I spent my Saturdays last fall like everyone else: sweaty, jorts-clad and leaping into the arms of my buddies every time the Gators scored a touchdown. It was a great time. I mean, heck, we had to do something to get through another week of lectures. But there were times before, during and after the games when I would look around horrified - horrified at my fellow students who were stomping all over what I had previously thought was the reputation of southern universities.
These weren't the collared and khakied country-twanged gents of Alabama. Nor were they the fine diners at Ole Miss, famous for wielding silverware as they lean over their tailgating feasts. No. My classmates were acting worse than, dare I say it, NFL fans. It made me think: Are we really the spoiled and spray-tanned brats who put in a backbreaking effort to win the title of America's douchiest college? I'll let you decide.
These are some scenes from the 2010 season:
After a bad call, a Gator fan drunkenly stumbles up onto his bleacher and shouts, "F-k you, ref!" down to the field. Surrounding students chuckle to their friends. Others send the I'm-embarrassed-for-you smile his way. He's decked out in orange and blue, his school's colors. Gator logos flash on his shirt, his hat and his shorts. At the end of the game's third quarter, he stands up and wraps his arms around his buddies to sing "We Are the Boys From Ole Florida."
He's dressed like one. He sings like one. But, he's not a Florida boy.
On their way home from the game, a group of Gator fans spies a truck flying green and gold University of South Florida flags from its windows.
Middle fingers and insults come flying from the orange-and-blue-clad horde as the truck passes. Passengers return fire: "Your QB sucks!"
Another horde of Gators all called the fake punt that ended in a sore loss against LSU. Their head coach was the only one who didn't see it. But, on their way out of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, no doubt to drink away the replay, they put in their two cents. A wrinkled alumnus dressed in purple and gold and propped up on a cane stands with his mouth agape as he watches the stream of orange and blue pour down the ramps. They face the man's family while they chant, "F-k you, LSU" over and over. The man grabs his wife's hand, and, although they wear the victor's colors, the couple averts their eyes and files away from the rampaging students.
The Gator fans are on UF's campus where they attend classes. They all have season tickets. But are they Florida boys? No.
Another Gator fan is nestled under an awning on a gameday afternoon with his closest friends, his favorite food and a cooler of ice cold beer. From his tailgate setup pours country music and the smell of hot dogs on the grill. A few Kentucky fans are walking by, in enemy territory. They send nervous glances at the party of Gators. One of them stops as a Gator says to them:
"How y'all doin'? You ready for the game?"
The Kentucky fans say yes, but they are still tired from the 704-mile trip from Lexington.
The Gator fan smiles. He invites them over for some small talk before sending them on their way with a few hot dogs. There is no sneering or jeering from anyone.
Those are Florida boys.
I remember glancing over an old UF poster from the 1950s, which has always stayed in my mind. It pictured a man in a tuxedo with a UF pin on it holding a door open for a woman or some other polite gesture. Scrolled along the top was something along the lines of "Women can tell a Florida boy when they see one."
I hope to see you all out there on Saturday. I hope we beat the stuffing out of those Owls. But, when we do - and you know we will - let's keep it classy. That's all I ask. And you should ask this, too:
Isn't it time we all held ourselves to the "Florida boy" standard?
Alex Orlando is the city editor at the Independent Florida Alligator.