What Do We Do Now, Gator Nation?

A message to the Gator Nation from one of the greatest Gators of all-time, Carlos Alvarez, a member of both the College Football and Academic All-America halls of fame: 

What do we do now Gator Nation? It has been tough this year for all of us. You can only imagine if you live in Tallahassee like I do. It’s been brutal.

But what do we do now Gator Nation? Do we sulk? Do we boo? Do we complain about the coaching staff? Do we complain about the athletic department’s administration? Do we get people fired? Do we do all of the above? Or is there a better path?

I know what FSU, Miami, Georgia and others want us to do – all of the above. They love to see the misery and know that doing any or all of the above will hurt the Gators in the future. Who wants to come to Florida with the Gator Nation so divided? Who wants to come to Florida when winning trumps everything that is great about the University of Florida?

The University of Florida remains great and by far the best university in this state regardless of our won-loss record this year. The stellar academic and athletic achievements over the years at the University of Florida did not vanish because we lost to Vanderbilt. Jeremy Foley did not go from the best AD in the country to the worst because we lost to Vanderbilt. These are bumps in the road to athletic greatness not dead ends.

Never forget that the highs in life are better if you truly know the lows. Lows happen. Lows happen to the best coaches, to the best athletic departments, to the best universities, to the best of communities and nations. If you don’t know this then study the history of college football. Bear Bryant – he had lows; Nick Saban – he had lows; Steve Spurrier – he had lows, Alabama had lows, LSU had lows and on and on. Forged metal is stronger for going through the fire.

Future players are looking at the Gator Nation to see how we respond. Think of recruits sitting in the stands hearing boos. Think of them reading rant after rant on message boards. On the other hand think of recruits at home or in the stands seeing the Gator Nation support the team through the toughest times. What do you think is best for our future?  And as a side note but equally important, think of the present families and friends of Gator players and coaches at home and in the stands and the pain they are feeling.  Their sacrifice deserves our respect.  What would you do if a Gator player or coach was part of your family? Aren’t we supposed to be a big family?

But here is the most important point. The Gator coaches and players are working tirelessly to make Florida successful. I have been at the practices and know how hard they work and how much they care. No one is more disappointed than they are about how this season has played out. They have devoted their lives to this team. If you can’t see Coach Will Muschamp’s heartfelt disappointment after Georgia and Vanderbilt, your eyes aren’t open. Is there anyone out there who has any doubts that Coach Muschamp is working relentlessly to change the course of this season? Support them now – despite all setbacks this season, they have not quit – and let the future be decided on merit and knowing that the Gator Nation never stopped supporting their efforts. Do not hamper their effort with negativity!

When I played for the Gators I was part of the most successful season at the time in Florida football history when we only lost one game and beat SEC champion Tennessee in the Gator Bowl. Two years later we were mired in a horrible start for a variety of reasons including injuries to key players, toughest schedule in the nation, and narrow loses. We started the season 0-5 and we were facing FSU on Florida Field. FSU was 5-0.

We had beaten them three years in a row and this was by far their most important game of the season and perhaps their history. Blood colored the water and sharks were circling. Our morale hung on the brink of extinction. I played the game and know that each loss for 18 to 22-year-olds feels like the worst thing that will ever happen in your life.

“What do we do now?” that Gator team asked itself. Do we sulk, do we complain about each other, do we forget about the season, do we simply give up? The Gator players met at the 50-yard line on Florida Field the night before the game and decided what we would do and it was none of the above.

We would not look back but look forward. We would not place blame but we would give total effort towards accomplishing the only thing that mattered – beating FSU. We promised to each other as brothers and to all the fans who would be there for the game that we would leave everything we had on the field, every muscle, every thought, everything part of ourselves.

Gator fans decided on that sparkling fall Saturday that they too would look forward and not sulk. They had every reason to boo but they decided that their goal was the same as the Gator team –  beat FSU. A magic synergy rose between the Gator team and the fans that day. We fed off of each other. The fans cheered our three-yard runs like 80-yard touchdowns. Deafening roars answered every FSU incompletion. We could do no wrong and the Seminoles could do no right according to the Gator Nation that day. We won, 17-15.

What did that game teach me? By the end of my career I held most of the SEC and Florida game, season, and career pass receiving records, but I would trade them all for the experience of that game. How many passes did I catch that game? None. It was the first time in my career after 25 games that I did not catch a pass. But whether I was blocking downfield, fighting through blockers to cover a punt, or returning punts I can tell you I was having a superb afternoon and loved playing the game. Why? The team effort was total, the fan effort was total, each player felt faster, stronger, smarter because you could feel the positive energy exploding at Florida Field. Never, never, never underestimate that. All of us – players, coaches, fans – were there for each other. And when you play for each other as a team, you are a fierce and very dangerous competitor. I will die remembering that game.

And “no,” I am not being a blind idealist. Older Gator fans know that I have been a relentless critic in the past when I thought it was merited. I absolutely understand, however, that what has happened this year involves so many unexpected and unprecedented events that no college team could experience such adversity and realistically have a superior season.  Think of our last two national championship teams and think of their seasons without either Percy Harvin or Tim Tebow.  Same result?

So that leads me to answering the question that started this discussion, “What do we do now Gator Nation?”

Any Gator fan knows the words by heart, “In all kinds of weather, we’ll all stick together.” We stand and lock arms at the end of third quarters to sing them. But they are more than words to me. They are a promise we make to each other, to the University, to the players, coaches, and fans. We can’t change the past, but we can lock arms and look forward to the future. Honor our promise to each other.

I strongly encourage all of us in the Gator Nation to look forward and embrace this team – all of it.  Regardless of the outcome, we are in this “together.”  Let’s go get it done and move forward the right way.  Let’s do it for each other, and most of all let’s do it for all the Gator players, coaches, administrators, students and fans that over a century have worked so hard to be part of and build our great tradition.  We are, after all, the Gator Nation. Let’s  show the rest of the nation what that means and that we know the better path.

That is what makes the Gator Nation great.

Next articleThoughts of the day: November 15, 2013
Carlos Alvarez will always be remembered for THE catch, the 70-yard touchdown reception against Houston on the third play of Florida's stunning 59-35 win over the Cougars in the first game of the 1969 season. Carlos made first team All-America as a sophomore that year and went on to set receiving records that still haven't been broken at the University of Florida. A three-time Academic All-American, Carlos is a member of both the College Football and Academic All-America halls of fame. He lives in Tallahassee where he is one of the nation's best known environmental attorneys.