At some point tonight it will happen.
It will finally happen.
Chris Walker will alas shed the warm-up jersey, stride to the scorer’s table and await his long overdue moment.
He will be signaled not only by a whistle and stoppage of play, but the roar of an impatient, clamoring, Chris-crazed crowd.
Free at last.
And somewhere within that crowd, two fans – two GatorCountry forum favorites — united in cause, may clap a bit louder and stand a bit taller.
Well, maybe not — but they should.
“Nah, I don’t think I can claim any responsibility,” laughed forum member, UFreak. “But I will absolutely be there — and wearing the shirt,” he said.
It has become famous. Well, somewhat famous— as has its slogan.
“Free Chris Walker”.
As weeks and games slipped away, the mantra imploring the NCAA to grant the Florida freshman his eligibility, spread across message boards, fan sites, twitter — and t-shirts.
10 T-shirts, to be exact.
“As the ‘Free Chris Walker’ discussions were happening on our forum I thought it would make a great shirt. So, I had 10 t-shirts printed with the intent of placing them for maximum exposure,” UFFreak said, keeping semi-anonymity behind his screen name.
And if UFreak was the manufacturer, he found a willing distributor in fellow forum fan, MikeChap93.
“We swapped phone numbers on the forum because we both wanted this to happen. He brought the shirts and I handed them out,” MikeChap93 said.
A pregame meeting was brief and efficient — a quick exchange of greetings before getting to the business at hand.
“I gave him pretty clear instructions — give them to students right up-front and in places they will be spotted,” UFreak recalled. “And he did a great job”.
Indeed he did.
Images of Rowdy Reptiles donning the shirts during the January 14 game versus Georgia quickly hit the big time. CNNsi, Yahoo Sports, NBC Sports and ESPN were all among the outlets broadcasting the shirts and their message.
One sports blogger suggested the “Free Chris Walker” campaign had ‘officially become a movement’.
If it was a movement, it was one both UFreak and MikeChap93 felt compelled to get behind.
“It just seemed like another way to get a bit of exposure to the story,” said UFreak, who shelled out nearly $200 for the printed shirts.
And that story is one all basketball Gator fans, especially MikeChap93 had become painfully aware.
“I really follow basketball and recruiting, and have been so excited to watch him play,” he said. “And then this just kept dragging on and on. I figured I would do whatever I could to help.”
Their combined efforts did help, to what degree is debatable — but those shirts were noticed not only by the national media, but also fans.
“I had tons of fans coming up to me and asking where I got the shirt. They really got a great response,” Mikechap93 said.
The biggest response, literally and metaphorically, came from the most unlikely — or maybe the most likely — of sources.
“As we were walking out, a lady asked if she could take a picture. We turned around and there was Chris Walker waiting to be in the photo,” MikeChap93 said. “So I have a picture of my friend and me wearing the shirts, and Chris smiling between us”.
And what did Chris say about those shirts?
“He thanked us for coming out and supporting,” MikeChap93 revealed.
UFreak and MikeChap93 — manufacturer and distributor — will come out again tonight to show support. So too will 10,000 fellow fans.
This time, Chris Walker will come out with them.
Freed Chris Walker.