It's not worth fighting for "Move Back, You Suck"
Let us be clear: The Monday night brouhaha that was stirred by the public acknowledgement of Florida banning the Gator Band from playing a tune that has customarily followed penalties and recently been accompanied by chants of "Move back, you suck!" is much ado about very little — and the response to the move by Florida's University Athletic Association is misguided at best.
First: Florida didn't ban "Move Back, You Suck." Florida did ban the band cueing up thousands of fans telling Gators opponents that they "suck" for committing a penalty by playing the Dragnet theme. If fans want to caterwaul about "censorship" — and I've seen that complaint about as often as the complaint that the chant is a cherished tradition — then they should be taking up for the Gator Band, not for themselves; fans are, of course, still perfectly capable of answering opponents' penalties with "Move Back, You Suck," if they can figure out how to do so in a coordinated fashion without a musical cue. (And if fans don't realize their rights to free speech are already curtailed by their willful participation in a "private" event like a football game, well, they have much to learn.)
The uproar, then, is mostly about Florida no longer helping its fans out with a potentially offensive chant. And, make no mistake, a chant with the word "suck" is potentially offensive: The word (in its context as part of colorful phrases meaning "You're bad") is regarded as coarse and/or sexually suggestive by many, and there have been persuasive arguments that "sucks" (and "blows") as terms of derision derive from homophobic roots. There are also, granted, arguments that the word has passed into popular parlance and transcended any original meaning — not unlike another phrase chanted by Florida fans with its own unsavory past — to become inoffensive.
That argument is undercut by Gator Band director Jay Watkins telling WUFT that complaints prompted the UAA to put a stop to the band cueing the chant.
"The reason why it’s been stopped is because there have been too many complaints from fans to the athletic department that the student section was saying something else that the fans thought was vulgar and inappropriate," Watkins said.
"This is a frustrating situation for all and a perfect example of how a few complaints or a few individuals doing the wrong thing negatively affect a great 10-year tradition."
While Watkins suggests that this is "a few complaints or a few individuals doing the wrong thing," the argument that the Dragnet theme cued a "You can't do that!" chant is laughable. That chant — used for the same purpose as "Move Back, You Suck" — runs at a different tempo, on different stresses: It's "YOU can't DO that," often followed by a clap, clap, clap-clap-clap rhythm, which sounds totally different from "Move BACK, you SUCK." And I have been attending Florida games off and on since 2007; in that time, I've never heard "You can't do that!" and have heard (and done) "Move back, you suck!" at virtually every game.
Now, I have been informed (by more than a few former Gator Band members) since this article's publication that the band's tradition is "You CAN'T do THAT!" — with the implication being that students have hijacked the chant and the theme. I'm sympathetic to that argument, but the truth is that "Move Back, You Suck" is what most students (and fans) hear and think of when that Dragnet theme plays — and the band already lost that battle for its own tradition, unfortunately.
So: What we have here is an administration, which has fielded complaints about a practice it sanctions that is puerile enough to offend some and delight others, choosing to side with those who were offended. And the blow it chose to strike against the chant is cutting its mic, rather than banning it altogether. That's not nearly as draconian as the UAA grounding its cheerleaders — a decision that proved mostly temporary — and it's not nearly as nonsensical.
Florida does not want you or me chanting "Move back, you suck" because it's rude enough to make some people mad. If you want to rebel by showering the Rebels with it when Mississippi comes to town on Saturday — as the literally dozens of upvotes on YikYak and aggrieved tweets suggest — then you will almost certainly be able to do so. But this is not some time-honored and sacred tradition, nor do I think it is something most fans will genuinely miss.
If you want to fall back, you'll survive.
Florida has already exceeded expectations
Florida's 4-0 start is one of the surprises of the fall in college football, and unquestionably a pleasant one for Gators fans. It's most enjoyable for fans not because the Gators are great — they're not — but because they're exceeding expectations.
I've argued time and again that Jim McElwain brilliantly tamped down on expectations of a swift turnaround in Gainesville this offseason, with a mix of doomsaying and frank talk that combined to give the sense that he thought this team was both good and bad. Florida fans have now seen what McElwain saw, and have enough evidence to suggest that he wasn't really lying, even if he was massaging the truth: 2015 Florida is a middle-of-the-road SEC team that has done important things both well and poorly through four games, but one that has also played hard, preserved a streak to brag about, staged a seismic and thrilling comeback, and gone 4-0 in games that could have easily produced multiple losses. And, especially after three wins in close games that followed two years rife with losses in close games, the Gators seem different.
(An aside: Florida is not "relevant again," because that implies that Florida was, at some point in two years between a Sugar Bowl berth and today, irrelevant. That's simply untrue: Florida came close to upsetting a top-10 team on the road in 2013, then became a national laughingstock for a loss to Georgia Southern, neither of those things suggesting irrelevance; in 2014, the Gators became a laughingstock again for a lopsided loss to Missouri, toppled a top-15 Georgia team, nearly knocked top-five Florida State out of the College Football Playoff race, and had their coaching search become a national story. Unusually bad at winning football games? Of course. Irrelevant? Hardly.)
But neither the results nor the underlying performance are really all that different from recent years.
Florida hasn't lost a game in September in a season in which the Gators' slate kicked off with two non-conference games at home and games against Kentucky and Tennessee since 2004, when Tennessee last beat the Gators. Their three September losses in the intervening years have all been to unusual September opponents: Alabama in 2014, Miami in 2013, and Mississippi in 2008. It has become routine for Florida to steam through September, no matter its coach, and, while Will Muschamp is reviled now, his first two Septembers at Florida were fantastic: His Gators posted an 8-0 record built with seven double-digit wins and a road triumph by a field goal over the team with the eventual Heisman Trophy winner over those season-opening calendar pages.
2015 did arguably present the best Kentucky and Tennessee teams Florida has seen since the late 2000s, so McElwain's Gators should be praised for beating them — but they did so by a combined six points. And Florida's currently No. 36 in F/+ — which is four spots behind the 2014 Gators' final No. 32 ranking, and not that far removed from Florida's No. 48 ranking in 2013. (S&P+ is slightly kinder: 2014 Florida finished at No. 28, while 2015 Florida is No. 21 at the moment.)
For fans, and for media, the greatest difference between Florida's 2013, 2014, and 2015 seasons is simple: Expectations. Florida fans were hoping for (and reporters predicting) a group of Gators that improved on the 2012 team in quality if not record in 2013, and (most) Gators fans wanted a team good enough to prove 2013 was a fluke in 2014; they got neither.
This year, sights were set lower: I predicted exactly 7.00 wins in my win shares, and I wasn't that bullish in doing so. Florida now sits at 4-0, more than halfway to seven wins, as October's much more rugged slate of skirmishes looms: Yeah, fans are going to be happy with that. If Florida can simply win the games F/+ currently suggests it should down the stretch, the Gators will go 8-4 in the regular season, earning their best record since 2012.
The way this September has played out — with Florida winning the games it is "supposed" to win, and in exciting fashion — has earned McElwain a lot of good will. I think it will last, too: Florida will almost certainly lose at least a couple of games in October, and that good will is going to help get him through leaner weeks, until or unless the Gators start losing games they're not "supposed" to lose. If Florida can pull an upset in October — paying back Mississippi for 2008, somehow stopping Leonard Fournette in Baton Rouge, or continuing the confounding recent run of results in the Florida-Georgia rivalry — then the good will might well last into 2016.
And that all boils down to McElwain playing the expectations game beautifully, and getting enough from his team to back it up.
But it's worth recalling that Florida started 4-0 in 2011, won every game it was "supposed" to win, and still finished the regular season at 6-6.
The distance between good will and bad feelings isn't all that significant.