Florida can go 18-0 in SEC play with a win over Kentucky in the O'Connell Center (12 p.m., CBS / CBS Sports) on this Saturday. These Gators can become the first in program history to finish conference play undefeated by handing Kentucky a second loss. And they can all but clinch a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament with that victory.
So it is time for Championship Mode.
Championship Mode is one of the few traditions at Alligator Army that I am jealous to not have created. It came from mlmintampa, manager of the site for the tail end of the Urban Meyer years, and he actually invented and defined it at Urban Dictionary in 2006, months before Alligator Army came into existence.
Here's Michael's — I think I can call mlm Michael at this point — definition:
Noun - mental state that requires a sports fan to be so absorbed in a game, that he or she believes they are affecting the outcome of the game. A person in championship mode demonstrates devotion to their team by remaining focused on the game and staying sober.
Note: championship mode should only be used for highly meaningful regular season games and postseason games.
Championship Mode is for the unhinged and devoted, the most fanatical of fans. It's every dumb superstition in a Bud Light commercial applied for a good irrational reason, every raucous reaction to every big play, every decibel of droning noise on defense. It's rare, but it's real, and it matters.
And, well, you don't have to be sober for Championship Mode.
Florida isn't playing for a championship today against Kentucky; it has had the SEC wrapped up for more than a week. It isn't playing for seeding, not really, because a loss to Kentucky probably doesn't knock the Gators off the No. 1 line. It's not even playing for the pelt that Kentucky usually offers: Skinning these Wildcats at home, weeks after doing the same in punishingly efficient fashion in Lexington, and silencing Rupp, wouldn't be nearly as impressive.
With all the accolades rendered irrelevant, Florida is playing for something else: Pride.
This team has become the nation's best by playing as if its pride is on the line with every possession, with enough smarts to keep its composure and enough frenzied passion to shock its foes into losing theirs. These Gators have been in Championship Mode all season, driven by the bitter aftertaste of failure at the most painful level in college basketball to improve, perform, and prevail, again and again.
And, for the most part, Florida's fans have matched them. Interest in these Gators is at a post-Oh-Fours high, with fans turning out in droves to see them at home and following them on the road and consuming tons of content, here and elsewhere, about them. We know this team, and the four seniors that start for it, like we would brothers or best friends or children, and we have supported them wholeheartedly.
It is time to go beyond that.
Florida's Senior Day ceremony will start at 11:40; be in your seat or on the concourse — and ready to cry — by then. Traffic and parking are going to be a hassle and a half, so, if you're not already on your way to campus, and you're going, close this article and go.
If you're reading this from the stands, or on your walk in, a) congratulations on having the hottest ticket in Florida basketball since Florida was defending a national championship with six NBA players on its roster and b) be loud. Be louder than loud. Lose your mind. Lose your voice.
Rejoice in and respect these seniors by honoring them in the pregame. Rejoice in and respect these seniors and their teammates by roaring for them from tipoff to the final buzzer. Stand, don't sit, as much as you can. Intimidate a Kentucky team that has been shaken by crowds at LSU and South Carolina — crowds with nothing so dear as this team to root for — by matching this Florida team's intensity, if you can. Make the Wildcats' two hours in the O'Dome a living hell by deafening them.
Have fun. Have more fun than you have ever had at a basketball game before. Have so much fun that you're not sure you can ever have this much fun at a sporting event again.
Enjoy these champions. You won't have many more chances.
And enjoy Championship Mode. It's rare for a reason.