We sit exactly seven days from Florida kicking off its 2013 football season against the Toledo Rockets. In seven days, we'll be watching from the stands or suites of The Swamp, the comfort of our own couches, under the shades out at our tailgates, and in the many more far-flung places that count as waystations for Gator Nation — Afghanistan, Argentina, Australia.
In seven days, we'll know, probably from the first kickoff — no way Florida wins the toss and chooses to receive, I think — many of the answers to questions that dog us now. What will a kicking game without Caleb Sturgis's reliability look like? Can Jeff Driskel trigger a competent passing attack? Will Matt Jones's injury kneecap Florida's running game? Is the defense that was rock-solid a year ago going to be hollowed out by a weakened middle this year? Can Will Muschamp last for a whole game without loosing calculated rage on someone? (Well, that one's not "dogging" us, per se.)
We're also going to be reveling in the joys of what a Saturday spent immersed in college football really is. Georgia might lose to Clemson in a battle of programs anthropormorphized as choking dogs on this Saturday, and Alabama might defeat Virginia Tech so convincingly as to start a season-long drumbeat to herald impending dynasty. The sensory overload of dozens of games played before millions of fans will glue us to our screens — flat, curved, iPhone — in the most fulfilling communal experience American sports offers. Our Gators might look good enough to justify some of the internal belief that this team might be good enough to look with clear eyes toward Atlanta and Pasadena.
But all that comes in seven days. Now is different.
Today, we use Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" to talk about how much we know compared to how much there is to know, and, increasingly, to suggest that there are fewer, shallower caves in modern life. Plato could plausibly suggest that there were people who saw shadows dance on cave walls, and never the light, but that's closer to impossible today than ever before, in an era of information traded like gold.
We see clearer shapes when shadows dance today, whether it's because of open practice reports, sunshine laws, or Edward Snowden; we know the tall, leaping shadow is Demarcus Robinson, that the one moving like a top before the snap and a freight train after it is Dominique Easley. Twitter gives us pinpricks, sometimes shafts, of light on those shadows, and YouTube lets us replay the dances. Being in the allegorical cave is more fun that it ever was when humans were in literal ones.
But though the moral of Plato's tale is that the cave produces inaccurate views of a surreality, and the moral of The Croods, one of the best movies of 2013, is that the fear and loathing of staying in a cave is always trumped by the potential of the outside world, there is something to be said for dreaming that anything could happen.
Right now, Florida is untested, but unbeaten and untied. The Gators are as likely as any other team to play for an SEC or national title, because we don't know how the games will go, only how we think they will go, who we think will play well, what we think an injury will do.
Thinking and knowing are different things, very different things: They're pursuits that take people in two divergent directions, require separate processes, and terminate at very different doorsteps, I get satisfaction from both, and I think I get more satisfaction from knowing — we live in light, not caves, and you can walk further in the light — but the satisfaction of thinking, and dreaming, is more fleeting. I don't know what a Florida team playing in the Rose Bowl would be like, but I can dream it. I don't know how Matt Jones will play this year, but I can hope. I don't know what the numbers on the scoreboads will be, but I can imagine how they'll be accumulated.
This moment, the last bit of darkness before stepping into the dazzling light, is frustrating, and frightening, and thrilling, all in one.
Enjoy this now. The light begins in seven days. And it will be glorious and blinding at the same damn time.