The date was Sept. 4, 2010.
It was a day hot enough to melt your face off, but thousands of excited fans refused to let the sun zap their energy as they piled into Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
After a disappointing loss to Alabama on Dec. 5, 2009 in the SEC Championship game, fans had determined that 2010 would be a year of redemption.
The hero of Gator Nation, Tim Tebow, had moved on to the NFL, but it was a new era. It was time for John Brantley to slide his feet into the gargantuan shoes left behind by a college immortal and lead a historic program back to a championship.
The stadium was buzzing with energy as Brantley and the rest of the offense took the field. Fans were ready for another opening day blowout to justify the Gators’ No. 4 national ranking.
Brantley stood in shotgun with tens of thousands of eyes on him and called for the snap.
The stadium let out a collective gasp as the ball sailed over Brantley’s head and he was forced to dive on it for a loss as Miami (Ohio) players swarmed around him.
Fans exchanged terrified and puzzled looks as the Gators mustered a pathetic 13 total yards of offense in the first half. Eight fumbles and 212 yards of offense later, the Gators had won their opening game, but there were no more excited smiles.
It appeared Tebow had left not footprints to fill, but canyons.
Fast forward 335 days.
The pain of 2010 still exists, but fans and students have removed their Band-Aids. Gainesville is once again on the cusp of another football season, and it is clear the excitement and expectations are building.
Gator basketball is widely popular, and the Gators’ swim program even has a solid fan base, but it is obviously football that Gator Nation is most looking forward to.
It is once again a new era in Gainesville. Will Muschamp replaces Urban Meyer as the head football coach of the Gators, and he has swept in with the winds of change and an unrivaled tenacity.
Fans seem to have caught on and many are absorbing Muschamp’s infectious enthusiasm. They want to see Brantley improve and lead the team to the promised land that many expect.
Summer is almost over, and the atmosphere of fandom is on the doorstep. It is time for hollering until lungs are sore, clapping until hands are numb and smiling until teeth appear painted onto faces.
It is time for Gators sports once again. Fans appear giddy with excitement after a long, scorching summer, and they are ready to back their football team even after an un-Gator-like season.
And they should be. This is Gator Country.
Video By: BRIAN RICHIE and ZAC BLOBNER