I think most people can remember a certain moment, player, venue or event that turned them into the ultimate fan. For me, it was not until I was older, and of course much wiser, that I turned myself into a sports fan. Nobody helped me or guided me or showed me the way. . . for me, it’s all about my experiences and emotions I relive each time I see MY team play. It’s my favorite team for a reason, but before I dive into my reasons let me give you a little bit of background information.
We grew up in Florida, but we were not Dolphin fans, or Hurricane fans or any other type of fans because my parents, who hailed from Philadelphia, pledged their allegiance to anything Philly pretty much the day THEY were born. Eagles, Phillies, Flyers . . . like I said, anything Philly. And, as a father of two daughters, my dad certainly had no obligation to pick up an allegiance to South Florida sports. So there you have it, a childhood without any sports affiliations -- a clean slate. Instead of sports, my dad focused on teaching us how to fix things around the house, but for some bizarre reason, I am forced to admit that there’s a blank slate there, too. I still resort to having him come fix everything for me, as much as he tried to teach me. So it was up to me, and my sister, to live a sports-free life until we wanted to engage ourselves in this phenomena we know of as becoming a fan.
So, fast forward to high school. It wasn’t like I was going to actually play a sport. You had to be athletic, and that I certainly was not. So, I started attending basketball and football games. Football was fun, and of course social, but basketball was something I enjoyed watching and I got very excited about. I specifically recall actually liking the game and as far as football, eh, not so much.
So, as shocking as it may sound, I actually graduated high school and headed to UF. . . see where this is going? I decided giving football another try, went out on a limb and bought a season pass for maybe $40. Ahhhh, the joys of the being a student!
I remember feeling chills run through me as I took my first steps in “The Swamp.” Yes, chills in the middle of the Swamp in September, which by the way is hotter and steamier than June. It was Sept. 7, 1991 to be exact, vs. San Jose State, and the Gators won 59-21. I was hooked, instantly. How could anyone not be awed by seeing a sea of orange and blue? Everyone is chanting for YOUR beloved team. The Gators were now MY team, I now bleed orange and blue as the old saying goes. I finally knew what it was like to be a fan...to feel the emotion, the passion and live the experience. The Gators went on to win their first SEC championship that year and the rest is history.
Now you don’t have to like the Gators to know where I’m coming from. All I’m saying is that for me, being a fan is something you live by going to the games, eating the popcorn or hot dogs, drinking the beer and being with friends and family.
My sister actually followed me to UF and now we can (and do) share the fan experience together. So much for a sports-free childhood! My sister and I are a new generation, with new experiences, to pass on to our kids and rest assured, it includes a lot of orange, blue and a few alligators and chomps to go along with it. My kids, now 2 ½ and 5 ½, can do a great Gator Chomp, have been to Gainesville and seen the Gators play. My hope for them is that their fan experiences will make them think of family time, too. You can call it brainwashing at an early age, but I prefer to call it making memories with my family.