Posted: September 24, 2013
This past weekend I made my annual pilgrimage to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Florida Field, also know as The Swamp, home of the Florida Gators. Last year’s trip had to be postponed due to the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Other than last year, this is a trip I have made for 15 years (since 1998), as I am a proud graduate of the University of Florida, class of 1994.
I do not know if it was the one year absence, my turning 40 or something else, because I have now crossed over into the crotchety old man side of my life. You see, I have memories of The Swamp being an intimidating place to play. It was a place that opposing teams feared coming. Sadly, that is just not the case anymore and I am not talking about the players.
Gator fans have become the spoiled brats that I used to lampoon other fan bases for being. And the odd thing is, it is not the alumni, which is the case at other schools trying to recapture their former glory. It is the students and this should just not be.
What is going on at my school? Have I been out of school too long? Have I completely lost touch with today’s college students?
I have fond memories of going to Gator games when I was at UF from 1990 to 1994. And before you say it is the product on the field, I arrived at UF in the same year as Coach Spurrier. Success was something the Gators had just brief glimpses of before Coach Spurrier. So that is not it.
We, the students, looked forward to each and every game at The Swamp. We may not have arrived 30 minutes early, but we sure as hell stayed until the end. Even when the Gators were up by 56 points. That is just what you did. And we stood. The entire game.
What I witnessed this past weekend was shameful.
At kickoff, the student section was not full. The alumni section was. Did I mention Florida was playing TENNESSEE? I know Tennessee is not the rivalry it once was, not even close, but come on kids, not every game can be against Georgia and FSU.
The student sections started emptying during the third quarter. By the middle of the fourth quarter there were huge sections on the student side empty. This was a 14 point game. AGAINST TENNESSEE, an SEC conference foe. Where are you going, the library? It is only 6:30pm, there is plenty of time tonight to go drinking later.
Have games against Tennessee become so passé that it is the same as Toledo. Yes, I am well aware the Gators have beaten Tennessee 9 straight and the Volunteers may now be below Vanderbilt in the SEC East pecking order, but this is just absurd.
Students used to stand the entire game. No more.
The whole stadium used to cheer when the team came out to kickoff after scoring…no more.
When did this happen? When did we as a collective fan base become so spoiled that this team is not worth the effort?
Student seating is controlled by blocks. Students sit together based on personal affiliation, for example…your fraternity, dorm, club, etc. The student block that was given the title of block of the game was the honors student block. I say this as a former member of the University of Florida honors program, but that is just sad. Where are the drunken frat boys yelling at the top of their lungs for 3 plus hours?
After scoring a TD, you could hear a pin drop when the Gators came out to kickoff. Where are the keys rattling, the cheering, anything?
The fact of the matter is that The Swamp is just not loud anymore. Teams are not intimidated by this environment. When you look at The Swamp from the outside, it is an imposing structure that just screams raucous environment. But that just does not translate inside the building anymore.
There are no excuses. The Swamp needs to become that force to be reckoned with again. I don’t want to hear about the game is better on a 55 inch HDTV. This is not the NFL. You go to support the team and make your stadium a place to be feared. You don’t watch college football on TV at home.
I also don’t want to hear that it is the product on the field. Yes, our offense can be downright abysmal at times, but that should not matter. And even if it did, we have a championship caliber defense. A defense that could be the best in the nation. But none of that matters. We are Gators; you go to be there and to scream your guts out for 4 quarters. Ok, you want to take the second half against Toledo off fine. But you don’t take Tennessee off, no matter how much they have fallen.
Is it because I have been on the alumni side for more years than I care to admit? I don’t think so. But to me, this is a student issue. The alumni side was full 15 minutes before kickoff and until the outcome was decided.
Am I nostalgic for the old days? Maybe, but I don’t think it’s that either. I have been making this trip for 15 years and I have never really felt this ashamed before.
Am I a grumpy old man? Yes, but I don’t think that is it either. I go to other schools on this quest and am amazed at what I see. Nebraska is really struggling now and their student section was packed a full 45 minutes before kickoff. Iowa was crazy from kickoff to gun and they are really struggling. I am envious of those fan bases now (the fans, not the teams).
I will always be a proud Gator, but the collective fan base is really disappointing. We have got to get this turned around, otherwise sell those student seats to alumni who will not be as loud, but will at least show up.
I guess I am at the point in my life where I can and must say…Kids today just don’t get it!