The Fair Weather Fan: A triumph of sports marketing

A Fair Weather Fan
A Fair Weather Fan

Illustration by Sean Nyffeler *

Part of the American ethos is that we should love sports, and that we should love particular sports teams. This goes all the way to the top: George W. Bush recently threw out the first pitch at a World Series game, and next March will bring hours of coverage of President Obama’s bracket for March Madness.

A good way to get a funky look is to go to a Chili’s and tell someone you “don’t follow sports.” If you’re lucky, they’ll pity you. If you’re unlucky and they’ve had a few drinks or recently seen their favorite team lose, you could be berated and publicly mocked for your lack of culture or cojonés. If you’re really unlucky, you could be punched in the face or even forced to drink a generic light beer (it’s definitely possible that I’ve been watching too much of The League lately). Only slightly less repulsive than a sports non-follower is the agnostic sports fan. “Who’s your team?” “I don’t really have a team. I just like watching the games.” He probably won’t be berated or flogged, but he’ll almost certainly hear a guffaw or see a smirk.

But among the upper crust of American society, among Die Hard Sports Fans, the most reviled group of fans may be those of the fair weather variety. Not to be confused with bandwagon fans (although they’re not mutually exclusive), the Fair Weather Fan is one who ostensibly “has a team”, but who only roots for his team when it’s doing well. Not winning Super Bowls or World Series rings recently? Then the Fair Weather Fan is nowhere to be found. He’s not off rooting for some other team, he’s just not rooting for his team since they’re no good right now.

To some sports fans, being called a fair weather fan is one of the more flagrant offenses. “I’ve been rooting for this team since they were awful! My father lived and died without ever seeing us win a ring!” He wants you to know that he has suffered. He was there when they were awful. He went to the games. He’s witnessed heartbreak. Repeatedly.

Let’s step back and look at sports objectively, as a product. The not-best way to do this is to create a character who isn’t me, but is a lot like me and speaks in the first person. So I’m going to use this device for a little bit:

It’s Game Day. I go to the stadium, and I pony up $50 to see the game. I pay $5 for a hotdog. I pay $3 for some Gatorade. I pay $5 for some cotton candy because I have a sweet tooth and I can’t not eat sweets when I see them. Sue me, ok? If we win, I’m really happy that I spent $63. But we don’t win. We lose and I’m pissed that I just blew $63 on such a crummy game where I ended up with a nasty stomach ache.

Next week, we’re playing again. Yeah, I blew $63 last week on a loss and a stomach ache, but you know what? I’m going again because I’m a fan, ok? I put up another $50 for a ticket, and some more for concessions that most children could make with a dollar and some unsupervised time with a stove (No, not an Easy-Bake Oven. You can’t make authentic sports-stadium concessions in that. I’m talking about a real stove, manned by a real child.). We lose again. This one stings because I’m pretty sure some of the cheerleaders got playing time in the second half. I’m not even sure My Team is trying, ya’ dig? Now I’m out $120-something and I’m starting to get an ulcer from all the stress and bad food I’ve been eating. In a moment of clarity, I look at our record for the past two seasons: we have two wins. That doesn’t seem too good. I’m a big fan of My Team and everything, but two wins seems… maybe a little on the weak side?

Ok. We have another game in two weeks. I’ll need to work overtime and do a Miracle Cleanse to get ready for the game, but I can do it. I can get the money together and hopefully my gut will be back to normal by then. But you know what? I’ll be honest here: I’m having second thoughts about this one. I’m not sure I want to spend a bunch of money on a game we’re probably going to lose. I haven’t even talked about how I have to spend the whole day getting ready for the game, going to the game, getting home from the game. It’s a big investment, and I’m just not sure I want to make that investment again right now. Maybe if we were winning these games, but man we’re losing almost every game.

Why are you shouting at me? I think you just got some spit in my eye. You seem pretty worked up. Are you ok? What does that giant vein in your forehead mean? I’m just trying to explain what’s going through my head as I decide whether I want to go to this next game.

So that poor guy (who, like I said, isn’t me at all) just got chewed out for not being excited to pony up $60 to go see his favorite sports team lose again. That fella is dangerously close to sliding down the slippery slope that is Fair Weather Fandom, which is probably really miserable even when compared to the Island of Misfit Toys or the infamous Ugly Island.

Here’s the thing about fair weather fans: they may be much smarter than full-time, rain-or-shine, been-there-through-the-hard-times fans. You want efficiency? They are it. We’d never know that by listening to sports commentators or reading sports writers or talking to our other sports-fan friends. Still, it’s true.

Sports aren’t manna from Heaven. They aren’t a gift from God or Goodell. They’re products produced by businesses to make money. They’re products we buy. They’re products used to sell other products. We pay for them, we consume them.

Most of the time, we’re very discerning about how we spend our money. If we buy something and it sucks, we don’t buy it again. Or maybe we buy it just on more time to make sure it really was that bad. But that’s it. If it’s bad again, we’re done buying that thing. Unless it’s a ticket to a sporting event. In that case, we proudly buy our ticket and tell our friends that we were there through the lean times. It’s a badge of honor to tell stories about going to the games we were guaranteed to lose. “I went to every single game in 1975. We didn’t even have a quarterback that year, and our team’s contract stated they weren’t allowed to play more than one series in the second half!” That guy was really dedicated to wasting a bunch of time and money on something.

When fans decide their Favorite Sports Team sucks and they’re not going to keep spending money and time watching them suck, it isn’t the fans that are broken. The product is broken. It’s ok to make a rational decision to not waste money to go to games that probably won’t be any fun. That’s the smart thing to do. The more I think about it, the more I think that “Fair Weather Fan” isn’t a scarlet letter, it’s the mark of a rational, thinking person who has better things to do than dump money and time into a company that’s selling an inferior product.

So how did we get here? It’s one thing to point out that being a fair weather fan isn’t as stupid as we’ve made it out to be. But why do we hate fair weather fans? Because sports marketing is just that good. The entire sports industry (the same industry that brought you multi-day draft coverage, dedicated sports news networks, entire panels of people paid to discuss a “fantasy” version of a sport, and wall-to-wall coverage of player-versus-owner business negotiations) has successfully convinced us that we’re not buying a product. Sports are ethereal, a gift sent down from Mount Olympus to entertain man and make his life better. You don’t know who won the NBA Finals in 2005? That’s probably because you’re just not living a very satisfying and complete life. You’re working the full day on Monday? That’s only because your life is terrible and you haven’t found the wonderful world of Monday Night Football. What are you going to talk about on Tuesday? Your life or something? Your kids? That’s so lame, man!

Sure, you have to pay money to go see sports, but that money isn’t buying you a product, it’s buying you an experience. You get to hang with your friends, tailgate, drink yourself sideways, and tell stories the next Monday at work. Sure, there happens to be a team playing on the field, but that’s totally ancillary and almost coincidental. What you’re really buying is an experience, a collective opportunity to create a mass-memory that’s shared by you and everyone else who went to or watched that particular game. The irony, of course, is you could create your own memories for free. No, they wouldn’t be memories (fuzzy as they may be) of tailgating and football games, but they’d be a whole lot cheaper. And yet the geniuses (I’m not even being sarcastic there) who market sports to Americans have convinced us to pay for the privilege of creating memories with our friends, often at crummy sporting events.

Pretty clever, right? I’ve totally cracked the code!

Here’s the real kicker, though: I’ve watched all the Gator Football games this season. I watched some of them by myself at home. I just dropped $50 to go watch the Gators get killed by Alabama in The Swamp, and I might go to the Florida/Georgia game again this year. I’ve been to a lot of Florida sporting events. I’ve probably been to something like 60 football games, an SEC Championship game, some bowl games, dozens of Gator Basketball games, a Final Four and even some Florida baseball games. I don’t even like baseball. One year, I traveled back to Gainesville from Dallas just to watch the Gators in the Final Four with my friends… on TV! Why? I was making memories and stuff, but I also don’t want to be called a fair weather fan. I don’t really want to go watch us lose games when we’re bad (and we’re bad at football this year), but I don’t want to miss anything either. I’m fully aware that the idea of the Fair Weather Fan is totally manufactured and contrived, and yet I still don’t want to be called a fair weather fan. That’s totally nuts. The Fair Weather Fan really is a triumph of sports marketing; it transcends all reason and rationality.

But it is what it is, and I can’t wait for the Gator Basketball season to get started. You know we’re ranked Pre-season #10, right? We could be pretty good this year.

* Special thanks to Sean Nyffeler for his great illustration. You should read his stuff over at Popcorn Noises.


I’m pretty much speechless. We won another title, and I think Gator Nation is just trying to take it all in and enjoy the moment. We may never win another one, so now’s the time to enjoy it.

Go Gators!

In ATL for the Final Four

I’m up in Atlanta for the Final Four. Last year, I flew from Dallas to Gainesville to watch the games with my buddies. As soon as the tourney was over, I started pricing Final Four tickets for 2007 and making plans to get to ATL for the games. Being in Gainesville was awesome, but there’s nothing like actually being there.

So, I’m “there” and it’s awesome. Before the tourney, I had us as 50/50 to repeat (that seems conservative, but I thought it was pretty generous considering we were only 1/65 of the field). Now? I’d say we’re about 4-to-1 to repeat (and I feel that’s pretty conservative). We looked really good tonight, and we seem to be up for almost any challenge. Since we already beat OSU (yeah, they’re a different, more mature team now, but we’ve improved a lot too) by 26 in December, I feel pretty confident we can do it again.

Billy D. to UK? Not a chance.

Billy D. isn’t going anywhere. He’ll “think” about it for a few days, but then he’ll announce he’s happy in Gainesville and he’s enjoying being a part of such a promising program that is still growing. He’ll talk about how great it is for his family in Gainesville, and he’ll hint that it would be nice to have some better facilities for the team. He won’t turn down the contract extension this time, either.

UK essentially just canned a very, very good coach who has had a rough few years. Any coach can have a few bad years (we were out of the tourney after the first weekend five years in a row), and I think UK overreacted. Billy walks on water in Gainesville, and he’ll have a pass for several years, regardless of what happens. Why move to a town where expectations are so high and patience is so low? Most importantly, I think, why would Billy leave a dynasty that he is currently creating to try and revive a dying dynasty in Lexington?

One more game

I’ve been saying for a while that this team will go down as one of the best ever… but only if they repeat. This team has five thousand-point scorers, potentially something like six or seven future NBA players, three SEC championships, tons of school and NCAA records, two Final Four appearances and, so far, one Championship. If they get the win on Monday, they’ll be considered one of the best NCAA teams ever. I’m trying to enjoy every game I see because it’s going to be a long, long time before we see this kind of team with this kind of talent again.

I should mention that Chris Richard would probably be starting at 95% of the schools in the country. He’s been consistently improving this year and has really turned it on in the post-season. He’s included in the “…six or seven future NBA players…” I mentioned earlier. I don’t think he’ll be drafted, but I think he’ll be picked up by somebody, and he’ll be a solid contributor off the bench.

It’s great to be a Florida Gator.

Basketball team improves to a mediocre 2-4

We’ve had two more games since my last post. The first one, we led until just a few minutes left in the game, when our team basically just ran out of gas and couldn’t convert on offense. It was a very frustrating game because we outplayed the other team, but they had a big size advantage and the refs allowed them to beat up on us throughout the game. In the end, they simply wore us down and ended up winning by three (we’d led by as many as 12 in the second half).

This week, we got our second win and it felt pretty good. As with most of our games this year, we jumped out to an early lead by playing efficient offense and very good man defense. We didn’t score many points–30 on the game–but we only gave up 20 points total, eight in the first half. Personally, I had a good game on the “intangible” level, but I only scored two points. I was very tired before the game and I never really had my legs under me. I took a few three-pointers, but it didn’t take me long to realize it was going to be tough to hit them since I was so flat. I started head-faking a lot and that allowed me to dribble-penetrate into the paint and get easy looks from close-range or dish out to an open teammate. I typically chose to pass because I wasn’t having much luck with the inside shots. My only points came on a head-fake where I drove all the way to the hoop and laid it in. It took me too long to realize that I should’ve been dribbling one more time and going for a lay-up rather than pulling up to shoot. Their 2-3 zone was soft in the middle and I wasn’t taking as much as I could from it.

Anyway, we got a win and we’re up to 2-4. We can still finish the season ranked third and get a decent seed in the playoffs if we win out.

Basketball team has fallen to 1-3

Basketball team has fallen to 1-3

The week after we eked through our first game, we got pounded by the defending champs. After a bye, we got beat by a mediocre team even though we were within five points with about three minutes remaining. This week, we lost to another mediocre team by one point even though we led most of the game.

In general our problem can be summed up in one word: Inconsistency. We can’t get the same guys to show up from one week to the next (our roster is nine deep, but we probably have only four guys who are there every week) and that inconsistency leads us to be inconsistent on offense. Last night, I’m pretty sure we led all statistical categories except FG %, FT % and Points. We took a lot more shots than they did, we had a lot more rebounds (especially offensive) than they did and we took probably twice as many freethrows as they did. We played great defense, took good shots on offense, drew a lot of fouls, but simply couldn’t put the ball in the bucket.

Personally, I felt I played one of my best all-around games in a while. I ran Point Guard most of the night and I was very comfortable in that position. My passes were on target and usually to a wide-open man, I don’t think I had any turnovers and I had six points on something like five shots. My six points came on consecutive three-pointers in the first half. Both shots felt and looked perfect and were set up because my team got me the ball when I got open on the weak side of the floor. I’m pretty sure I only had three points scored on me, and my defense was pretty solid off the ball.

It’s frustrating to keep losing (especially to inferior teams), but I guess we can’t really expect to win if we don’t have the same team from week to week. We need our guys to start showing up so we can start getting into a groove.

New basketball season begins 1-0

New basketball season begins 1-0

Well, the summer basketball league has begun again and most of the usual team is intact.  The previous season’s PPG leader isn’t playing, but we picked up another guy who has some Juco experience.  We started out playing pretty poorly and found ourselves down by 13 early in the second half.  Things started to turn when we finally began clamping down on defense and getting some stops.  We got some turnovers, began executing on offense and starting slowly closing the gap.  Down the stretch, we ran some good set plays, hit some big shots and tied it up to send the game to overtime.  In the two-minute overtime, we outscored them 2-1, all on freethrows.  I felt like we were definitely the superior team for about the last 15 minutes of the game.  It felt good to get the win.

The highlights for me were few.  I only had six points, all on 3-pointers.  The first was in the first half, and it was a nice, high shot over a very tall defender.  The second was pretty critical as it was late in the second half, when we were still down by six.  A player in the left corner passed me the ball and I began to dribble to the top of the key when they double-teamed me.  One defender was a little behind me (on my left) and the other was coming up on my right from the freethrow line.  I dribbled the ball to my right hand, crossed it over behind my back (away from the approaching defender on my right, as he was coming in very low for the steal) to my left hand, pulled up and drained the 3-pointer to bring us within 3.

Anyway, we’re off to a good start, but next week we play the team that beat us by one in the championship game.  It’s gonna’ be a tough game.


My 2006 Final Four experience: Making a run

For the first time since 2000, we coasted through the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament. We had home court advantage in Jacksonville and neither South Alabama nor UW-Milwaukee gave us much of a game. Regardless of how we did from the Sweet 16 on out, I think Gator Nation collectively breathed a huge sigh of relief. We finally made it out of the first weekend and we would get to see at least one decent basketball game during the tournament.

Through that next week, I was pretty nervous about the upcoming Georgetown game. Everyone knew they were a good team and they would match up well against the Gators. Their guards were solid, their front-court was big and agile, and their offense was exactly the kind of offense that could take us out of our game plan. The Princeton style offense that Georgetown runs uses the same ideas that Izzo had used to defeat us in years past–slow the game down, take your time on every possession and don’t let the Gators get out and run.

The day of our Sweet 16 game, I recruited a friend of mine, gave him a Gators hat and aggravated him for four straight hours by continuously babbling about great the Gators are. “Man, we’re really fun to watch. I’m telling you, we can really move the ball!” Gator basketball just isn’t the same without other Gators cheering around me. My buddy isn’t a Gator, but I made him an honorary Gator for the evening and he was a good sport about it all. The game went right down to the wire and we finally sealed it when Corey Brewer made a crazy circus shot while falling to the floor as he was fouled. I immediately knew that, should we go on to the Final Four, this would be the requisite game-saving shot that each team needs to go the distance.

That night, we also watched the Villanova game. Seeing them play made me very nervous. This was the team who’d bounced us in 2005 and they were very physical, athletic and their guards could flat shoot. I wondered whether our team could hang with them. They basically just bullied Boston College for 40 minutes and I knew they’d try the same thing against us. The referees were letting them play, and I knew that, historically, we didn’t do well against very physical teams. The reason that Kentucky beat us so many times from 2000 to 2004 was that they just played harder than we did, pushed us around and got into our heads. Villanova would try to do the same thing.

That Sunday, I watched the game from my couch. This time, I couldn’t recruit any other Gators–honorary or otherwise–to join in. This was the most important Gator basketball game in almost six years and I was watching it in an empty living room; it was depressing and exhilarating at the same time. I tried not to get my hopes up, but I’d already started looking at plane tickets to Florida in case we won. It didn’t take me long to realize that we were going to run over Villanova. I almost couldn’t even believe what I was seeing: our team was right in their faces, contesting every shot, and matching their physicality stride for stride. Our guards totally shut them down from behind the arc. This game was a coaching masterpiece for Billy Donovan–all he had were mismatches all night, and yet he found a way to stop them from scoring and ran a coherent, effective offense against their swarming guards. All of a sudden, we were going to the Final Four!

The game hadn’t even ended and I was already calling my friends in Gainesville and leaving voicemails everywhere: “Hey, let me know what y’all are doing for the Final Four. If you’re going to Indy, let me know and I’ll go ahead and book a ticket. If you’re staying in Gainesville, I’ll just fly out there. Just let me know so I can book something.” There was no way I�d be watching a Florida Final Four game by myself, I just wouldn�t let it happen. The next morning, they called back and we decided to rendezvous in Gainesville. I immediately booked a ticket and planned to stay in Gainesville through Monday night. At first, I was a little disappointed that we weren’t going to watch the game in Indy, but then I realized we were going back to the Final Four and I was going to watch it all right in the heart of Gator Nation. I didn’t know what it would be like watching the game in Indiana, but I knew what it was like watching the games in Gainesville back in 2000 and that was definitely where I wanted to be.


My 2006 Final Four experience: Team Building

Next year came and went, along with our hopes of returning to the Final Four. We didn’t know it at the time, but we were seeing the beginning of a string of early exits from the NCAA Tournament. In 2001, we got whooped by Temple in the second round. In 2002, we lost a heartbreaker to Creighton, 83-82 in double overtime. In 2003, we replayed the 2000 Finals with Michigan State, only this time they bested us in the second round. In 2004, we fell to Manhattan in the first round. In 2005, we ran into Villanova in the second round.

All the while, Gator Nation was buzzing with speculation that Billy’s run to the Finals in 2000 was a fluke, that he wasn’t that great a coach. Personally, I went back and forth. From our success during the regular season (we averaged over 20 wins for all five of those years), it was obvious that he could coach. What wasn’t obvious was why our team kept fading in March. I think a lot of it had to do with our tournament draws. Creighton is always a tricky team, although we definitely should’ve beaten them. Tom Izzo is just a good coach and his team matched up well with us in 2003. In 2005, Villanova was arguably the toughest 5-seed in the tournament and their grit and athleticism neutralized our finesse. I think there were also issues with team chemistry. We always had one or two superstars, but the rest of our team often wasn’t as involved as it should’ve been. Superstars can win regular season games, but team play and defense wins championships. Defense was another big issue: we rarely had much of it. Our teams could score a lot of points, but they weren’t all that tough. Villanova was simply more physical than we were, and we couldn’t match their intensity.

Going into the 2005 season, I think we were all expecting the worst. We lost a significant portion of our offense and experience, and our team was very young. We weren’t even close to the pre-season Top 25 and I don’t think many Gators were too upset about that. We were bracing for a “rebuilding” year, and that’s what made everything else so sweet.

We started off winning the Coaches vs. Cancer tourney in New York. I watched both of our games against Wake and Syracuse, and then I e-mailed my buddies at work the next day: “We’re good.” The team chemistry was undeniable and it was obvious that these guys weren’t intimidated by anyone. Right out of the gate, we had beaten two ranked teams and we had very few tough games on our pre-conference schedule. Next thing we knew, we were 17-0 and poised to take the No. 1 spot in the polls. Almost as if it was scripted, all three remaining undefeated teams lost within hours of each other. To Gator fans, this was no surprise because we were accustomed to tanking when we topped the polls. This time, we only had to be the de facto leader before we dropped a game. All Gators everywhere simultaneously thought, “Here we go again.”

I admit I was one of the first doubters. I just didn’t want to get my hopes up. This team was young and there was no real, logical reason to expect anything great from them. Our schedule so far had been pretty easy, we hadn’t really played any big games (the Wake and Syracuse games lost their luster as the season went on), and we still had a long way to go. Many of the starters had barely played in 2004 and I began to wonder if they were going to hit “the wall” that everyone talks about. They certainly looked to be fatiguing and we weren’t winning close games as we had at the beginning of the season. The good news was, we weren’t losing by much either. We were losing, but never being blown out.

Going into the 2006 SEC Tournament, I think there was a great sense of urgency for all of us. We hadn’t been winning close games lately, we had even lost three straight, and we were in danger of getting a crummy seed in the NCAA tournament. I think Gator Nation felt a great need to defend our SEC Title from 2005. In retrospect, I think that this tournament was what ultimately led us to the Final Four. We got a great draw, so our path to the Championship game was relatively easy. We were fortunate to get a bye the first game, so our guys could rest up for the remaining games in March, however many they may be. We got another shot at two of the four teams who’d beaten us earlier in the season, and that gave us a chance to work on specific aspects of our game. We had let Arkansas’ guards have too much freedom when we first played them, and our game against them in the SEC Tournament allowed us to work on locking them down. The South Carolina game was key, in my opinion. They had beaten us twice by pounding the ball inside, and forcing us to play a grind-it-out type of game that drained the shot clock and drastically slowed the tempo. The difference was that we won this one and we learned how to beat them at their own game. I think this game gave us the blueprint that we used to beat Georgetown in the Sweet 16.

After the SEC Tournament, we only had to wait a few hours to find out that we’d been given a 3-seed in our bracket. We would also be playing the first two games in Jacksonville, assuming we made it through the first round this year. I don’t think Gator Nation really knew what to expect. On one hand, we’d had our best season ever. On the other hand, we still had a very young team with little experience and no obvious super star. What was worse, we had to wait almost a week to see our first NCAA Tournament game.


My 2006 Final Four experience: Remembering 2000

After the Gators won the National Title a few weeks ago, I talked a lot about the team, but not much about my actual experience this time around. I’ve said many times that some of my fondest college memories were collected during March 2000, when Florida made an improbable run to the National Title game. I was nearing the end of my sophomore year and had tons of friends who, like me, were rabid Gator football fans. Billy Donovan hadn’t been at UF but a few seasons and his first couple seasons weren’t very memorable. Nobody remembered very much from the 1998-1999 season, but we all remembered losing to Gonzaga in the Sweet 16. During the 1999-2000 basketball season, I think we started to appreciate winning and we began coining terms like “Billy Ball”, which was a reference to Donovan’s up-tempo style of basketball. Admittedly, I didn’t watch many basketball games in 1999, and when March rolled around in 2000, I don’t even think I filled out a bracket. I thought it was silly and didn’t see any reason to drop money to “compete” against sports gurus and girls who chose the winner based on school colors or mascots.

I didn’t see the Butler game because it was on a Friday afternoon and I was probably too busy skipping class to even care. But I heard about the end of the game and, like many other Gators, suddenly had an interest in Gator basketball. That Sunday afternoon, I was one of several students who gathered at some friends’ apartment to watch us play Illinois in the second round. I don’t think any of us had high expectations, but we all had high hopes. When your team hangs on because of a miraculous buzzer-beater, you have no choice but to start believing, and that’s what we all did. We soundly beat Illinois and we were back in the Sweet 16 for the second straight year. We didn’t expect much because we had to play Duke next, but we knew it was no fluke that Billy D. had taken us to the Sweet 16 twice in a row. He had taken a losing basketball program and turned us into a contender. Still, our expectations were low as we geared up to face the perennial powerhouse Blue Devils.

That was a long week, but the game itself went by quickly. “We just beat DUKE!” We all said that at some point that weekend. We couldn’t believe it and we really didn’t know what to do about it. By this time, the crowd of students watching the game in my friends’ apartment was growing pretty quickly. There were several of us for the Illinois game, but we all watched comfortably on a couch, or a chair. For the Duke game, there were more bodies and less room; people were sitting on the arms of the couches, piled on the chairs, seated on the floor. By the time we played Oklahoma State, we were packed in as tight as we could be, the windows were all open and we were still sweating like pigs. We were used to that from football season, but we typically didn’t bunch like this in the Spring.

Changes had to be made for our Final Four game against North Carolina–another TV was brought in along with some couches, a makeshift bench was made on a rail between the dining and living rooms, every window and door was opened and the fans were all on full-blast to keep the air moving through the place. This was by far my biggest sporting event as a Gator and I think most of my friends felt the same. None of us were around in 1996 when we won the National Title in football, and most of our football seasons thus far had been anticlimactic because we had come to expect nothing but perfection from The Ol’ Ball Coach. SEC titles were nice, but we didn’t really get up for them like we would’ve if we hadn’t won the National Title a few years earlier. Basketball was different, though, because we didn’t expect to win. We didn’t even really think we had much of a chance, but we wanted to make sure we saw it if we pulled off an upset. After the game, we all ran out onto 34th Street and screamed, jumped, waived at cars and generally acted like idiots. It was awesome. “We beat North Carolina!” We all said it, but we could hardly believe it: we were playing for the National Title… in basketball!

The Michigan State game is kind of a blur to me. I think that’s partially because we lost, but partially because the game was pretty boring in general. Tom Izzo basically put together the perfect game plan to beat us: don’t allow the Gators to play Billy Ball. Michigan State took 30 seconds to shoot on every possession, slowed us way down in transition, played good defense and hit most of their shots. From the highest of highs comes the lowest of lows, and we felt it. This was the first time most of us had experienced a National Title game, and it was also the first time most of us had experienced losing a National Title game. There were about 70 of us there to watch, and no one said a word after the final buzzer. We just sat there, quietly wondering if we could make another run next year.


Florida Flattens the Final Four

Ironically, there isn’t much I can say about the Gators’ performance this weekend. George Mason was billed as this year’s Cinderella, but Florida didn’t seem to share the same respect for Mason’s mystique as the rest of the country. They simply outmatched George Mason at every position and coasted to a convincing win. Next up: UCLA. It was entertaining to see all of the sports analyists flip-flopping on their predictions after Saturday’s games. UCLA handled LSU, but it was pretty obvious that LSU just had a terrible game while UCLA played very well and capitalized on LSU’s many mistakes. Before Saturday, Florida was the consensus favorite to cut down the nets on Monday, but after UCLA’s game against LSU, the consensus became a coin-flip. UCLA’s vaunted defense became the big story and everyone forgot that Florida handled Villanova, a No. 1 seed, less than a week earlier.

Fortunately, the Gators have refused to acknowledge the hype–positive or negative–all year, and the media’s sudden distrust in their ability to hang with a tough defensive team didn’t affect them in the least. It only took a couple minutes on Monday for the Gators to announce their superiority, and then they continued to remind everyone just how good they are by frequently adding exclamation points to the story they’ve written all season long. Noah with a block, Horford with a dunk, Moss takes a charge, Humphrey buries a transition three, Brewer with a steal, Green with an assist, Green with an assist, Green with an assist, Richard changes a shot. And every time UCLA tried to answer, the Gators took it up a notch to keep them at bay.

This has been such a fantastic season for the Gators. It’s too bad Coach of the Year honors have already been given because I think it’s obvious to everyone that Billy Donovan deserves that title. Out of nowehere came a team with more chemistry than I’ve seen on any team in years, and suddenly they’re breaking records and setting new ones: Best start in school history, first triple-double in school history, most made freethrows in a game, most consecutive freethrows, and the list goes on and on, culminating with our first National Championship.

I’m tempted to speculate about next season, but it just doesn’t seem appropriate right now. October is so far away and there’s no telling what will happen between now and then. For now, I’m just looking forward to reading the deluge of articles that will be written over the next several weeks. In a way, the best part of winning the Natinal Championship is that we’re going to be the topic of conversation for the next several months. It’s great to be a Florida Gator!