It began with my grandfather, who attended the University of Florida in the era BST (Before Series of Tubes). He saw Spurrier as a young man, a quarterback, a kicker, and a Heisman trophy winner. He became a Gator, back when being a Gator didn't mean nine wins in a down year.
Fast forward several decades, and there is a picture of me not many moons removed from entering the world. I have that look that all babies have, of having nary a clue as to where I am but seemingly untroubled by this. I'm wearing a sweatshirt featuring the fighting gator logo, with the words FUTURE GATOR printed on it. I'd wager I wasn't the only baby sporting that sweatshirt, but it pointed my fan compass toward Gainesville early on.
My first memory of a Gator game is the 1994 Sugar Bowl. Being a young lad at the time, I had to go to bed well before the game was over. For whatever reason, I got up later and walked into the family room, where Dad let me stay up to watch the later part of the game. I don't remember much beyond Florida winning big, but I do remember a West Virginia player getting hit so hard that his chinstrap was pointed in ways chinstraps normally don't, and that Spurrier let the players run the hidden ball trick late in the game- the only time I've ever seen that play run in a game.
I spent a few years in California, in the days before CBS' national-broadcast deal with the SEC. We had to order the FSU games on pay-per-view, and nearly didn't get to see it when the cable company didn't do their job. Thanks to Auburn's probation, my dad and I were reduced to watching scores scroll by for that game. We were finally informed that with little time left, Florida led, only to hear the announcer say "And Auburn has just completed a pass to the Florida 9 yard line", and we slumped, realizing what would inevitably happen.
I remember the Choke at Doak. I don't wish to discuss it any further.
I've seen the heartbreaks- or as much as a Gator who grew up in the 90's can claim to have seen. I couldn't stand Warrick Dunn, but I sure respected him. I was 9 when the Fiasco Bowl occurred, and thanks to it I know what utter destruction is. I think Tommie Frazier is still running. I saw Robby Stevenson's punt get blocked so completely that he spun several times in the air. I saw UF's defense so afraid of Peter Warrick that, rather than play tough and risk the big play, they let FSU chew 'em up 10 yards at a time. I watched Shaun Alexander run roughshod over the Florida defense. I watched an inability to tackle UT's backs cost the Gators a chance at denying Da U a national title. Watching The Swindle in the Swamp on TV had me so angry that I could feel my whole body pulsating (though for crying out loud, when the receiver is in the end zone, looking up at what is presumably the ball, lifting his hands to catch this presumable ball, a defender would be well advised to TURN AROUND). I watched Tebow stunningly stopped a yard short on 4th and 1. I saw Mississippi State put up 10 points in a half, and feel like that was an insurmountable lead. I don't care for Wes Byrum. Punk. I wish Steve Addazio good health, but ask that he never set foot on UF's campus again. Please do not interfere with our football team, Addazio.
All the rough times helped make good ones better and the great ones sweeter. In 1996, I remember after the regular-season loss to FSU that 5 things had to happen for Florida to win the national title:
1) Florida must beat Alabama for the SEC Title
2) Texas must upset Nebraska for the Big 12 title
3) Michigan must upset Ohio State
4) Ohio State must beat Arizona State in the Rose Bowl
5) Florida must exact revenge against FSU in the Sugar Bowl
I went to the 1996 SEC title game with my dad, and as we stood in line to kick field goals at the Fanfare event, an enormous cry went up from the hundreds of fans gathered around a television. A man behind us went over to see what the commotion was, and came back wide-eyed, exclaiming that Texas had just gone for it on 4th and 1 and completed a very long pass. The five things all came to pass, including the most important game in UF-FSU history; toward the end of that game, my dad was jumping around the living room like a little kid. I was thrilled too, but he'd seen the Gators go winless or, worse, fall one game short of a monumental achievement. I got to see the Gator football team win the first national title in program history.
Other joyous moments come as quick hits, worthy of their own stories, but best laid out as staccato hits of Gator fandom.
I whooped when Xynidis got called for a personal foul on a punt, and not caring because ho-ly crap did he take that guy's head off!
I stood momentarily transfixed as Doug Johnson found Jacquez Green in 1997, then burst into utter excitement. If that didn't give you total elation, I don't know what in fandom will.
I marveled at Sexy Rexy's blink-and-you-missed-it release, Harvin's frightening speed, and Brandon James' cut-cut-ZOOM returns.
I was there for Tebow's trick play against LSU- not the jump pass, but when, as a freshman, he shoulder-faked a run and then threw a wide-open touchdown pass. Poor Tigers. Not the last team that'd fall for it, but the first time was a treat. I watched among friends as Tebow became the first sophomore to win the Heisman (though the Sex Cannon also should've won it- Crouch was a crock).
I was at the Cockblock game as a student. While the stadium celebrated Tebow's go-ahead touchdown run, I agonized, knowing that Steve Spurrier had the ball with a few minutes on the clock. As Succop lined up for that kick, I died a thousand deaths, and when I realized Florida wasn't calling timeout, I steeled myself for the moment. My dad tells me that it looked like the kick would've missed anyway, but I have no idea. I only remember a deaf elation, shattered by what generations of Gators have described as the loudest that stadium has ever been. In the midst of that, I did manage to yell for someone to fall on the ball after the blocked kick.
I celebrated three times on University Avenue- twice for basketball, once for football. Never got tired of that feeling.
I watched the 2008 SEC Title game from afar. I ate dinner at halftime, and was glad for it. I don't think I could have eaten a thing with how knotted-up my stomach was for the entire second half. Hard-fought victories like that one wipe away even the most Byrum-y of losses, making it all worthwhile.
As a Gator fan, if there's one thing I never got tired of, it was Phil Fulmer's frustrated, defeated face. Well, two things- reminding Tennessee fans that Peyton Manning never beat Florida. They hate that.
I know there are plenty of great and not-so-great moments I didn't mention, but I can remember where I was when they all happened. We're beginning the Muschamp era, and while I'm cautiously optimistic, I'm still optimistic because after all, Florida is and will continue to be among the great programs. Those guys that put the round ball in the hoop thing aren't too shabby themselves ... but that's another topic for another day.