My family was one of the millions who came to Florida from "The North" in the 1980s and 1990s. My father's company was opening a new office in Tampa and my Dad couldn't pass up the weather, the salary and lack of a state income tax. We left Rockville Centre, New York, the same place the Donovans would leave seven years after we did.
I picked the Gators when I was five. One of our new neighbors gave me an Albert The Alligator sticker, so I decided to root for UF. In elementary school, I stuck with the Gators in part because it seemed like all the jackasses at Claywell Elementary were FSU fans. Years later, I remain immature and still think FSU people suck.
But, when you are a kid, with no real connection to a school, you jump on and off bandwagons. I also rooted for Notre Dame just as much as UF. My younger brother who graduated from UF in 2008 was a FSU and Michigan fan. Playing youth football in Tampa, we were both bigger NFL than college football fans.
In high school, you become more sophisticated about colleges, specifically which you can be accepted to. In my case, I dialed back my UF and Notre Dame fandom. I knew I wouldn't get into Notre Dame (you need straight-A's and I was terrible in Spanish) and I worried about getting into UF (who is very inconsistent in applying their admissions standards). I visited Miami, Georgia, North Carolina, William & Mary and Duke. I ended up applying to four schools in 2001; UF, UNC, Virginia and Rutgers. UNC was the first school to respond, telling me I was deferred and could choose to appeal. That was as good as a rejection. Virginia would reject me too, but applying there was probably a waste of time.
The letter from UF came the day of Gasparilla in 2002. I will forever remember that because my entire family knew I got into UF before I did. I was at the parade and did not have a cell phone. My Mom made my brother open the letter because she was worried it was a rejection letter and did not want me to see it. I can still remember how happy my parents were and the next week at school, which was spent congratulating other Gators. I was accepted to Rutgers a few days later, but New Jersey did not sound as good as Gainesville.
If you have read this website since August of 2007, you might have noticed that I can be critical of the Gators but over the top in my love for the University of Florida. As much fun as it was winning national championships and having the opportunity to cover those teams for The Independent Florida Alligator and WRUF, I would still love the Gators because I love my school. Even if Billy Donovan coached in the Big East or Tim Tebow went to Alabama, I'd still love Florida because my school and Gainesville took care of me for four years of my life.
My story is not unique. Of my group of friends, we all want to be wealthy enough to become Bull Gators. The fandom of my age group is based on athletic success. But it is also based in part on the University's status during our academic careers. UF is constantly expanding, despite a state government hellbent on controlling the school's power. UF President Bernie Machen has the personality of the Turlington rock, but he is just as hellbent on making UF a top-10 public school. Attending Florida in the 2000s is to attend a school that is fighting the world.
That is why we love the Gators as much as the University of Florida. "The Gator Nation is everywhere" might have started as a lame advertising campaign, but it became a rallying cry for our age group. Here it is, in all of it's glory.