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Friday Forum: How do we feel about Feleipe Franks?

Feleipe Franks had an up-and-down Florida career. He still only deserves boos in the context of competition this weekend.

NCAA Football: Tennessee at Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Baker of the Tampa Bay Times wrote a logical, sensible column published today. It’s headlined “Why Florida fans should cheer, not boo, Feleipe Franks this weekend.“ It ticks all the boxes you’d expect from a mainstream analysis of Franks’s up-and-down career at Florida and the moments that lead to his latest moment of intersection with the Gators — Saturday’s game against Arkansas.

But I’m afraid that I don’t think the premise is all that valid.

To me, it’s simple: If you are a Florida fan who would boo Feleipe Franks for any reason other than him playing for the opposing team this weekend, you don’t get it.

Franks was only ever truly a target for boos — like, the kind that come from fans in the stands, not Twitter — at Florida because of his play on the field. And the Florida fan base has high standards for quarterback play and offensive execution that are going to lead to all kinds of quarterbacks being booed: Chris Leak heard them, John Brantley heard them, Jeff Driskel certainly heard them, and any number of post-Driskel QBs heard them, too.

And while Franks’s brimming confidence charged his celebrations of his play — his “That’s what I do!” into an ESPN TV camera during Florida’s tussle with Miami in 2019 rubbed Gators who want their athletes to shut up and throw the wrong way, and became hilarious when he almost immediately followed it with an interception; his shushing of the home crowd as Florida mounted a comeback to beat South Carolina despite boos booming early on — it is fair to note a) that those acts would’ve been received far more fondly (if, in some cases, begrudgingly) if Franks had played at Tim Tebow’s level consistently instead of merely for a long stretch and b) that those acts mostly rankled the fans who weren’t at those games, rather than the ones who were, especially given that Florida eventually won them.

And while it would also be foolish to say that Franks being the longest-tenured Black quarterback at Florida other than Leak didn’t shape perceptions of him in meaningful ways, I honestly believe that Franks was given a fair shake by the majority of the Florida fan base. Our collective outrage over ESPN’s Brian Griese inventing off-the-field issues while discussing Franks’s career demonstrates that we treated Franks first and foremost as a Gator — which is how the fan’s perspective generally should be calibrated.

But that bizarre broadside from Griese was the last meaningful event of Franks’s Florida career for most fans: He’d just gotten hurt at Kentucky, was clearly not going to play again in 2019, and spent the rest of it rehabbing while being obviously destined for an offseason transfer. He made a brief and unforgettable cameo in Florida’s turn in the HBO spotlight last fall, stuck around the team to help Kyle Trask, and graduated, but when Franks got hurt, he stopped writing the on-field-at-Florida portion of his story — and did so at a moment when his health became more important than the poor performance he was putting together.

Booing that guy at that moment would have been cruel. Nothing he’s done since should have changed our thoughts on him all that much — if anything, the mutual respect in quotes from both Florida players and Franks this week should have bolstered our opinion of the strong-armed pigskin-flinger from Wakulla High.

And so I really can’t understand why any Florida fan would want to boo Feleipe Franks, specifically, and not Feleipe Franks, Arkansas quarterback. The former is a man we came to appreciate and admire despite some less-than-admirable play; the latter is a man for whom we have honest admiration, and whom we can boo out of affection.

But maybe I’m wrong?

As always, the Friday Forum is as much request for your thoughts as a repository for mine.