When Jim McElwain came to Florida in 2015, he said something entering the fall season that stuck with me: His team would have up to 15 opportunities that fall to take advantage of, 15 chances — if all broke right — to make dreams a reality.
And in as much as football is still mostly a sport played by players striving for glory, that sort of thing makes sense as coachspeak, the sort of exhortative rah-rah stuff that might get some players’ juices flowing and engines revving.
For the fans, it’s way more likely that any college football season provides 13 opportunities to be a fan.
The vast majority of FBS teams play 13 games in any season — 12 regular season games and a bowl game. Good teams vying for conference titles might play 14 games; great ones on a national championship chase might get 15. (Again, no one’s getting 16 yet, and maybe ever.)
That’s 13 chances to marvel at a series of Emory Jones darts. 13 opportunities to be wowed by Gervon Dexter in the trenches. 13 windows of three or more hours to watch Kaiir Elam shut down a receiver and shoot up NFL Draft boards.
It’s 13 tailgates, 13 road trips to Gainesville or Nashville or Tallahassee or Atlanta, 13 chances to connect with old friends over burgers or meet new ones with beer in hand.
This year, it’s 13 chances to be outside and enjoy a world that has been closed off in whole or part to most if not all of the people in it, 13 moments that are somewhat safer than they were a year ago — when no one had access to the one thing most responsible for us being able to enjoy these 13 fully-fledged parties, and so we had 11 or 10 or maybe even none, and not everyone came.
I’m still not totally convinced that these 13 — or 14, or 15 — Florida games will be totally safe from that which we are all trying to escape. (I do think it’s a safe bet that Florida gets 13 of them, not 12.) I don’t know if I can trust my fellow humans and fans enough to risk being out in the world with them in The Swamp.
But I can also tell you that that’s me — and that my risk tolerance isn’t yours, and doesn’t have to be. If you’re going to enjoy 13 opportunities to be all for the Gators by standing up and hollering alongside thousands in stadiums, I wish you the best of luck — and health. This year, experiences like that are going to feel much, much sweeter than they ever did before, I suspect, and I hope they’re savored.
All of us, though, have a chance to cheer from wherever we are. And those may well cheer us up, too.
We could all use some cheering up, I think.