I took my kids to the carnival on Sunday, a needed distraction from the preceding night’s basketball debacle. As I’ve aged, I have noticed my fanhood hasn’t waned, but I am able to more easily move past losses that would once have ruined a weekend. This is probably some sort of fatherhood evolution, as young children aren’t too accepting of the excuse . . . “I’m sorry, but the Gators lost”. At least not mine, anyway. And so, we spent a day endlessly riding (we bought the wristbands) the carnival rollercoaster, a swinging pirate ship, the burlap sack slide (I won every race!) … and regrettably, the spinning swings.
The latter was my idea – an effort to avoid another neck-jostling coaster run.
As we spun, for what seemed like an eternity, my kids laughed hysterically. Not me. I fixated my sight on the swirling horizon, hoping to diminish the dizziness. “Ugh. Stop this damn thing,” I thought. “I should have stuck with the coaster”.
My next line of defense was to think of something other than gross ride that wouldn’t end. Any guesses as to where my brain went?
Yup – Gators basketball, and the loss that was as disgusting at my current situation.
Or was it?
“It has been more of a rollercoaster season for the Gators,” I thought, still spinning.
And though rollercoasters should be fun, especially for the young, that hasn’t been the case for a group ranked 344th in average experience. Nope. Instead, the exuberance of youth has been suppressed by lofty expectations and steep drops – one that have players, coaches and fans gripping tightly.
Florida has often looked tentative, hesitant . . . tight. And it’s not just the players. Coach White, at times, appears like a man without sleep – pacing the sidelines and tensely shouting set-plays to a group that just as anxiously awaits instructions.
Instructions? The Gators scrapped its free-flowing offense a few games into the season, after looking more like bumper cars. Was this a knee-jerk reaction to a slow start, or a needed change of course for a group that required direction?
That answer depends on which fan you ask. But be ready for an earful – and not a cheerful earful!
Yup, like the players and coaches – the fans appear something less than happy. Wins are greeted with almost audible sighs of relief, while losses feed frustration . . . loud frustration.
It is 15 games into the season, and Florida (10-5, 2-1) plays only its 4th conference game tonight – but there is no joy in Gainesville.
The program, it seems, has moved off its rollercoaster ride – as even those complement the ‘downs’ with some ‘ups’. It now feels as if it too has strapped into these nauseating, spinning swings. . .
A team saddled with expectations plays tight…. a fan base, once elevated by those same expectations, demands more….. enthusiasm is overtaken by frustration and anxiety. And the ride operator presses whatever buttons he can find – only to see it spin again.
Yuck. I’m stepping off. Well, as soon as thing stops!
Hell, maybe I’ll just jump off.
But I sure as heck am not leaving the carnival. Nope – I’m going back on the coaster. And this time I’m going try to enjoy the ride. I won’t grip so tightly. Heck, I may even throw my hands up.
I’m hoping to see a few other fans come along. But more than anything – I hope the players and coaches hop on.
As I think back on this early portion of the season – I haven’t seen the team play ‘happy’ since Charleston. In fact, the image Noah Locke hoisting the tourney trophy and his teammates wearing huge grins struck me even at that moment. It was the first – and to date, last – time I saw these kids and coaches really laughing.
So, to them I say . . . smile, laugh – enjoy the game. Embrace the ride! It renews again tonight versus Ole Miss.
As for me – with 16 regular season games, nearly a full conference slate, the SEC tourney and potential post season all remaining – I’m ready to ride. After all, I did buy the wristband.