No one wanted this
You're gonna hear crackpots' theories and embittered fans' gripes about why Florida and Idaho couldn't play on Saturday night over the next several days at least. And the explanation from Florida — basically, that field conditions were unsafe — is only going to give dimwits who can't read "unsafe" or "dangerous" and accept those as reasons enough more kindling for conspiracy-mongering.
They're wrong. They're dumb. This was the worst possible outcome for almost everyone involved — even Idaho, which would've lost, probably would have liked to play the game — and Florida seemed to me to do everything in its power to prevent it.
There is no conspiracy here, just a fit of pique from Mother Nature.
Conditions really were unsafe
The main problem, as the first kickoff neared, was the lightning. This became a true Florida summer thunderstorm after a while, with dark clouds blotting out the skies and pouring rain, but it was just sprinkling and looking ominous until almost 7 p.m. exactly; the lightning was happening away from The Swamp, but within the eight- or 15-mile radii in which lightning strikes suspend or postpone play by SEC rule. And that lightning was going to keep postponing kickoffs — another strike, another 30-minute pushback — as long as it kept happening.
Given that a flash of lightning literally illuminated my apartment as I walked in the door at about 11:30 p.m. last night, it seems it would've been a problem even an hour after the cancellation of the game.
And if you think that relatively faraway lightning isn't a big deal, I'm sorry to break this to you: You wanted to see football more than you want people to be safe. I count five soccer players on this list who died as a result of lightning strikes, and this 2005 story details one fatality and a dozen injuries as a result of a lightning strike. Lightning is genuinely dangerous, and the way to avoid the danger from it is to shelter inside; playing football in stormy conditions, or sitting on metallic bleachers, is just about the opposite of what you're supposed to do.
And then there was the rain.
It rained hard for three or four separate 30-minute stretches around less intense rain, and never really stopped raining until a while after 11 p.m. — too late for it to matter. That rain left everyone and everything drenched, including the grass on Florida Field.
Watch the opening kickoff again:
Only a couple of the 22 players on the field slip and fall, but Valdez Showers goes skidding about five yards out of bounds after being brought down, followed by two Idaho defenders. And Showers only makes a couple of routine cuts on the play.
Now multiply that by 150 more plays — conservatively — and extrapolate the potential for injury, whether incurred by planting on a puddle or skidding into someone or something on the sidelines. Remember Dominique Easley getting injured during a wet practice last season? Imagine that happening on national television.
It's hard for me to conceive that coaches and decision-makers for both schools and the SEC would have felt totally fine about letting players play in those conditions even if the lightning had subsided, and I have no issue with player safety being made paramount. If you do, we're going to have to agree to strenuously disagree.
And those two considerations don't even play into a third one that few have mentioned: Playing for three hours on a field that baked in the sun and then turned to mush under what I'd guess ended up being close to six inches of rain — Tampa meteorologist Paul Dellegato guessed three at 9:45 p.m., and it just kept raining — would have probably irreparably damaged the field for the rest of this season.
Florida's struggled with field conditions at The Swamp in recent years, and that was without adverse weather for games. Florida also has to play two more home games before The Swamp gets a nice month-long break from games. That was probably in the back of decision-makers' minds, not the front, but I bet it mattered.
To reiterate: No one wanted this
On my drive home, I tuned into Steve Russell's postgame show, which included one fan, Troy, telling Steve that this was a "missed opportunity" and would lead him to reconsider purchasing season tickets next year. I alternated between laughter and facepalms for the entirety of his call.
Look, Jeremy Foley absolutely wanted Florida to start this season with a resounding win, and Will Muschamp wanted his players to get a chance to show they're not the same team they were in 2013, and those players, to a man, really wanted to just play football and shut up their critics — I wasn't in The Swamp for the moment when the players apparently stormed out of the tunnel and ran all over the field to fire up the fans in the stands, and it is killing me that I missed that — and every fan in attendance just really wanted to see football after a day spent waiting what felt like a lifetime for kickoff and a night spent waiting basically the span of another game for a resolution.
Not playing a game is an exasperating, frustrating, and disappointing outcome for a scheduled game, and in some ways worse than a loss: With a loss, at least, you get to see some football, and some is better than none.
Florida's going to play next week, probably, and the prospect of a blowout is going to be just as exciting as it was on Saturday, if not more so. But I saw and heard the sentiment that this was like Christmas being cancelled quite a bit last night, and I can't disagree.
But it was magical
I like novelty, and sports, and I am a complete sucker for a combination of them. I want very badly to someday go to a game in the snow at Lambeau Field. I'm very tempted to find a way to spend altogether too much money on flying to the Bahamas to see Florida basketball play over Thanksgiving. I spent too much money, before some incredible kindness from a friend and the UAA, on tickets to see Florida's 2012-13 basketball opener against Georgetown. And I've traveled to College Station, and Columbia, and Dallas, and Lexington, all to watch the Gators play in new environments.
Last night was the most incredible environment I've been in at a Florida game.
I needed a ticket, and didn't want to pay more than $10 — hey, I'm smart and frugal — so I tried to get one by wandering around and waiting things out. And then the first rain came, and I headed to Midtown. (Technically, the Cheese Daddy slightly west of Midtown. And no, I didn't cave on spending seven bucks for a grilled cheese sandwich.) Then I bought my ticket — tickets, actually, two of them for $10 total, and from a kid who changed his mind when the sky darkened and hopped the first bus away from campus — a little after what should have been kickoff, but I didn't need or want an extra, so I wandered a bit while trying to sell it.
And then the rain came again, and I walked around for a little while longer, and then I just gave up and walked under an archway, where I waited for a little more than half an hour while hoping the rain would go away, tweeting stupid jokes, and high-fiving the dozen or so kids who came running through the archway to get away from the rain.
And then I walked to the O'Dome, so as to be closer to the stadium in case of a resumption, and sent probably the greatest string of three consecutive tweets I will ever have reason to send:
Overheard: "I prolly won't remember this, but great fuckin' day."— Alligator Army (@AlligatorArmy) August 31, 2014
Saw a girl getting hauled off in handcuffs. "Do you honestly think I'd fuckin' DO that?"— Alligator Army (@AlligatorArmy) August 31, 2014
Barefoot dude in an orange hat: "Being Tased was the most epic thing of my life!"— Alligator Army (@AlligatorArmy) August 31, 2014
On my way to the O'Dome, I also picked up another ticket left in a puddle in the parking lot. Three tickets for $10, essentially. (Probably not beating that ever.)
I sat in the O'Dome bleachers for probably 30 minutes, and my phone died, and then I stood and watched the end of the first half of Florida State-Oklahoma State, and then I wandered back into the O'Dome proper ... where I saw, on the video boards, a feed of the game with both teams on the field, and captains heading to midfield for the coin toss.
I booked it to the stands — I showed the security guard half-heartedly checking tickets the freebie that I'd grabbed from the parking lot, and he had no problem with it, so, yeah, I scalped two tickets I didn't even use — and raced to a position where I could see the opening kickoff.
I swear it was as electric in that stadium for that kickoff as it has been in my life.
After that awesome moment, I scrambled to the heart of the student section, knowing full well that the hesitance to run another play was a pretty good indicator that there wasn't going to be another one run. I spent the next hour standing and watching the video boards, which alternated between radar and Florida State-Oklahoma State, singing along to the music played (Taylor Swift's "Red," "Livin' on a Prayer," Bruno Mars's "Treasure," "Sweet Caroline") over the PA, and participating in the "ORANGE! ... BLUE!" and "It's GREAT! To BE! A FLOR-I-DA GA-TOR!" chants.
And we got rained on.
And it was fun.
There's something about the communal experience for me that would make almost any gathering of tens of thousands of people — and there were 40,000 people in The Swamp for that kickoff, maybe — fun, but that communal experience, and the novelty of the night, and the inextinguishable hope I have for all things Gators all combined to make it a memory I never want to forget.
The kids are all right
In my experience, 90 percent of the whining in recent years about Florida's student section has come from people who don't and/or can't sit in the student section, mostly older fans who play Back In My Day games. And in my experience, 90 percent of the people who do sit in the student section are still very much the best reason why the Florida Gators enjoy some of the best fan support in sports.
Last night was proof.
As noted above, I didn't get into the stadium until about 10, but I saw dozens of tweets about how rowdy the students were being, and I could hear the cheers from it loud and clear during the suspension. The student section was the fullest part of the stadium when the game resumed, and most of the students still there stayed even as the rains restarted. There were fans of all ages and categories who stayed in The Swamp for the duration of last night, and all of them — really, anyone who willingly chose to be in The Swamp with rain and lightning happening and no sign of abatement anywhere to be seen — have my eternal respect for that show of love for the Gators, but the greatest proportion of those fans came from the current student population.
Y'all ruled last night. Keep ruling.
The cancellation — the game was "terminated," as the PA told us, which sounds way better than "canceled," and later was deemed "suspended" — of this opener leaves Florida in a bind, or several binds. There are a fair few questions to be answered, and I'll try my best to answer them.
What can and will Florida do?
Florida's got four options, as far as anyone can tell:
Options: 1 Resume at later date; 2 Terminate the game with a determined final score; 3 Forfeit of the game; or 4 Declare a no contest.— Richard Johnson (@RagjUF) August 31, 2014
Obviously, terminating the game with a final score in a game with no score is an unlikelihood verging on impossibility, and I doubt rescheduling is all that doable for Idaho, especially if it has to make a cross-country journey again. (I also think this game doesn't get "replayed" without that opening kickoff getting wiped off the books. The game could still get played — call this one a no contest, schedule a new game, start over — but I just don't think Idaho really wants to resume a game and immediately end up in a hole.) A forfeit ain't happening, either, and so a no contest is the most logical option to me.
The problem with rescheduling this game is logistics. Florida has open dates on September 27 and October 25, and Idaho has an open date on October 25, so that would seem like a perfect date to reschedule to ... except that that is Florida's bye before Georgia, and I don't think any Gators official really wants to play a cupcake before that game, unless it's absolutely mandatory.
Plus, Florida and Idaho snap rescheduling for Sunday or Monday, which is Labor Day — when the field's still recovering, and many fans have already left town, and the awkwardness of everything about an abrupt rescheduling would make the game very weird — just doesn't feel like it would work to me. Thousands of hotel rooms would need to be rebooked for fans and Idaho's team, flights would need to be rescheduled, event staff and support would need to be called into action for a second straight day: Generally, it would be moving a mountain to cram months and months of the prep work that goes into a successful football game into 24 or 48 hours, and I have no problem with Florida and Idaho conceding that it was too big an ask.
So Florida can turn its attention to talks with Idaho about possibilities:
There will be no decision regarding the status of the Florida-Idaho game today (Sunday) #UFvsIDA— GatorZone Football (@GatorZoneFB) August 31, 2014
We should know more about the status in the next two or three days. #UFvsIDA— GatorZone Football (@GatorZoneFB) August 31, 2014
This indicates an openness to rescheduling, even if it doesn't necessarily indicate Florida's preference is rescheduling. As much as it frustrates me and you to say this, the only thing we can do is wait and see what will happen.
What's Florida's recent precedent on cancelled games?
In 2004, Florida cancelled its opener against Middle Tennessee State, then rescheduled that game for a bye week in October — the same bye week before Georgia that Florida has available this year. That cancellation happened under different circumstances, though, with the threat of Hurricane Frances allowing the teams to call off the game before anyone had traveled anywhere, and while money was allocated but not spent by nearly everyone involved.
This, obviously, is a stickier situation.
How would it affect Florida to play only 11 games this season?
Minimally, I think. Florida's only going to need six wins to be bowl eligible, and wiping a game off the schedule is probably not going to make a difference in that respect. (I don't think Florida's a six-loss team; very few people do.) Fans of other teams might grouse about Florida essentially having a bye, but screw those fans: For the last time, it's not like anyone wanted this outcome.
What about those suspended players?
Remember, Jay-nard Bostwick, Darious Cummings, and Demarcus Robinson were all set to serve suspensions last night and be eligible to play against Eastern Michigan, indicating that their suspensions were just one-game penalties. I've seen half-hearted arguments for them having served those suspensions on that one play last night, but I think Florida will require them to sit at some point this season.
Personally, I think those players should sit for this week's Eastern Michigan game, because that's what common sense tells me should be the resolution, but it's worth noting that there is precedent for creative discipline here: Channing Crowder was suspended for Florida's opener in 2004, and ended up serving that suspension against Middle Tennessee State in October, but playing in Florida's games up to that point.
I don't know if the rules that permitted that creativity are the same as those in effect today, but I thought (and still think) that was a mockery of what a suspension is supposed to do, and I hope Florida doesn't administer its punishment in that same way.
When will we know anything?
I doubt that Florida will announce anything but a final resolution, whatever it is, so I think we may wait until Tuesday or Wednesday, then get a release telling us the full plan on one of those days. (Remember, Monday is Labor Day.)
What will happen?
My gut feeling: Florida and Idaho fail to come to an agreement on what constitutes fair compensation for another trip across the country, and decide not to resume or try to play this game, but Florida schedules Idaho for a non-conference game at some point in the near future as a sort of pseudo-restitution. Both teams make amends to fans in a mostly unsatisfying way.
What should happen?
Florida and Idaho agree that another game is just silly, Florida pays Idaho its stipulated $975,000, the Gators' season continues apace, and Florida does something universally acknowledged as generous and fair for the tens of thousands of fans who just got Christmas cancelled, prioritizing those fans over the bottom line.