For those Gators who never experienced Steve Spurrier or are transplants from Up North, the night of the 2006 basketball title was a near miracle. Defeating UCLA meant we were all champions, even if we never played a game.
The feeling of that night was confirmed the next morning in my surprisingly crowded ethics class. In the basement of Weimer Hall, 30 of us sang "We Are the Boys" and did the "Two-Bits" cheer. Our professor told us that, thanks to Florida winning a basketball title, "We are a real school now." He claimed a basketball title represented Florida's academic and athletic growth. Our 2007 basketball title and two football wins reinforces that belief.
I thought about Florida being a "real school" again this week. Not only are we back in the tournament, but baseball bulldozed FSU and is 16-1. Oh, sure, spring football starts, but we're not Alabama, dammit. We play more than one sport at Florida and we win at them, too. Only 10 schools have won basketball and football titles, and only two schools have won multiple titles in each (UF and Michigan State). In 2012, baseball should be going back to Omaha, the Best Dressed Women In Gainesville are still a top-five outfit, and so is our upstart lacrosse team. Hell, even our women's basketball team made the tournament.
I feel sorry for those Gators fans who think basketball (and the other sports) is only something to occupy the time between football seasons. I don't blame them. There were times between skinny David Lee and big David Lee that I wanted to bail. The famous Alligator cartoon of Matt Walsh crying still burns. Going to the NIT in 2008 and 2009 sucked, too.
Like the priest who welcomes you to Christmas and Easter mass, I'm not trying to embarrass you for only showing up for the popular days. But I am trying to make you feel guilty. (I can be a dick about this, as you can tell from this piece as well.) Part of Florida's strength as an athletic program and university is the ability to win in all sports and all fields of study. That's what separates us from FSU or Georgia. It allows us to get close to UCLA or UNC, even if our academics may always fall short of those schools.
You don't need to appreciate any of this. You don't need to believe that Billy Donovan is the greatest coach in Florida history or that the strength of Florida is in its depth as an institution. There is nothing wrong with ditching the end of Florida's game on Friday so you can watch dudes hit tackling dummies.
Just know that, like the church, the light is on for you for you to be bathed in orange and blue all year. We won't even mind if you don't know to respond with a "Fannnnnnnnnntastic" after the Gators gain possession. I do hope that you join us fully this Friday and into baseball and softball season.
After all, that is what a real school's fans do.