Where I Come From: Tailgating Traditions; This Is Championship Mode

This post is sponsored by EA Sports NCAA Football 2011.

You should take Florida Gators games seriously. Especially big games. On Alligator Army, we call those Championship Mode games.

Championship Mode is not something you fool around with. This isn't for the frat boys who wake up at 11am on gameday and get to the stadium during introductions. And it sure as hell isn't for the South Florida kids who show up in the second quarter and tell you to stop standing on their seat. Championship Mode is for the real fans. Only the real fans are crazy enough to treat big games like a battle of life and death. Only the real fans are crazy enough to lift their team to victory, either in the stadium or in a bar, 2000 miles away.

Championship Mode is part superstition, part fandom. My friends and I drink Michelob Light because Gator's Dockside had it on special during the 2006 SEC Basketball Tournament, so it became The Official Beer Of Championship Mode. I wear the same shorts I wore for the Tampa Bay Lightning's win in Game 7 of the 2004 Stanley Cup Finals, so those are lucky too. Being in Championship Mode also means making sacrifices for the team. You don't get plastered Friday night at Grog because you have to eat breakfast and be at the tailgate by 9am. You don't care if that hot chick from Geology lab is in the row ahead of you BECAUSE ADDAZIO WON'T THROW THE BALL DOWNFIELD AND YOU HAVE TO YELL LOUDER, BECAUSE HE CAN'T HEAR YOU WITH HIS HEAD UP HIS ASS. (There might be a lack of decorum with Championship Mode, but never a lack of focus.)

Of course, Championship Mode means different things to different people. All of us know someone who has been tailgating in the same spot for years and wears the same clothes for the Tennessee, Georgia, LSU and FSU games. They're in Championship Mode. Those guys with the radio headsets and Spurrier visors? Old school Championship Mode. It's the idea that you can impact the game, even if you're not there or on the field.

The biggest point of controversy surrounding Championship Mode has been the use of alcohol. Since I invented Championship Mode, whatever I say is correct. However, friends have made the point that they need to drink pregame so they can be in Championship Mode. (Sort of like a few beers to get the courage to hit on chicks at a bar.) I have softened on this point since I enjoy a pregame Bombay & Tonic and my Mich Light. I also cannot refuse a free drink, since that is bad karma and you don't need bad karma pre-game. The rule remains that you can't be drunk and in Championship Mode. A few drinks along with some Gatorade and a designated driver still fits within the range of Championship Mode.

My favorite Championship Mode memory is the 2006 BCS Championship Game against Ohio State. My friends and I watched the game at Gator City, since that was where we watched the 2006 George Mason and UCLA games. After Ted Ginn scored to give OSU a 7-0 lead, people in the bar started clapping, as if we were willing the team back in the game. Of course, the Gators rolled down the field and scored to tie the game, which prompted my friend Hanson to grab my shoulders and say, "THEY CAN'T STOP US!" Sure enough, UF could not be stopped. 

After the 2006 win over UCLA, everyone knew University Avenue would be swarming with kids if we beat Ohio State. But no one left the bars until Urban Meyer got the Gatorade bath. Then we sprinted out the doors and on to University. There were twice the number of people as there were nine months earlier. Unlike the UCLA game, which was fun but we didn't understand the magnitude of the win, this was a sense of disbelief. Finally, finally, we won. The football team will always be The Team in Gainesville and that night was an example of that feeling. Beating the supposedly unbeatable Ohio State, in Urban's second year, was nearly unthinkable. We all came back in April of 2007 to see the Gators beat Ohio State again. Well, not all of us. Rest in peace, UF Plaza tree.


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