Every time ESPN's Brad Nessler broadcasted a game from Gainesville this season, he would say, "Live from a packed house..." even though it wasn't true. For the first time in my history as a Florida Basketball fan, there were empty sections, not empty rows. Seeing that bothered me. I watched my final game as a student in 2006 alone in the last row, because my new girlfriend didn't win the online lottery. A student now could walk up on game day and sit on Nessler's lap.
The author with Joakim Noah. Gainesville Raceway, April 4, 2006.
From 2000-2007, Florida won three SEC Championships, three SEC Tournaments, three National Finalists and two National Championships. But, things change quickly. You can blame a lot of things for the empty seats; a down SEC, a down economy, bad teams. It came down to not winning enough.
The Gators are back to being winners, even if they backed into the Tournament. For the next few days, I think you will see a quiet confidence from Gator fans. (Not because UF can or will win. Actually, with BYU's ability to shoot threes, they could pull a Mississippi State on the Gators.) Instead of thinking about these Gators, fans will think about the old Gators. Those guys were not expected to win anything either.
By reaching the Tournament, UF has reclaimed something we thought had become a birthright and we'll go back to acting like we're supposed to crush all comers. We're 100% wrong, but damnit, doesn't it feel good again to be a winning team?