It does not appear Hurricane Matthew will deliver as vicious a blow to Florida as many feared when it was a Category 4 death machine having already ripped through Haiti. That it was downgraded Friday morning to a Category 3, that it hugged the coastline and hovered over water instead of making a devastating landfall, is cause for great relief and thanksgiving.
It is not ammunition for second-guessing and finger-pointing about the postponed Florida-LSU football game. Some in Baton Rouge, who seem bent on painting the Gators as cowardly villains in this story, and Knoxville, where Tennessee’s coach thought first about how a washout would impact the SEC East race, might be surprised to learn that Rick Wells Sr. hadn’t heard a word of all this ridiculous sniping.
“To be honest with you, I haven’t even paid it any attention,” said the father of the freshman Florida wide receiver by the same name. Because, pardon him, he was boarding up his home in Jacksonville and heading for a friend’s place in a safer part of town. “Football is football and life is life. It’s a lot going on here in Florida to be worried about a football game.”
— Matt Sampson (@TWCMattSampson) October 7, 2016
He was grateful – “absolutely glad” – that the Gators aren’t playing this weekend. He couldn’t imagine the more than 50 players on their roster whose hometowns were in the projected path of the storm, having to prepare to play as their families stared down a hurricane some feared would be the worst since hammering Hugo in 1989.
Half a million people were asked this week to evacuate Jacksonville alone, home to eight Gators. And while it now appears the devastation and death toll will be far smaller than worst-case projections, many were still hit plenty hard by Matthew.
As of late Friday afternoon, about a million people in the state had lost power, a heavy storm surge had flooded roads and buildings along the coast, trees had fallen on homes and winds in excess of 100 miles per hour had battered buildings – dismantling one hotel in Daytona Beach.
That’s where Jachai Polite, a freshman defensive lineman for the Gators, is from. His mother and grandmother refused to evacuate.
“He’s worried,” said Polite’s uncle, Fred Nolan, shortly before the worst of the storm hit Daytona on Friday. “It’s going to weigh on his mind.”
Hurricane Matthew tears part of a hotel in Daytona Beach pic.twitter.com/odbSGw96Rj
— Joel Franco (@OfficialJoelF) October 7, 2016
Wait, you mean he’s not thinking about what a break Florida caught by not having to play LSU this weekend?
“When people say stuff like that, that just shows how ignorant they are. That’s the maddening part about it,” Nolan said. “There’s kids on that team whose people are from these places that are getting hit. That’s a real concern; it’s not fake. It’s real. It’s here.
“It’s not like somebody’s trying to duck out of a game. It’s safety first. It’s not about football. You would be doing the kids a disservice if you’re thinking about football right now.”
Or if you’re gloating, LSU or Tennessee or media members, because this storm doesn’t look like it will be so bad after all – or because the weather in Gainesville this weekend is expected to be just fine. That’s really missing several key points about logistics and the Gators’ home city being an evacuation site and that pesky problem of not being able to predict the future.
It’s also missing a heart.
“You think they don’t want to play?” Nolan said. “I know they want to play. I know I want to see Florida and LSU. But it’s right they don’t have to play. It’s good they don’t have to play. Under these circumstances, not knowing what was coming, what the backlash of this storm would be, they did what was best.”
— CNN (@CNN) October 7, 2016