I want Florida to beat Alabama. Doesn't every Florida fan?
Increasingly, I think what we want as fans gets lost in frustrations about what we expect or project as a class of semi-professional pundits, but I really do think we mostly want Florida to win every game it plays. Why wouldn't we? Wanting a team to win is the primary point of having a rooting interest.
That gulf between wanting a team to win and believing a team can win vexes us. It is the difference between hope and faith.
Alabama is clearly better than the two teams Florida has already played this season. It's hard to find FBS teams worse than Eastern Michigan, and while feister-than-expected Kentucky certainly looks like a good team, the gap in quality between "good team" and "Nick Saban-coached Alabama" is canyonesque. If you believe Florida can win this game this Saturday — and, to be clear, I do, even if I think it's unlikely — you are exhibiting faith. If you want Florida to win, you "merely" have hope.
Hope is fine, of course, and it's the currency of sports fandom for fans whose teams don't have Polaroids from peaks or planned trips to the mountaintop. Hope is what gets Kentucky fans excited for the Florida game, despite the Wildcats' last win over Florida on a football field coming decades ago; hope is what will make the Kansas City Royals' playoff berth this fall, if it truly happens, sweeter for the nearly 30 years spent pining for it. Hope is easy. Hope is eternal.
When you know faith, though, hope can be a poor substitute.
Florida fans have known faith, and unshakable faith. We believed in Steve Spurrier implicitly, and in Urban Meyer's teams and Tim Tebow's promise. We've been able to believe in other teams in other sports, too, and in a culture that has churned out champions. We have faith in Jeremy Foley that goes beyond most fans' faith in the people who are ultimately in charge of their franchises. And we think, because faith is more infectious and weighty and compelling than hope, that our faith deserves to be rewarded.
Will Muschamp has tested that faith. He's made many reconsider, and even renounce, theirs. Faith in Florida is at a low in recent memory, if not a historic ebb. This sign, which has gone viral again this week, is the crystallization of how Florida fans' faith has turned:
And if Florida loses this weekend, that lack of faith will not be disturbing, but deserved.
But if Florida wins? If indefatigable Gators take the executional brilliance and grit of the 2012 team, and mix it with some of the ingenuity and offensive openness derived from Kurt Roper, and make turnovers happen, and take advantage of a public lack of belief by playing with evangelical fury?
Well, hope and faith will have to have a chat.
And, more than wanting Florida to beat Alabama, I want that.