It’s April 2006 in Indianapolis, Indiana and I’m attending my first ever Final Four. My friends and I had just finished watching UCLA dismantle LSU and were awaiting the start of the second game of the night involving a long shot George Mason University and my beloved Florida Gators. Due to an ironic twist of fate, I finished my graduate program at Florida in 2005 to work as an administrator at George Mason. Thanks to my status as a staff member at Mason I was able to score tickets in the faculty section approximately 20 rows from the court. On my way back to the seats that I obviously did not deserve (which I was reminded of by a faculty member who was at Mason by way of Harvard), I ran into Stan Heath. Being an Arkansas alum, I took the opportunity to introduce myself the then coach of the University of Arkansas men’s basketball team. As I began to ramble on about my alumni status and how proud I was of a mediocre team I noticed that Heath had a perplexed look on his face. I realized that I was draped head to toe in Florida orange and blue. The next words out of my mouth, if memory serves correctly, were, “yeah…just ignore this. I went to both schools.”
This shining example of awkward interactions has plagued me since I announced my decision to attend the University of Florida just before my graduation from the University of Arkansas. Thinking solely of my future career, I had no idea that the decision to attend another SEC school would have such an impact on my life. For as long as I can remember I’ve rooted for the Hogs. My mother is a triple alumnae and my younger sister will earn her degree from Arkansas in the next few years. While none of my other family members attended the U of A they still indoctrinated me with Arkansas pride by teaching me the hog call before I could walk. I never thought that I could share that passion for another institution until I walked across the UF campus for the first time. Palm trees, swimming pools and more beautiful women than any 18-25 year old male could ever handle quickly made me part of the Gator nation. I was hooked the first time I sang “We are the Boys of Old Florida” between the 3rd and 4th quarter of a Gator football game.
Sure, I tried to mask my newly found passion for the Gators by acting like an Arkansas elitist (quite the oxymoron). I strutted my stuff around campus telling all the Gator faithful that they would eat their words come October 18th when the Gators made a visit to Fayetteville. It did not take long, however, for me to put on my orange and blue shirt after my Hogs took their lumps that fall.
The truth is, attending two SEC schools is like being addicted to both heroin and crack at the exact same time. You get a taste of one highly addicting atmosphere and think there’s nothing that can top it. Just when you have reached your highest high, however, you feel the tingle for the other drug that satisfies you in an altogether different way. No matter what you’re craving at the time, you can never get enough of both.
The most difficult part of my love affair with my two mistresses comes on days when the two are pitted against each other. The pressure from my friends and family to pull for one team or the other is almost unbearable. Throw in the fact that one team has recently been in the running for a national championship where every win or loss could impact their status, it is almost impossible to decide what colors to wear on game day. Do you go with the school that introduced you to fire that burns inside of you for collegiate athletics or do you side with the team that pulls at your heart strings equally as hard and has a chance to be in the national spotlight again this year. I made an attempt to wear neutral colors one year and say things like, “that was a great defensive play” or “the receiver made a tremendous effort” in an attempt to show no affinity toward either team. This tactic lasted approximately 2:34 seconds into the first quarter when I yelled at one team to get their lazy asses to the ball. Old habits tend to die hard.
Over the years, I have lost track of how many people have asked, “Who do you root for when Florida and Arkansas play each other?” I usually skirt the question by making a lame excuse about the situation of the game and other factors that go into it. The truth of it is, no matter what colors I show up wearing on game day, there is always a part of me that is looking for the other team to succeed. I constantly look for a comeback when one team seems to be down and out. I yearn for the big play that catapults one player over the top to seal his place in collegiate greatness. One thing I do know for certain is that I wouldn’t trade my often dysfunctional and competing interests for the world. After all, no matter what school I’m pulling for on a particular day I can be sure of one thing: I still hate Tennessee.
Go Gators and Hogs!