I wrote yesterday about how I don't really care about this 2015 Birmingham Bowl (noon, ESPN and WatchESPN) pitting Florida and East Carolina in a preview of a regular season game that will happen a little over eight months from now in The Swamp, and one of my best friends reached out to me to say she was "disappointed" in the piece.
She asked me this: "If you didn't care, why'd you write about it?"
Here's the thing: I have written about Florida football, of late, because I have to. Because this is my job. Because of contractual obligations.
It has been a painful season to cover, one in which a young team didn't get older quickly enough to avoid an embarrassment at Alabama, in which a player's alleged misdeed helped sideswipe a team desperately in need of momentum, in which Homecoming produced a blowout that I sat through in its entirety with no more than 30,000 of my closest friends, in which the greatest win of the last two years was only cause to reconsider everything I'd thought of Will Muschamp just two weeks prior, in which the momentum from that win and an impressive road victory over Vanderbilt was squandered by special teams catastrophes, in which a sterling senior day felt bittersweet, in which a valiant effort to knock off the reigning king of college football fell painfully, predictably short.
Have I wanted to write about all of that? Not really.
I wrote in August about how Muschamp couldn't win with Florida fans, even if Florida succeeded in 2014, mostly because they wanted a different style and philosophy than he could ever bring. And while I think that was a significant factor in Muschamp being as reviled as he was, I now find myself realizing that simply winning would've been enough for many.
It would've been enough for me.
I would care a lot more about a Sugar Bowl, obviously, but I'd care a lot more about an Outback or Gator Bowl, even, if Florida were 8-3 or 7-4 and had done something other than systematically raise and dash my hopes on this roller-coaster ride of a season. I would care more if my estimation of Florida's capacity to play football was rosier than my estimation of its capacity to lay an egg. I would care more if my hopes hadn't been mangled so often to this point.
I think the legacy of Will Muschamp at Florida — which I get to write, at least in some minor part — will be able that cycle of hope and disappointment, about his teams being good enough to have chances to win games and bad enough to lose them. And I think a lot of the people who have agreed with my Friday article — because many have, though many have also disagreed — are in the same once bitten, twice shy mode I am.
There's a chance Florida comes out this Saturday, wearing orange from years gone by, and simply dominates East Carolina. Certainly, Florida is more talented, and I think that a rainy day favors the Gators' ground game and hampers East Carolina's fearsome passing attack.
But Florida's matched up well with teams before, and still struggled. It's faltered. It's failed. And though I do watch football games for far more than the result, and I will watch this one, eventually, with some interest, I cannot bring myself to invest emotionally in this team's game on this day.
It's a shame, and I know that. I'm disappointed in myself. I would probably care more if Florida basketball — which I love as much as I love Florida football — weren't diverting my attention to the hardwood, but there's no question in my mind that I wouldn't care all that much more if there weren't a scheduling conflict.
And so here is my hope for today: That the Gators make me look like a moron.
I hope they destroy East Carolina. I hope they make the three hours of football they play today joyous and powerful and moving and riveting. I hope they reward the investment made by the people with more faith or tolerance or devotion — or whatever it is that has them raring for this game — than I currently have by making this an unforgettable day.
I don't want Florida games to feel like obligations, to feel desultory; my point on Friday was that, for me (and likely for many others), this one does.
Players who have busted their asses and given their souls, bodies, and time to the program deserve better than that. Coaches who have been professional despite turmoil and the impending cessation of their employment deserve better than that. A program that has strived to be great — and it has — and do right by its fans deserves better than that.
And the great thing is that this team can still author its own happy ending, and earn what they deserve.
Go prove me wrong, Gators. Go beat East Carolina.
Go get your sunset.