It was a dream come true, or at least was supposed to be.
My first time covering a Florida Gators football game was supposed to be a memorable time. I had been to many games before, but this time I was watching the action as a member of the media.
However, as is the case a lot of times in journalism, what was supposed to be the story is eschewed in favor of something out of the blue, or in this case the gray.
The ominous dark clouds emerged over Ben Hill Griffin Stadium and stayed there, ultimately causing enough lightning delays and rain to terminate Florida’s game against Idaho. While the storms never left, it was who stayed along that made my first time working a game memorable – the students.
Through the downpour and thunder, a good portion were there, around 40 percent. More than I would have every imagined. I mean, even my colleague Nick and I went inside when the rain got into the shaded press box.
As the hours waged on, I was taken aback by the scene unfolding before me. As a current Gator and a diehard fan since I can remember, the passion in those that stayed resonated with me.
Last night left a lasting impression because this type of dedication shown by the students wasn’t there last year. The section was criticized last year for showing up late to games and leaving them early. During the early sales, student tickets for this season were at an all-time low, leaving diehard alums to wonder if the new generation of Gators were disconnected from the program.
But tonight was different, it was the passion of the fan base of old. During delays, they entertained themselves, sliding on the bleachers, hitting a beach ball around, even singing Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline.”
At one point a US Soccer “I believe that we will win,” chant broke out.
For freshman Jonathan Vargas, watching his first game at The Swamp was an opportunity he was willing to stick around for, using the internet to stay alert of the latest updates, and participating in the loud “Orange, Blue,” chants throughout the night.
Those working at the stadium did their part to keep those in attendance entertained as well, playing the Clemson-Georgia and Oklahoma State-Florida State games. The crowd in attendance cheered for the Cowboys, while surprisingly placing conference over rivalry and cheered for Georgia.
Walking out of the stadium, I talked with two students, both respecting the section for staying the entire night. One of them went to UCF and said the students there wouldn’t have done the same.
The respect came from alums as well, such as Curtis Knight, who came from Orlando to watch the game live. Staying in the O’Connell Center for half of the delay, he went back out to see a group not dismayed by the wait, but embracing it.
“I think like the whole, whoever started the ‘In All Kinds of Weather,’ that was going around and I think that motivated to everyone to stick around and have fun with it,” he said.
The night didn’t go according to plan for everyone involved, but the character of Gator Nation established hope inside those that grew up with a rabid fan base. Freshman Matthew Hewett summed up last night’s feeling well.
“I’m pretty bummed, but it’s still great to be a Florida Gator.”