What Shrodinger’s Tigers can teach the Florida Gators & their fans

Long, long ago when men still played in leather helmets a man named Erwin Schrodinger devised a brilliant thought experiment to demonstrate some of the difficulties associated with quantum mechanics and how humans perceive the everyday world. Mr. Schrodinger imagined a cat locked in a sealed steel box with a Geiger counter and small amount of a radioactive substance. When the Geiger counter detected the decay of the radioactive substance it broke a vial of acid that would kill the cat. No one could observe the system until someone opens the steel box. As a result, Schrodinger’s Cat can be thought of as being both alive and dead until opening of the steel box and the cat can be observed by an outside observer. Physicists have used this thought experiment to explain the concept of quantum probability ever since Mr. Schrodinger created it. While the probability is very high that the cat dies in this experiment, a neutral observer can never be absolutely sure that the cat has died until you open the box and see it dead and there is a probability, ever so remote that the cat can still be alive. So, how does this classic thought experiment relate to the 2014 Florida Gators football team? Right now, the Florida Gator’s football season has a multitude of possible outcomes. The outcomes run the gamut between winning the College Football Playoffs to losing every single game on our schedule in embarrassing fashion. However, every season, every team across the country starts the season with that same set of possible outcomes. All of these possibilities exist with a chance of coming into what we all perceive as reality. Last season a team on the plains of Alabama faced similar questions and obstacles and those cats were forced into a box. Everyone knew that the probability of their season becoming meaningful were so remote that no one entertained the possibility of the Auburn Tigers winning an SEC Championship. Moreover, I am not even sure that anyone at Auburn University really thought they would end up where they ended up. I call them Schrodinger’s Tigers. In 2012 they finished the season 3-9. They fired their head coach and installed a new offensive system. They had lots of questions surrounding their team and absolutely no one picked them to end up playing for any kind of championship. No one even picked them to win their division. No one really talked about them at all because you would have been crazy to pick them to play in a championship game; they would have probably revoked press credentials had anyone actually picked them in the preseason. Vegas had Schrodinger’s winning the National Championship at odds between 500-1 and 1000-1; those are spectacularly long odds. No one gave them a shot at doing anything. However, even some poor saps took those sucker bets. Then something funny happened, the season actually started and teams starting playing football. Schrodinger’s Tigers found themselves pulling out a win against Mississippi State with a late touchdown pass. Suddenly, they were undefeated, but no one thought they could win their division because they played in the toughest division in college football and they still had to beat LSU and the greatest team in college football history, which was simply the latest incarnation of Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide Football Factory. Everyone knew in the preseason that Bama would be playing in the BCSCG and for its place in football history. After that thrilling win against Mississippi State, they lost a game to LSU, it only seemed to confirm every bias that everyone had about them. If they couldn’t beat LSU, how were they going to beat Bama? However, they kept winning. They played in another close game against Ole Miss and then needed another late touchdown and then a final stop of Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel to beat Texas A&M. Then they dispatched Arkansas and Tennessee, which brought Georgia to town. With one loss already in the books, another loss would skin Schrodinger’s Tigers SEC title chances. Exactly how many lives do cats have again? As they played Georgia at Jordan Hare stadium, it looked like the numbers were finally going to catch up with Schrodinger’s Tigers. With 38 seconds left in the game it was 4th and 18 from their own 26 yard line, Georgia only had to stop one more play. As the ball was snapped 87,451 people in Jordan Hare Stadium held their breath and left their season in the hands of a play with little probability of success. Call it an answered prayer or simply the conversion of a low percentage play to keep the numbers honest, but here is the result of that play: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g_8tl0Q2pQg You see how there are two defenders behind the receiver, he’s well covered; then, the defender tips the ball right to the receiver streaking down the middle of field who runs in untouched to score. I had the privilege to watch that play live, watching it on replay…I still can’t believe that play worked out the way it did. However, everyone knew that this unlikely dance with probability was going to end against Bama because well they were Auburn and Bama is Bama. The game was a back and forth affair, which surprised everyone watching except those that knew that Schrodinger’s Tigers could still be alive. After tying the game up 28-28 with a 39-yard touchdown pass with 32 seconds left, Nick Saban, the greatest living mind in college football, decided to attempt a long field goal instead of running out the clock and waiting for overtime. What happened next, well my friends, I can’t even put it into words. Just watch this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HqIBNX0CXDc Wait. What? How many lives do these Tigers get? How many people in that stadium even knew you could return a missed field goal? That’s simply just not the kind of play you see every day. I can take Hail Mary’s and last second heroics, but that play truly stretched the concept of improbable finishes and last second heroics. How did a game to determine the SEC West representative in Atlanta end in a fashion more likely seen in sand lot football than the SEC? Seriously, that play now has its own Wikipedia page and at least five minutes a week devoted to it at practice at Bama until the end of time. They beat Mizzou the next week in a wild game and set up a show down with Florida State in the BCSCG. We all know how the season ended for Schrodinger’s Tigers. They gave the Florida State Seminoles, the latest team to be crowned the greatest college football team of all time, all they could handle until the final seconds ticked off the clock in the BCSCG. They had finally lost their dance with the numbers and probability. Schrodinger’s Tigers finally died on that field that night. Some lesser minds would call their season vanity because they couldn’t win that final game and totally confound the odds. However, I think Schrodinger’s Tigers are the makings of a wonderful parable about hope and belief in the face of long odds. I heard that in Hollywood, producers are rejecting scripts about their season because it just sounds like something that requires the suspension of too much disbelief. However, the parable of Schrodinger’s Tigers lives on. Also remember those poor saps that laid money on the Tigers at 500-1 odds, a couple smart ones hedged their bets and still ended up winning a ton of money. The moral of this parable is that sometimes, long odds pay off, Hail Mary’s can be caught, and cats in steel boxes can survive. Hope doesn’t make you ill-informed or blind to facts; it only makes you an optimist. So when someone tells you hope is a dirty word in the Gator Nation this preseason, just remember Schrodinger’s Tigers because they emerged from their steel box very much alive and took on the odds all the way to an SEC Championship.

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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. I like your physics angle, we’ll see September 20 if UF can defy the odds this season. Alabama looks vulnerable. They are going to be starting an unknown quantity at quarterback and have not handled a mobile quarterback very well. I’d feel a lot better about UF’s chances if that quarterback was not named Driskel. But, the possibility of him becoming a good quarterback is much higher than the possibility of myself being able to walk through a wall, another thing that can happen in the quantum world.

    • I agree that Alabama has a lot of questions on their roster and they have struggled containing mobile quarterbacks, one needs to look no further than their handling of Johnny Manziel the past two years to see their defensive vulnerabilities. I think our offense will be improved and only a modest improvement will make our defense even better. I am hopeful that the offensive scheme will play much more to Driskel’s strengths. My deepest hopes are that Driskel is simply a late bloomer on the cusp of a breakout season because of the new scheme…I can’t wait to open the box on this season!

  2. Even though it was like reading a George Will Op-Ed, this was an excellent piece. Just because we are sports fans, our commentators don’t need to dumb down what we read. This was humorous, intellectually stimulating, thought provoking, and informative. Well done. Looking forward to more pieces from the author.


  3. Oh no…I just went from hoping we don’t suck to winning it all…(insert the dumb and dumber video link…)GO GATORS!!! The paradox of college ball…playing the game offers the opportunity for good things to happen, regardless of the probability of it happening. Is your next piece on Brownian Motion or Wave Particle Duality? Any time you connect quantum physics and football you know you’re having fun…HA! Good stuff…

    • GO GATORS! I am not sure about my next piece, I am just going to take my approach word by word and article by article and hopefully something good comes out of it. I just wanted to remind people that being a fan should be fun and to save the Haterade for our rivals!

  4. Nicely done, Christopher. I too am a huge fan of both theoretical physics and football. Last year, the 19th, 20th and 21st injuries are what pushed us through the event horizon and into the inexorable gravitational well. Seven straight painful losses recorded intractably in plank sized units in the season’s surface area. I’m pretty sure that guys like Ed Witten, Leonard Susskind and Alan Guth would project nothing short of a 9-3 season, and wouldn’t rule out the possibilty of wins in Tuscaloosa and Tallahassee.

    • I am a fan as well…I like how it can lead to things that may not be obvious at first glance. I see a lot of positives out there for this team and I think we will surprise a lot of people. I think you are right on at 9-3, but the ceiling for this team may be even higher than that if the odds are in our favor…