By Aaron Tallent
I hope I’m wrong, but Saturday will likely end with Tennessee’s ninth straight loss to the Florida Gators. The Vols are just too young and Florida’s defense too strong. However, Coach Butch Jones is doing good things and I think we’ll be climbing the mountain again soon. And when we make it back, we need to look to Gainesville to remind ourselves how not to act.
Florida fans suck for a multitude of reasons, but for the sake of space, here are the top five. In the interest of full disclosure, I am a die-hard Tennessee Vols fan, but the below reasons come from a place that is pure of heart.
5. Back door national titles
I know, I know. The Gators have won 3 national titles in the last 18 seasons: 1996, 2006, and 2008. And in each of the seasons, their fans entered December with the uncertainty of two teenagers using the withdrawal method.
In 1996, No. 1 Florida dropped the last game of the season to No. 2 Florida State and fell to No. 4. The next week, No. 3 Nebraska was upset by Texas in the Big 12 Championship, and the Sugar Bowl signed them to a rematch with Florida State. There they took care of business, beating the Seminoles 52-20 and winning the national title when No. 2 Arizona State lost to Ohio State in the Rose Bowl.
The Gators rebounded in 2006 after losing to Auburn by turning the ball over in every way possible. The last week of the season, Florida fans hoped Southern Cal lost and that voters would not pit Ohio State and Michigan in a rematch in the BCS Title Game. Oh, and voters also had ignore the fact that Boise State was the only undefeated team in the country. (That was the year they upset Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl). Everything worked out and the Gators throttled Ohio State 41-14 in the BCS National Championship Game.
In 2008, Florida bounced back from an early loss to Ole Miss and entered the SEC Championship game ranked No. 4 in the BCS standings. However, they lucked out because Oklahoma was ranked No. 2 and Texas was No. 3 and only one of them could play for the Big 12 title. Oklahoma got the nod and Florida got into the BCS Title Game after beating No. 1 Alabama. There, they topped Oklahoma 24-14.
Don’t get me wrong: I would be completely happy with Tennessee winning three national championships in that manner. I just wouldn’t be so sensitive about it. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, go ask a Gator fan if Boise would’ve had a chance in 2006.
4. They Forget Their Geographic Location
All SEC schools refer to opposing fans as inbred rednecks, but it is generally with a “pot-meet-kettle” tongue-in-cheek attitude. The only ones who really think they are a cut above the rest is Florida. Maybe it’s the fact that the state has the most McMansions on the water in the south or their professors invented Gatorade. Regardless, before another fan tosses a stone through his glass house, he needs to look down and remember that he’s wearing jorts. This is the same state that has the “Florida Man” Twitter account and was the setting for “Wild Things” and “Bully.” If you’ve loaded up the family in a van and driven south to Orlando, you probably wouldn’t have known you were in Florida if not for the welcome sign… and all the strip club billboards.
3. Ask the Coaches
Coaching at any Division I-A school carries immense pressure and it’s even more magnified in the SEC. What separates Florida is that its coaches usually aren’t fired, they just leave.
After winning the Heisman Trophy in 1966, Steve Spurrier returned in 1990, turned Florida into a national power, nicknamed Ben Hill Griffin Stadium “The Swamp” and won a national championship and six SEC titles. However, he left abruptly after the 2001 season to coach the Washington Redskins when he realized anything short of a national title every year was a failure. After leaving the Redskins and being bored with retirement, he took the head coaching position at South Carolina. Florida fans now equate him with Benedict Arnold.
Ron Zook replaced him and the website FireRonZook.com was launched before he coached his first game. After three five-loss seasons, he was fired. Urban Meyer took over and won two national championships, but after six seasons he left as well. The circumstances were bizarre and never fully understood, but one thing was certain: Meyer didn’t want to build a life in Gainesville. The fact that he ended up returning to coach at Ohio State only made fans enraged with this man who did so much for them.
Will Muschamp led the Gators to an 11-2 record and a BCS bowl last year, but fans are now calling for his head after a loss to a good Miami team the second week of this season. Can’t imagine why coaches choose to leave.
2. Violent Game Day Environments
Saturdays in the fall in Gainesville are known for exciting gridiron matches, tailgating with family and friends… and flying cups of piss. It’s one thing to scream and rock the stadium when the visiting team is on offense. It’s another to urinate in a cup and toss it at the opposing team and fans. Tennessee quarterback Heath Shuler’s assignment his freshman year was to stand in front of starter Andy Kelly with his helmet on to make sure he wasn’t hit in the head by thrown debris. The urban legend is that the student section was moved from behind the visiting team’s bench after an athletic director’s wife was hit with a cup of pee.
A common phrase is that your stadium experience depends on where you sit. Well, at “The Swamp,” every seat sucks for visitors. If you’re leaving after a loss, be prepared for some sweaty drunk to do a Gator chomp within two inches of your face and if you’re taking a fan bus, expect for it to be rocked. I’ve never seen anything like that anywhere else and that includes other notably “hostile” environments like Alabama and Clemson.
1. They are Spoiled Rotten
Every recruiter and talent scout will tell you that Florida has the most fertile recruiting ground of any school in the SEC. Why they didn’t figure out how to recruit the state legally until the 90s is beyond me. Nevertheless, the team has not had a losing season since 1979 and with every season, fans’ expectations have become more and more irrational.
Every other program in the conference has had severe ups and downs in the past 35 years. So it is very exhausting to listen to Gator fans act like making a BCS bowl after a few mediocre bowl seasons is on par with a Phoenix rising from the ashes. Their coaches can pull in a top-five recruiting class without getting on a plane. It’s like getting poetic about the heart of the New York Yankees.
The only thing to cure spoiled rotten fans is a healthy dose of humility, i.e. a little bit of turmoil and losing seasons. Fans of the other 13 SEC schools hope this happens sooner rather later.