Max Garcia is my favorite football-playin' Florida Gator this year.
He is a kind, patient, thoughtful soul, a man whose deep faith I respect greatly, a funny follow on Twitter, and the sort of friend and curious person who goes to a bunch of other Florida sporting events because he wants to see his friends and fellow members of the Gators family succeed.
And he was all of that, for me, before his remarkable show of love for his teammate and friend, folk hero Michael McNeely, on Monday.
Now, Garcia will be all of that for many more Florida fans.
At the 43:50 mark of the above video — it should begin at the beginning of Garcia's interview, if you want to watch it from the top, but feel free to skip forward — Garcia is asked about the "jolt" that getting a touchdown from a fake field goal gave the Gators in their Saturday win over Georgia. Before the question is even through, Garcia is beaming — because he's about to say this about McNeely.
Man, I was just ... I was so happy to see McNeely score. I don't think there's anyone on this team more deserving to be the hero. Um. Uh.
Just a great dude. I get emotional talkin' about him just 'cause ... (exhales) he's a (voice choked by tears) hard worker, man.
Um. But yeah, just, uh ... (voice choked by tears again) huge motivation, uh, for the team, man. And, uh, guys like him is why, you know, we're gonna be able to be successful. 'Cause he cares about this program.
I love him.
From the back, someone asks: "Do you need more guys like that?"
Yeah, I think if we had a whole team full of McNeelys, man, you know, we'd be a national championship team, um, just 'cause of the way he plays. Everything he does, on and off the field. It's, it's championship-level.
Someone follows up by asking about Garcia going to see McNeely during his first Publix shift as a celebrated touchdown-scorer.
Well, when I got there, uh, his family was there, too, so ... um, y'know, just a great family, also. Y'know, they invited us in for the Fourth of July last summer, so, uh, just a great, great people, the McNeely family is.
And, um, I just went over there, just to say 'What's up?' I know he had a lot of hype during the day, but I'm just glad I got to be there and congratulate him that way. Um.
(voice cracks again, laughs, smiles)
McNeely's my boy, man.
We don't see men talk about love, and especially loving other men, in society all that much, much less in sports, where teams are often families full of men who love each other. Too often, antiquated fears and misguided anxieties prevent us — men — from saying what Garcia said about his good, dear friend — the truth.
And that's a shame.
Garcia is a loving, caring dude who cried while talking about how much he loves one of his best friends. He's also an excellent football player. He can be both. And if he can be that, and a reminder that anyone can be both, I think that would be a fine, fair testament to the power of love as a tie that binds.
"Guys love each other," Garcia said, prior to his comments on McNeely, in explaining why this 2014 Florida team is different from the 2013 one that fractured down its dismal run. "And we're playing for each other."
The love showed on Monday like it did on Saturday.
And it was beautiful.