those events changed the course of my life and now I get to share those moments with my own kids going to games and hoping we go on another “run” like we did in the 90’s. its just more fun when we are running the show :)