Both of my aunts on my mom's side went to Florida State, and my mom worked in the Florida State financial aid office at one point in her life. My parents both preferred Bobby Bowden to Steve Spurrier, finding Spurrier arrogant, and I got a Florida State hat when I was about eight. By then, it was too late for all of them: I was a Gators fan, as the pendulum had swung from Bowden's 'Noles to the Danny Wuerffel-led Gators, converting me and a slew of other Floridians into fans of the orange and blue.
The first time I set foot on Florida State's campus was as a rising high school senior in 2006, for Boys State. It's held in Tallahassee so that young leaders can see the Capitol and run a fake government in it, and I enjoyed almost all of my Boys State experience — but I hated Tallahassee. It was hot, and we were constantly hiking from one end of campus to another, and it struck me not as an interesting college campus, but as a place I couldn't see myself spending another week, much less four years.
I didn't apply to FSU, but both got into Florida and earned the school's highest scholarship for incoming freshmen. I've been at UF and in Gainesville since 2007, and despite some ups and downs, I have come to love this school and this city deeply. And I've learned, having lived through the 2007 through 2012 football seasons in Gainesville, that there is no better place on Earth than Gainesville on Saturday when the Gators are good.
When Florida State is good, there is no worse place for a Gators fan than the Internet. FSU fans are a devoted, passionate lot, and I respect their fandom on the grounds that it's fundamentally not that different from my own — but, goodness, do Florida State fans yap a lot on the basis of very little or what?
Florida State fans made sure to use two wins over two of the worst Florida teams of the last 30 years to back up the opinion that the 'Noles had reclaimed the state. Florida State fans harbored national championship dreams at the beginning of this season, ones that even they (mostly) accepted were shattered when FSU lost on the road to an N.C. State team that still may get Tom O'Brien fired. Florida State fans will remember Florida's close call against Louisiana for as long as they live, but have already tried to put the dark years at the end of the Bowden era — in which Florida State lost to Wake Forest regularly; fell to USF in Doak; nearly got upset by Jacksonville State; and started Drew Weatherford at quarterback both intentionally and because he was FSU's best option — out of their memory.
I can understand why they would want to forget them: Since Florida State last won an ACC title in 2005, Florida has won two national titles (to go with two SEC titles) that gave the Gators the all-time lead on FSU in national championships, claimed a Heisman Trophy, spawned the most celebrated player in the last 30 years of college football, and made good on most of their chances in a rugged conference in a way that Florida State couldn't when it was the only big, bad wolf in an ACC full of sheep.
Florida State fans were big on the hot air before this season, though, and in need of some cold water to the face. So the first time I got back to Tallahassee as a University of Florida student, when I drove up for a concert just before the season began, I made sure to walk around Doak. It was late at night, when no one was around, but I walked from the FSU Student Union to the stadium, checked out the Bobby Bowden statue, and snuck into the stands.
Oh, and I threw cold water all over Bowden, and farted while inside a silent Doak.
I feel like those actions were apt metaphors for what I hope Florida will do to Florida State today.
But no matter how Florida plays today, or any day, in a 52-20 win or a 31-31 tie or a 31-7 loss, I will be as proud of the players who represent UF as student-athletes as I am on every other day of my life. I respect their heart, and their work, and their talent, and I'm thankful that I get to root for the best team in the world. And I wouldn't be giving them their due if I didn't have their back in all kinds of weather.
Go win. Go shut Florida State up. Go earn a Sugar Bowl berth, and the privilege of rooting for Lane Kiffin for the only reason any Florida fan will ever root for Lane Kiffin.
And, most of all: Go Gators.