A full college football weekend — with full stadiums, a full slate of Saturday games up and down the dial, and a full season unlikely to be derailed by a pandemic before us — is something none of us had experienced for almost two years entering this past weekend.
Last year, we had abbreviated schedules pockmarked by cancellations, and few of the bizarre outcomes — did y’all see that Montana beat Washington? — that come from adding more opportunities for variance to the best variance generator in sports.
And last year, we had a lot more concern for people — for the sick and the potentially so, mostly, but also the people running the show despite a lot of fears about a novel virus causing hundreds of thousands of deaths — to make rooting for a season to go on far more fraught. Some of that concern, entering this year, has faded because of hard hearts — but it’s fair, maybe fairer, to also note that we’ve passed the point of being concerned about most individuals when it comes to COVID-19, with most individuals taking the proper steps to protect themselves.
For (a little) better and (much, much more) worse, there’s a lot less “We’re all in this together” right now, and a lot more “You’re on your own.”
And I think that’s going to take some adjusting to. We’re not “back” to “normal” now — this isn’t the same world we knew in 2019, and its similarities are also going to feel different to us because we are different. The online discussion about packed stadiums without masks has as much or more to do with 18 months of us fretting about people not wearing them in gas stations or grocery stores as it does with knowing outdoor transmission stats for vaccinated vs. unvaccinated people in crowds of 80,000-plus since the rise of the Delta variant — and, like, that’s obviously fine? This pandemic has been traumatic for essentially all of humanity, and some of those billions of people are going to be nervous or judgmental of crowds, while others cannot wait to be back in them; while we’ve all been through a similar struggle, every individual deals with trauma differently.
That’s truth verging on truism, sure, but it is also true of, say, approaching the task of being Florida’s starting quarterback. Emory Jones is not Kyle Trask, nor Anthony Richardson, nor Feleipe Franks, John Brantley, Doug Johnson, Shane Matthews, or Kerwin Bell. Every one of those human beings has felt different ways about the same job, and done it differently, at a different time and in a different context. Expecting similarities between them is possible, with similar circumstances helping to shape those expectations, but expecting differences should be the default.
The word that came to mind on Saturday when watching Jones was rhythm — or, more precisely, arrhythmic. Florida moved the ball well on its first two drives, and Jones appeared to be in rhythm for most of those; on the third drive, with Richardson taking most of the snaps before Jones was inserted, Florida seemed again to have rhythm — until Richardson losing his helmet forced Jones in, and that rhythm seemed to be disrupted.
I don’t know if Jones ever fully got it back, either. My sense on Saturday was that he struggled to get back to the calm that he had early on after failing on that drive, and that he went from being fairly pleased with his performance to rather mad about it — internally — by game’s end.
Jones put on a game face in post-game interviews and said all the right things about his mentality and his happiness for Richardson. But what I noticed late Saturday night — as I failed to sleep, buzzing because of a full day of football — was that Jones was tweeting in the wee hours, suggesting a sleepless night spent watching film or checking his mentions, rather than a satisfied slumber.
Maybe that’s a good sign, something to cling to as evidence that Jones was so perturbed by this level of play that he’s going to dedicate himself to never seeing this floor again.
Or maybe it’s a sign that he’s deep in his own head now, unable to shake the fact that the moment he’d been dreaming of for years had some nightmarish elements.
I don’t know which of those two possibilities is more likely — and I’d be remiss not to note that they aren’t the only ones. But I know that we’re only going to know once this season is truly in full swing, back on the familiar beats we know.
And I can’t wait to get to the next part of the song.