I have been a fan of the Florida Gators for as long as I can remember and I have many great memories of Gator games I've attended and of four wonderful years in Gainesville, but the top two memories didn't take place in Gainesville and are of games I didn't attend.
My second favorite Gator memory is November 22, 1997. Coming off the 1996 National Championship, the '97 season had been a bit of a disappointment. The Gators dropped a night game in Baton Rouge, and lost to Georgia for the first time since Steve Spurrier took over as coach, while FSU was number one in the nation, and looked unstoppable. Things looked dim for the Gators, and my dad had to drive to Miami to pick up some equipment for work, so I decided to ride with him rather than watch what looked to be a disappointing end to a disappointing season.
We got to Miami right around kickoff, and caught the first couple of plays on the TV in the waiting area of the shop. Listening to the game on the radio, we could get good reception for most of the first half, and were thrilled that the Gators were in the game. With Florida taking a one point lead into the half, we decided to take I-95 back to Orlando, rather than the Turnpike, in hopes of finding more radio stations carrying the game. The game went back and forth in the second half, and I frantically tuned radio looking for the game as we passed into and out of range for the stations we passed. (This sometimes forced us to listen to the Seminole broadcast.) When the Gators got the ball back, trailing the Seminoles by 4 with just over two minutes, we stopped in a Publix parking lot so we could hear the end of the game. Doug Johnson hit Jacquez Green on the first play from scrimmage, setting up a Fred Taylor touchdown run two plays later. I'll always remember high-fiving and hugging my dad in his Jeep Grand Cherokee when Florida's defense stepped up and picked off a third down pass, sealing the game.
My favorite Gator memory took place 10 years later. My wedding was a little over three months away, and I was in a hospital room with my dad, watching Tim Tebow shred the Florida State defense en route to a 45-12 Gator victory.
A week earlier my dad and I went to Gainesville for the only home game we would see live all season, and for all we knew it could have been the last game we would go to together. On our way into the stadium, he pulled me aside and told me he had some nitroglycerin pills in his pocket, and told me what to do if anything should happen. Earlier that week he had been told that he would need to have triple bypass surgery, which was scheduled for the following Tuesday. Fortunately, Howard Schnellenberger and his FAU Owls were only briefly able to make the game look competitive -- cutting the Florida lead to 8, before a Cornelius Ingram touchdown stretched the it to 15, and Charlie Strong's defense held FAU scoreless for the rest of the game.
The following week was a stressful one for the whole family, and I can't imagine what it was like for my dad. I spent all the free time I could with him at the hospital. He had taken me to Gator games for as long as I could remember, almost every great Gator memory I have is with him, and here I was in his hospital room wondering how many more great days we would share, Gator-related or otherwise.
By Thanksgiving he was well on his way recovery. By Saturday, he was able to sit up enough to watch the game, and while there was still a long way to go, the future was starting to look brighter. We watched the game together, thankful that we were able to watch the game together.
When the Gators made the
Citrus Capital One Bowl, we were there. He was at my wedding, chomping along as my wife and I entered the reception to "Jaws" (her idea, I didn't even know it was coming). Two years ago, when I moved out of state, we decided that we had to find a way to make it to at least one Gator game a year, so at least once a year he flies to North Carolina, and we take a road trip to a Gator away game.
We've had many wonderful memories since that day (and I'm sure we'll have many more), but nothing can compare to watching Tim Tebow duck Geno Hayes and slice through the FSU secondary for his first touchdown, on that small TV mounted above the door in that hospital room with my dad.