Spring is when a young man’s thoughts turn to love, axiomatically.
I’ve always thought that’s because things are new in spring — flowers blooming, temperatures rising, a new year beginning to really take shape. And that’s sort of what Alfred, Lord Tennyson meant in the poem that gave us the phrase — but as with virtually every saying that has passed into popular parlance, the original context is different.
In “Locksley Hall,” Tennyson writes from the perspective of a man grown old, and of the brilliance of the world in his youth dimmed and tempered by age. The person that character thinks of — fancies — in the spring is a cousin; she rejects the protagonist, who goes on to more or less moan about the rejection while daydreaming about the world to come and fearing the world that was. It’s a poem from the 1840s that predicts air combat; it’s also got choice words for the “gray barbarian.”
No wonder, then, that its influence is felt in culture — it inspired Churchill and Truman, and also a plaque on the fictional U.S.S. Voyager — even if few could name it today: Man reflecting on past and present is, ultimately, one of the fully evolved things man does.
Man — and woman, and child and so forth — also watches football. And football brings us the promise of something new along with the pains of the past every fall.
Florida had both last year, with a nearly peerless offense at fully whir manacled to a rather porous defense that never found its footing. The Gators achieved and ached, a thrown shoe becoming emblematic of a year of almosts. Kyle Trask went to New York, Kyle Pitts went to Atlanta, and Todd Grantham has gone nowhere.
We’ll do it all again this fall, with familiar faces and new ones both figuring into the schedule. Willie Taggart will finally arrive in The Swamp this evening as the head coach of Florida Atlantic after failing to make it through a second full season with Florida State in 2019. Florida will visit USF for the first time ever next week. Then there’s Alabama, and Tennessee, and Georgia, and FSU again at the end — after a bizarre year broke up the conclusive rivalry that had been consecutive for decades.
It’ll all be the same, with tens of thousands in the The Swamp, and yet not, with fears of the spread of a virus still laying siege to our species still on at least some minds. Florida as a program should be more or less free and clear of most ill effects of COVID-19, with vaccines all but mandatory; with no mandate for vaccines for fans, Gator Nation might be far more susceptible.
And in those hours when the Gators are playing, maybe that won’t matter — just like most other things don’t. Maybe this will be distraction, escape, fantasy fulfilled. I hope, for you, it can be what you want it to be.
I hope that for me, too.
But I’m doing a job, the same one that I’ve done for a decade, and I can tell you that the persistent transporting power of watching the Gators on television is waning. The powers that be, those who put the pictures on the teevee, they know the world is connected. We’ll hear about Alabama and the Big 12 and COVID-19 and on to Z that doesn’t have zip to do with Florida tonight, all because of a misguided notion that the audience for games likes to be cross-promoted to, to be abreast of everything rather than immersed in something.
I hope we can immerse ourselves, however briefly, in these games and this season.
Increasingly, I’m not sure I can do that alone.