The 2012 football season is going far better than most predicted it would for the Florida Gators. At 5-0 and No. 4 in the AP Poll, and coming off the best win Florida has had since Tim Tebow left town, these Gators are rolling, establishing that normalcy under Will Muschamp is contention for the prettiest baubles and highest honors in college football.
Getting up for a team like Vanderbilt in the middle of that return to prominence, even on the road, isn't the easiest thing to do. Vandy doesn't have the talent or the record of an elite team, and theoretically shouldn't provide the same challenge that LSU or Texas A&M or Tennessee did. So how can the Gators make this game special?
By winning for Christian, and Sunshine, and Ashley.
Saturday morning, news broke that police found remains believed to be those of University of Florida student Christian Aguilar in Levy County. If the remains are truly Aguilar's, it would bring a heartbreaking end to a tragedy that has left Gainesville bereft in ways even the biggest win can't fix.
Almost exactly five years ago, in the early morning on October 12, 2007, Florida walk-on Michael "Sunshine" Guilford and UF student Ashley Slonina were killed in a motorcycle accident. Guilford had been nicknamed "Sunshine" for his long blonde hair, reminiscent of a character from Remember the Titans, and Slonina was dating Florida defensive back Joe Haden at the time.
Then, as now, Florida's next game came on the road: The Gators had a bye on Saturday, October 13, then took on Kentucky in Lexington, winning 45-37. Then, as now, football seems like a trivial concern compared to the loss of life by young people who came to Gainesville to learn, grow, and become adults.
But the undeniable truth is that every Florida student is a Gator, and that the Gator Nation is less for the loss of any Gator, and that there is no act more communal for Gators than cheering on the team that straps on the orange helmet with the script Gators on it.
I did not know Christian Aguilar, nor Michael Guilford, nor Ashley Slonina. I know, though, that I know Gators who knew them, and who thought deeply about them this week, and who will think deeply about them today, during another Florida game. I hope they can take some joy from Florida playing football, just like most Gators do.
A win cannot undo a tragedy, or resurrect a soul, or make a broken heart whole.
But I believe a win can help.
As usual, Game Thread rules apply: Be as emotional as you like, refrain from personal attacks, use subject lines as often as possible, do not ask for or provide illegal streams, and enjoy the game.