I still remember the day of the 2006 National Championship Game. I was working on campus at WRUF, which meant rushing home after work, changing into my Championship Mode outfit and driving back to campus. I remember skipping (seriously) down University Avenue to Gator City with my ex-girlfriend and two of my best friends to watch the game. They all thought Championship Mode was silly. Just because it worked for the Bucs (Super Bowl XXXVII) and Lightning (2004 Stanley Cup), did not mean it would work for the Gators. Besides, UF was playing UCLA, the greatest basketball program ever.
I also remember being surprised that Gainesville had outlawed street parking on University on game day. I did a radio interview that afternoon with the Gainesville Police's spokesman and asked, "Are you worried this will jinx the team?" Once Florida defeated George Mason in the National Semifinal, I never allowed myself (or anyone around me really) to consider the possibility of the Gators winning, for fear of jinxing them.
Florida immediately took control of the game, which surprised us and UCLA. The Gators were only challenged once in the Tournament (a 57-53 Sweet Sixteen win over Georgetown), and UCLA would not match them either. At halftime, UF led 36-25 and Gator City played dance music, which seemed like another jinx to me. UCLA played as well as UF did in the second half, but every Bruin chance was met with a Gator response. As the final seconds ticked, everyone stood on the tables and chairs and threw beer on people. After the Gators won 73-57, we were dancing again and absolutely stunned at what this team had just done.
A few minutes later, we walked out to University Avenue and saw this.
The memory of University being so filled with people that you couldn't leave the bar will always stay with me. The entire town was outside and chanting, "It's great to be a Florida Gator!" I was in the streets for the 2006 football and 2007 basketball celebrations, but your first time means so much more. For my generation of Gator fans, who were too young for Wuerffel and had to endure Zook, the 2006 Basketball Championship is one of the best nights of our lives. It put Billy Donovan and Joakim Noah over Steve Spurrier and Emmitt Smith in our ranking of Gator heroes.
We could not stay out too late that night because on Tuesday, three of us had to report on what just happened. I got to go to Gainesville Raceway, where 7000 people greeted the team back from Indianapolis. The players delicately avoided any NBA talk or, "One more year," stuff. But Noah famously predicted the football team would win the next championship and that we were all invited to party with him in Midtown Gainesville that night.
Three days later, Corey Brewer, Al Horford and Noah announced during the championship celebration in the O'Connell Center that they would be returning. That was another Classic Moment In Championship Mode as the basketball team created a run of athletic dominance that UF is still feeling and may never be seen again.