[written September 5th, 2014]
I think I speak for hundreds of thousands of Gator fans, if not millions, when I say opening weekend of the college football season was one colossal ball of complete frustration. One Gator Nation won’t soon forget.
This opening game promised the kind of debut that I wanted to personally witness but family obligations served to keep me in Jacksonville for Labor Day weekend. That didn’t lessen my enthusiasm to see the 2014 edition of the Fightin’ Florida Gators take the football field. I am hyped beyond belief for this season, and my family will attest to the fact that I’m normally hyped for every season of Gator football.
But this is different.
This has the possibility of legitimately being one of our more historic seasons. One important reason is just how severely misunderstood this team is, vis-à-vis talent. A few weeks ago I was sitting in my dentist’s office in Tallahassee. It’s a husband-wife family shop and their son recently joined the practice; he would be responsible for finishing the work on two previously fitted crowns. During the process, we chatted sports. He made it known that he was a U.F. graduate, but the Seminoles were his childhood favorite and he never switched allegiances (that was a first for me; I’d never met a person like that, if you know what I mean). When he joked about the upcoming season and I made it clear how good we were going to be, he was momentarily frozen – as if he was trying to figure out the joke.
No joke, sonny boy.
One historic season of injuries has completely confused many, including many within Gator Nation, regarding the genuine strengths of this team. To me, this season has the feel of Urban Meyer’s second season, when many in Tallahassee and elsewhere were openly joking about that new coach of ours, that fullback we had recruited named Tim Tebow that we mistakenly thought was a quarterback, that undersized and underachieving Carolinian pansy of a quarterback who was given the job over a deserving Ingle Martin and in no way, shape or form fit the gimmicky Urban Meyer offense.
Blah, blah, blah.
That’s what this season feels like to me. It’s time to re-open that Florida Orange and Royal Blue can of Fightin’ Gator Kick-Azz. It’s time to let the Bull Gator eat! And we have the personnel and coaching staff to do just that.
So, although disappointed I wouldn’t be able to personally witness the debut of this re-energized Gator offense, around 5:45 p.m. I settled in to a seat at the Buffalo Wild Wings in River City Marketplace on Jacksonville’s Northside near the Airport. The place was packed, and raucous. I thought to myself, “This is just right. Football time in F.L.A., Georgia-Clemson knocking heads on the big screen, West Virginia giving Bama a hard time (and the Bama QB looking decidedly pedestrian), Auburn and Arkansas doing battle on the Plains and the Hawgs were looking very competitive. And some other games that didn’t really hold my interest.
So I turned on my Kindle Fire HDX, found TuneIn, and began listening to a bit of the Gator pre-game while periodically unplugging my earbuds to follow the smack talk going on between are sizable group of Clemson and Georgia fans in my area. There were also a representative group of Auburn and Bama fans around, both groups clearly more nervous than they thought they’d be.
Perfect, I mean absolutely perfect appetizers for the main event awaiting at The Swamp.
Soon, however, everything started to go wrong. I had earlier checked WRUF Weather and seen this:
— WRUF Weather (@WRUFWeather) August 30, 2014
As a slight weather nerd, I knew this was ominous. Any indication of very likely rain and lightning within 90 miles or so meant the strong possibility of very likely rain and lightning at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, and a weather delay dependent of the lightning moving on and not settling in.
No one can predict that kind of stuff with real accuracy.
Sure enough, as 7 p.m. was approaching I could hear Mick Hubert saying something about the countdown clock for opening kickoff had stopped counting down. I seem to recall it was stuck at the 19 minute mark or something like that. This meant we were in a delay situation. All of the other games became far less interesting to me and a very real sense of frustration began settling in.
Soon after 7 p.m. I saw this tweet from WRUF:
— WRUF Weather (@WRUFWeather) August 30, 2014
That pretty much sealed the deal for me. The weather in Jacksonville was perfect, not so in Gainesville. With a bad weather cell not clearing the area of Florida Field until somewhere around 8, the game couldn’t possibly start until the 8:45 or 9 p.m. range.
So I got the hell out of dodge, dejected as all get out, and began trying to come to terms with not getting my long anticipated “fix” of Gator football. I gave up on even trying to find out if the game would be played later that night and resigned myself to watching it, if it was played at all (and we now know how that turned out), the following week via the SEC Network’s OnDemand feature.
The agony, however, was damn near palpable. It was the opening weekend of the college football season. Unable to be in the stadium, and instead in Jacksonville surrounded by folks who just wanted to enjoy the Labor Day weekend, the weirdness quickly settled in. My super-hyped senses were waiting with incredible anticipation to see  the first kick,  the first action,  the first snap,  the first run,  the first pass,  the initial first down, and – hopefully –  the first game-opening touchdown drive of the season. Seven thoughts for seven points. I was not only waiting for all of that, I was (much like an addict) demanding it.
Instead . . . nada.
So, what did I do? Believe it or not, I traipsed over to Three Layers Café (motto: Dessert first. Delicious Always.) where my oldest sister was hanging out with three other women, one and old UF girlfriend of mine. That Jamaican family, none of whom now live in town, had sold her a property in the Springfield section of Jacksonville. The three were back in Jacksonville checking on some other family properties, trying to work through landlord-tenant issues, property manager issues, etc., and their interaction with Big Sister had gone so well, they wanted to meet-up and planned the Three Layers get-together.
That’s right. I crashed an all-female event on the opening Saturday night of the college football season.
The weirdness, the weirdness!
Now, it’s the weekend all over again and I am back to regular thinking. Yes, yes, yes – seven points for seven thoughts. I’m thinking about Number 6, Jeff Driskel, demonstrating a command presence out on Florida Field. I’m also thinking about Numbers 21, Kelvin Taylor; 24, Matt Jones; and 33, Mack Brown running Eastern Michigan crazy out in that humid Florida heat. But like many Gators, I am most especially thinking about the three sets of three-deep wide receivers listed on our depth chart, a three-deep we desperately want to love, and their chemistry – or lack thereof – with Jeff Driskel.
In my first group of three, WR-Z, as a Jacksonville boy I am most pleased when my Gators have some Jacksonville kids kicking ass and taking names. Number 5, Ahmad Fulwood – I’m talking about you, and to you, son. Represent Big Duval! Handle your damn business. Number 4, Andre Debose – we already know what you can do, bruh. Do it, Volusia, do it! Number 85, Chris Thompson – make the home folks proud, bwah! GHS, GHS, GHS!
In the next group of three, WR-X, is Number 1, Quinton Dunbar – sorry, my man, but you know that Duval vs. Dade thing is strong and I couldn’t put your group first but, hey, show me sumpin, sumpin Dade County. Number 11, Demarcus Robinson – Jacquez Green told me you were something special, Peach County. Prove it, Georgia Boy, because I believe Quez is correct and I want to see you deliver a dagger come Florida-Georgia week. Number 89, Alvin Bailey – hit 'em with that quickness, Hillsborough, juke ‘em silly.
For the next group of three, WR-Y, first up is Number 9, Latroy Pittman – make the home folks proud, bwah! I've been singing your praises to family members since you signed and patiently waiting for you to blast onto the scene. Now's the time, Marion County, now is the time. Number 10, Valdez Showers – we've seen flashes of you, Michigan, and we want to see more! And as for you, Number 14 C.J. Worton – you made them Noles mad as hell and that’s cool with me. Do your thing, Dade County, do your thing.
Those who have been reading me on our message board know that I have a special interest in Treon Harris at quarterback. I’ll have more on that once we have a chance to see him perform in The Swamp.
Finally, I haven’t purposefully ignored any other units of the football team. It’s just that this extended frustration I’m experiencing most easily expressed via my inability to see what this offense can do. I have complete confidence in the entire defense and offensive line coach Mike Summers seems like one hell of a teacher. Here’s to hoping we see the results of superior coaching and superior play on Saturday.
In my dreams I can hear all of the questions about that big, bad Bull Gator wearing the orange and blue. And I hear myself answering – Him? He hongry! Hongry, I say!
So let the Bull Gator eat! Look out, Eastern Michigan, look the hell out !!!