GAINESVILLE, Fla. — My dad is my hero.
He did a great job supporting me and my siblings, he taught me how to work hard and he taught me how to think.
Not that he’s ever heard that directly from me. Sharing emotions never has been a strong suit for either of us.
In 2005 — just a year after graduating from Florida — my wife and I decided to move to Virginia. So I feared the geographic distance would increase the emotional distance between us.
I had enjoyed Gators football as a student, but I wouldn’t have considered myself a die-hard. But shortly after I moved, Dad took a job at Shands Hospital. He got tickets from a colleague for the 2006 LSU game and we drove down for the event. One Tebow jump pass to Tate Casey in the back of the end zone and I was hooked.
Every year since — we only missed 2012 after the birth of our second child — we’ve attended a game together. I’ve planned vacations around the game, flown down from Baltimore, Chicago and Philadelphia, and delayed a knee reconstruction surgery so I could limp my way through a 37-7 drubbing by FSU in 2013. (Yes, I’m a moron.)
The other day when I told a friend about my new gig writing for SEC Country, he told me he had never gotten into football or sports in general. He just couldn’t understand why people go so crazy over their teams.
I think the answer is simple, as I learned in the aftermath of that first LSU game. Dad and I started calling and texting each other during games the rest of the season. At some point during the summer, I know I’m going to get a text. It used to ask whether I wanted to go to a game. Now, it asks which game we’re going to watch. We finally have something in common. Florida football gave us a connection.
Last year, picked the Florida State game. It was convenient because it coincided with Thanksgiving and also because we didn’t have high expectations for Florida and thought it likely would feature an early-afternoon start. This was important because my 7-year-old daughter wanted to go along and her bedtime is 8 p.m.
So of course the teams entered with three losses between them, leading to a night game.
There wasn’t much for us to cheer. But I looked over to my left as Florida forced a safety late in the game and Amelia was cheering as loudly as anybody in the Swamp. As we were leaving the first thing she said was, “Daddy, I want to do this again next year!”
In April, she was almost as excited to see the spring game as I was. As the new season begins, I’ve already heard multiple times, “Daddy, I would like to stay up and watch the games with you this year.” Florida football gave us a connection.
We all crave a connection, and it’s that connection that keeps us coming back every fall.
It’s the collective joy of the crowd when the Gators win a game nobody expected them to win. It’s the agony we collectively feel every time Les Miles calls for a fake field goal in the fourth quarter (I may have a seizure the next time our defense isn’t ready for this.) It’s getting invited to share an experience with over 90,000 strangers and the people who mean the most to us.
Thanks for the invitation, Dad.