Florida Football: What's It Like Not To Know Football?

Jon LioncourtContributor IJanuary 21, 2011

Florida Gator Band
Florida Gator Band

What is it like, not to know football? Great question. I’m getting ready to tell you. Hang on, you’re in for a ride.

I have become an expert at knowing nothing and then learning everything I can about something. Football was a sport I knew nothing about, but that changed in 2009 after an introduction by my buddy Michael, to a world I had no clue about.

I spotted an edition of Sports Illustrated magazine on my buddy's coffee table, on the cover of which was this guy, Tim Tebow. It was dated July 27, 2009, and the caption was, “Man Of Many Missions.” Can you believe living in Jacksonville for 4 years, I didn’t know who this man was? I was told he was the quarterback for the Florida Gators – I kid you not, I had never seen him in the press or cognitively heard anything about him; either that or I was just not paying attention. But, not ever having seen a football game in my life, that’s understandable. The article was written by Austin Murphy and he was noting Tebow’s accomplishments as the Heisman Trophy winner and his work off the field; very interesting I thought. Still, that meant nothing to me.

My buddy was explaining what I learned later, yet relatively quickly, who Mr. Tebow was. I was not so impressed at first, because football wasn’t a game I was familiar with. When you grow up with a dad who would rather watch “Bugs Bunny” and “Zorro” on a Saturday than a sports channel, I was deprived of the existence of most sports and less than any other — football. 

My friend said, “I need to take you to a game”. I laughed about that, being one of the last things to do on my list. “Why in the world would I want to do that,” I asked? He said, “You have got to be kidding me.” “Nope,” I replied, and then I got a short history lesson on this “new” sport and I had no idea what would follow. But, what did is just short of amazing.

With my eyes open now, I was surprised at all of the “Gator” things I would see about town. Car stickers, license plate frames and clothing, even drug stores hosted Gator stuff, as well as I learned other teams also. I’d never noticed those things before. I didn’t know that “Gator character” had a name – Albert. Just happens that I like blue and orange, so I was getting pretty stoked about the whole thing, but the season hadn’t started yet. But when it finally did, oh boy, was I in for a treat, and so are you.

I got dragged to my first game ever, kicking and screaming as I did, at the Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, but I had by now known it as “The Swamp” thanks to Michael’s information. Made sense to me; alligators and swamps seemed reasonable. He gave me a blue sweatshirt to wear with, “Florida Gators” written in orange; my kind of colors anyway; I still have it. Gave me a T-shirt in orange also in case it was too hot that day. We arrived in a town I had never been to and I was mesmerized by all of these people wearing the same colors I was. It was overwhelming seeing everyone from kids to senior citizens, all in what seemed to be a “family of friends”. I felt like I belonged to a huge group of people, yet I still didn’t know why.

As luck would have it, we arrived and at the street where the band collect themselves; great outfits I thought, then they started marching and playing. I was thinking, “What’s going on here?” I’m among all these masses of people to watch a football game? I mean seriously, is this all really happening and why? Michael, who by the way is a Florida Alum, said I was lucky to walk with the band and I agreed that it was incredible. But I still didn’t know what the whole thing was about.

We went up an incline in the stadium and the band went underneath us to nowhere land. I was shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of people surrounding me. We went through the turnstiles and stood in line for a soda. Apparently I ordered the wrong soda that was in a bottle, but at that point, I wanted one of those plastic cups that had blue and orange on it; you know, the “Gator” cups? I like souvenirs and knew I wouldn’t be doing this again (I was wrong about that). So I changed my order and said, “Give me anything that comes in one of those cups.” So, I got one and we proceeded to be herded to our seats; cattle prodded might be a better term. I didn’t mind all that because I’d been to concerts before and knew that gig. I’d been to the 1984 Michael Jackson Victory tour concert in Washington, D.C., so I was no stranger to a mass of excited spectators.

We got to our seats and the band that I had been following before came out and they were outstanding! I thought, “What a show,” but that paled in comparison to what followed. The players came out and the crowd went nuts; I didn’t because again, I didn’t know what the deal was. But let me tell you, what happened then is what changed me; it changed my life and what this story is about.

Because I didn’t know football or the players, except for Tim Tebow’s name alone by that magazine, I was instantly hooked on this game that had escaped me all my life. Tebow threw a pass to Riley Cooper that shocked me and I’m sure it took the opposing team by surprise as well. He was clearly aiming for left field, cocked his arm twice as I remember and then twisted his body and chunked that ball to the opposite right and Cooper caught it for a touchdown. You know the crowd that went nuts before I mentioned? Well, this time I was one of them. That pass was what hooked me on football. I had no idea of the excitement and surprise I felt and at that moment and I became a “Gator” instantly. No, I didn’t go to Florida, but I was to become forever part of this community of those who shoulder butted me into the stadium.

Yeah, we won; of course we did. Now, “We” included me now and I was ecstatic to be a part of this whole thing. Play after play, I was jumping out of my seat with the rest of them. After that game I couldn’t wait for another. We didn’t go to every game, but we saw every one of them. I was inflamed with football, at least on a college level. I was a baby with a toy and I loved it. Even got a Gator shower curtain and blue and orange towels for my bathroom. I was everything a Gator could be. Cutting out newspaper articles and absorbing everything I could, from the players to other teams who dared to try to beat Tebow and Urban Meyer’s Gators. Who did they think they were?

Then, later in the season a tragedy occurred for me. Thankfully, I was at my place watching the game on my big screen and not in public — the Gators lost to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. Here I am with a jersey on I got at the Gator shop with the BCS thing and Tebow on the back and now we have lost. I did not know the Gators could lose a game, because I had no other history with football. I was more than crushed and thank goodness I had a friend with me. I thought the Gators were invincible, since to me they always had been, and they were. When that game was over, I was sobbing like a little boy on my buddy’s shoulder. I thought (and I said), “What have you done to me? You gave me something I have never had and now it is ripped from me.” I’m telling you, I cried like a baby and He said, “It happens”. “What?” I asked, as I was crying my eyes out. “Gators always win,” I said. “They always have, and now this?” He said, “It’s part of the game.” I did not know that; I had no idea that they could lose. 

I was a “newbie” and I’m not sure I have recovered from that, even though I was prepared for this season and I’m not crying now. But, for a guy who never knew this game and then got attached to the players and what I know now as an extraordinary season as my first, I will never forget it started with a simple magazine cover featuring Tim Tebow and a casual question of, “Who is this guy?”

Taunt me with this season of football as my first, and the last season with a quarterback who I greatly admire who then leaves his college, and I’ll show you a first round draft. NFL? What’s that? Oh, I know now and don’t think 100,000 other Florida Gator fans and I didn’t follow Tebow to Denver. Now, I got a whole other ball of wax to melt and I’m into it like I was with the Gators and I remain a Gator to this day only less than two years into this. Trust me, the Broncos will go to the Super Bowl and it ain’t gonna take a long time for that to happen. Yeah, I didn’t know anything before; I never did about football. But, I’m a good student (at nearly 50 years old) and I’m telling you now, that’s where they’re going and I’m going there with them. You think their wins in 1998 and 1999 was good? You ain’t seen nothing yet!

My recent post about the Seahawks verses the Saints (I rooted for the underdogs) is proof of the incredible amount of knowledge I have learned over a relatively short period of time and is why now I write on the Bleacher Report. I have absorbed nearly every moment, every play and learned who the players are and their positions. See that post Here

Many thanks to my buddy for introducing me to a sport that I now know a lot about. Great friends like him are hard to come by. I’ll be watching the April drafts and seeing who is picked by some smart guys, like McDaniels saw in Tebow. I’m not clear on why Pat Bowlen made this choice of changing coaches; I only hope franchises like this one will utilize their picks earlier on in the season, instead of wasting time by letting what can only be described as hiring a national sensation, only to sit him on the sidelines until the last two games of the season. My prediction is that the Broncos, if lead by an outstanding quarterback like Tim Tebow, will make it to the Super Bowl, and probably next year. I think the new coach, John Fox, might make that happen.

I know what’s going on now, although I didn't before. Predictions are a matter of discussion, rather than a debate. What some haven’t realized is that a game is a matter of logic and luck of the draw. One mistake or one great play can make a game and in some cases, the Super Bowl. I had a good teacher, lots of great times during these two years, and it all started with the cover of a magazine on a coffee table.